Tucked away in Sweden lies a land with a history richer than some nations twice as old. An artist’s vision, a secret structure, and a battle for custody make up its past. It may sound like fiction, but this tale is true...
A Unique Discovery
1982: the year that Michael Jackson released Thriller; the year of the Falkland Island dispute; and the year a pair of unusual structures were discovered in the Kullaberg Nature Reserve in Skåne, Sweden.
Although the first two events dominated global headlines, the last was evidence of a secret that had been concealed for two years and which would go on to become an incredibly unique story. It all started when Swedish authorities came across something bizarre while performing a routine check...
Something in the Distance
The Kullaberg Nature Reserve is the most frequented of its kind in the whole of Sweden. The area is regarded as an idyllic place to appreciate nature thanks to its expansive cliffs which tower 230 feet above the water, a comprehensive selection of hiking trails, and beaches that make one feel relaxed just looking at them.
But amidst the collection of natural features existed something that Mother Nature did not create herself. Authorities conducting a sea patrol spotted something peculiar in the distance and could not make out what it was. A little investigating was certainly in order.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
As the officials drew closer to the shore, the structure loomed larger but was still too far to determine precisely what it could be. What became clear, however, is that this was not a mountain or tree that had adopted some unusual form. What it was, though, was anyone's guess.
In order to begin their investigation, the search team needed to switch from sea to land. What may sound like a simple process would have been, had those gorgeous beaches of the Kullaberg Reserve not been exceptionally rocky, making docking a boat nigh impossible.
A Remote Reserve
The area in which the Kullaberg Nature Reserve is situated has been around since the Stone Age and features stone circles, grave mounds, and other archeological attractions. Covered in a vast collection of birch, elm, and oak trees, amongst others, the reserve is also home to various seabirds and marine life.
As far as people are concerned, the nearest town is that of Mölle in the Höganäs Municipality. Described as "a small town set in spectacular isolation on the dramatic headland of the Kulla Peninsula," Mölle is only home to 715 residents but possesses a blossoming tourism sector thanks to those flocking to the reserve.
The Path of No Return
The ragged nature of the reserve may have been beautiful to gaze upon, but it proved a massive inhibitor to the team's exploration. With the rocks preventing the investigators from dismounting, they were forced to find an alternative method to get closer to the unusual structure. It led them down a fascinating path...
Luckily, the Kullaberg Nature Reserve is famous for its hiking trails. The team had spotted a series of preserved barn homes called Himmelstorp that dated back to the 18th century, and alongside them was located a rugged, yet walkable, hiking path. It marked the first step on a complicated journey.
The Kullaberg is a dream for those who enjoy testing their stamina and their hamstrings. The hiking trails vary from amateur to expert level, allowing trekkers to explore all the natural wonders of the reserve. But the one which the team encountered was perhaps a little too advanced for their liking.
They began by trekking through a clearing that led past a small gate. Soon the terrain turned treacherous, becoming surrounded by rocks and making it difficult to determine where the trail actually was. The threat of plummeting to the water below also did not encourage calm.
Follow the 'N's
While trying to find their footing, the team of investigators found something else as well. A series of bizarre markings began to appear on the trees which lined the path and on the rocks down the mountainside. The yellowish writing could have been interpreted in a variety of ways, but they seemed to represent an "N".
As any good detective would, the investigators followed the spray-painted clues that, quite literally, crossed their path. The Ns - and their curiosity - led them to exactly what they had hoped to find: the bizarre structures which had piqued their interest from the sea.
Sticks and Stones
The figure before them was made of natural materials, but natural it most certainly was not. It had been constructed using branches of sorts that were gnarled and twisted and was as high as some of the trees that surrounded it. The structure was clearly built by a person or group, but the questions were who and why?
Regardless of the reasons, the workmanship was impressive. Whoever had brought this figure to life had put in much time and effort. During their examination of the sticky structure, the investigators discovered that it appeared to be a doorway of some kind, complete with a set of stairs.
Stairway to the Unknown
The winding staircase was ominous, to say the least. Made up of sticks, like the structure which formed its entrance, it begged the question of safety. Would the curving labyrinth be able to withstand the weight of the team who desired to see where it led?
Conjuring all the courage they had, the sleuths started their descent. They could not help but admire the remarkable artistry that had gone into creating the mysterious passage which had been crafted with driftwood and done to blend seamlessly with the forest's surroundings.
