Kiruna: The Swedish town which must move or disappear into the ground

The iron ore mine behind the town's existence is now endangering it

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A mining town in Sweden has been forced to make a tough and unusual choice: move two miles or be destroyed.

The state-run Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara Aktiebolag (LKAB) iron ore mine which was the motivation behind the town’s construction in 1900, is now the reason it faces demolition.

As extractions extend further under Kiruna, waste rock which fills the cavities causes the ground to shift – pushing deformities ever closer to Sweden's northernmost town. If it