Taking It All In
As is often the case, it is difficult to determine the scale of a situation or place while one is within - it is only once viewed at a distance that the size is realized. The adage proved accurate for those who ventured down the steep, winding steps and managed to see the structure in its entirety from the beach.
The stick manifestation had undeniably been impressive from the moment the team laid eyes upon it in the forest. Yet they could not have imagined just how grand it truly was. Once on the shore, the tall, spindly towers that had been seen from the water were given their true justice.
More Questions than Answers
The astonishing structure resembled a castle with colossal towers that jutted out. Although it would not offer much protection having been built entirely of driftwood, branches, and nails, it was, despite all odds, still standing. But the question remained - why?
Was this an extremely ambitious woodwork project? Did the producers of a fantasy film intend to shoot their next blockbuster in this very spot? As thoughts whirled, authorities could not have expected that their discovery would form part of an extraordinary saga that captured the world's attention.
The Man Behind It All
Little did the investigators know that the grand structure before them was inspired by postmodernism. The artistic movement had become popular in Sweden in the early '80s and found a follower in Lars Vilks, an academically trained art theorist. It was he who had created the striking formation.
Having been born in Helsingborg in 1946, Vilks began painting in his thirties. Although he obtained a doctorate in art history from Lund University, his affinity for visual art was self-taught and often idiosyncratic. And his artistic journey ultimately led him to this secret project.
Building Off the Grid
When it came to Lars Vilks's art, there were endless questions to be asked. But with this project, specifically, people couldn't help but wonder why the artist had gone out of his way to build such a gorgeous and unique structure in such an inaccessible location.
When we think of famous artists like Picasso, Monet, and so many others, we usually associate their works with major world-class galleries where they're on display to the masses. But Vilk's couldn't have been more different. In fact, it took authorities two years to even find the structure!
Bringing an Idea to Life
Eccentricity was synonymous with Vilks and so it is hardly surprising that he had an idea to create something as bizarre as a gigantic driftwood structure while cleaning debris from a marsh on the beach! He planned to use the driftwood he found but discovered that it was not as practical to actually do so.
Instead, the 34-year-old relied on logs from the forest around him and brought them to the shore. The task was time-consuming and exhausting, but the remote location afforded him privacy, and thus time, to work on his creation at his own pace. It took years before it was discovered.
An Artist’s Expression
All great things take time, and this process was no different. Vilks spent a period of two years persistently stacking pieces of driftwood and bringing his vision to life with each hammering of a nail. The design was an expression of imagination, a symbol of individuality.
A whopping 75 tonnes of driftwood were used to establish the adult playground that the artist had envisioned. Complete with a staircase that was sturdy enough to climb, the creation measured 10-feet tall. It was named Nimis after the Latin term, "too much."
Artistic Freedom Endangered
Vilks had poured passion into his project. As each layer of wood was joined, the vision in his head became more real and invoked the freedom of expression. Nimis represented the concept of creativity to its very core! But the discovery of the formation placed it under threat.
Authorities determined that the formidable structure was against Swedish law. Its existence contravened a rule that prohibits the construction or erection of a building on a nature reserve, and Vilks had obviously not sought official permission to do so. It marked the beginning of a long legal battle.
Experiencing the Magic
Nothing stirs interest quite like controversy. And the fact that Nimis was deemed illegal by the authorities meant that there was suddenly a vested intrigue in Vilks' creation. The structure of sticks, situated in its remote locale, had transformed into a hot tourist attraction.
The adult playground which the art theory lecturer had dreamed up had come to fruition — and how. The staircase that Vilks had constructed was being climbed by visitors who wished to experience the magic, and so he continued to add reinforcement to his unique creation.
Defiance in Action
Despite Nimis drawing flocks of people to the Kullaberg Nature Reserve, the County Administrative Board in Skåne was still determined to have the structure removed. Legal battles waged in court, but the brain behind it all was never deterred or in doubt...
In defiance of orders to tear down his creation, Vilks built more! Using an additional 25 tonnes of driftwood, he constructed two more towers, 300-plus-feet high. Nimis was also joined by a stone structure called Arx that resembled a melting sandcastle. The name translates from Latin as "fortress."
An Ingenious Solution
As long as the case remained in court, Nimis and Arx remained untouched by the local council who wished the see their destruction. Even when the court ruled in the council's favor, Vilks appealed repeatedly to save his creations, which symbolized freedom and expression.
As attorneys fought, the artist came up with a more innovative plan... He sold his art pieces to Christo and Jean-Claude — a husband and wife duo of environmental artists. The "documentation" of the sale may have been just a piece of driftwood, but Nimis and Arx being privately-owned meant that it was out of authority's grasp.
A New State of Mind
As with many legal matters, they can often all come down to a single technicality. The maze and the fortress may have been situated on Swedish soil, but they were no longer in Swedish control. The specifics of the situation inspired a new unusual idea in Vilks...
Nimis and Arx would become landmarks in their own nation - a micronation. The term refers to a political entity whose members claim to belong to an independent state that is not governed by the greater country in which it is located. The declaration would make the area entirely separate from Sweden.
The Royal Republic of Ladonia
As bizarre as Vilks idea sounded, it was not completely unprecedented. Established countries like Australia, Canada, Israel, and Denmark had all had micronations declared within their borders. And thus, June 2nd, 1996 became the day on which the Royal Republic of Ladonia was formally created.
As the purpose of Ladonia was to save the structures, Vilks did not intend to occupy much land. The micronation encompassed less than a square mile of land surrounding Nimis and Arx, but it was more than enough for the plan to succeed. The Royal Republic of Ladonia would keep the formations safe.
Once it had officially been declared as a sovereign state, Ladonia was able to accept applications for citizenship. The process was simple: it involved an online form to be filled out by prospective citizens - of which there were many - and the entire operation was free.
Being a Ladonian arguably did not involve many perks... The rocky nature of its beach meant that no one could actually live there, and citizenship did not come with any international merit. Still, it did not deter 1,000 from signing up within the first year!
Fit for a Queen
While it is true that Ladonia possesses no residents, it does not mean that the micronation did not possess a government. Although Vilks was naturally named as Chancellor, it was decided that an election was needed in 1997 in which Ladonians could determine their system of government.
It was established that the Republic would be jointly ruled by a President and a Queen. The President and their Vice would be voted for tri-annually, while the Queen, once named, would retain her crown for life. Queen Carolyn I, originally of Chicago, accepted her title in 2011.
Follow the Leader
Vilks served in the capacity of Chancellor until Fernando Rodrigues of Brazil was elected as the inaugural President of Ladonia in 1997. He won three consecutive terms until 2004. And from the period between 2010 and 2013, the head of government wasn't even a person - it was a pair of shoes!
The role of President was transformed into Prime Minister in 2019, and Minister of Improvisational Theatre and Free Entry, Baron Frans Brood, was appointed in April 2020. Vilks served as Secretary of State until his passing in October 2021, at which time Brood also stepped down.
We Will Rebuild
Ladonia established its own time zone (three minutes behind its Swedish cousins) and two national anthems, one of which is simply the sound of a stone dropping into water. The official currency is the Örtug which is around 10 Swedish Krona. For all intents and purposes, the Royal Republic of Ladonia was thriving.
In its 25 years, Ladonia has undergone some crises just like any other nation. Hurricane Sven caused massive amounts of damage in December 2013, forcing citizens to rebuild their structures. Three years later, an arsonist set the area alight, destroying 25% of Nimis.
The passing of a visionary, arson, and natural disasters were some serious obstacles to overcome, but the dedicated citizens of Ladonia pushed forward to keep their nation's message alive. Slowly but surely, the micronation rebuilt itself on a domestic level.
And on the international level, Ladonia wasn't doing too bad, either! In 2015, the micronation sent a representative to PoliNation, the Third International Conference on Micronations, which was held in the Free Republic of Alcatraz, found near Perugia, Italy. And since then Ladonia has appeared at other Micronation gatherings.
A Unique Culture
Wonder what's entailed with being a Ladonian? While the nation might be small, its national character certainly isn't. And while in the rest of the Western world, December is full of mainstream holidays like Christmas, Chanukah, and Kwanzaa, Ladonians spend the month a little differently...
Starting with December 21st, Ladonians celebrate Day of Half Madness and Roaring with Wolves, followed the next day by back-to-back First and Second and Half-Days of Misunderstanding. And of course, what would a Ladonian December be without Day of Throwing Things at Each Other?
An Aspirant State
Despite the setbacks it has encountered, the micronation of Ladonia is stronger than ever. More than 26,000 individuals proudly boast citizenship under Queen Carolyn I's rule, and 1,106 people are considered as nobles after having made a $30 donation to obtain the distinguished title.
The nation's cabinet currently consists of 125 ministers, and approximately 40,000 tourists make the trek down that 1.5-mile path to visit each year, according to the Höganäs Visitors Bureau. Proud and free, the Royal Republic of Ladonia continues to serve as a beacon for creativity and freedom of expression.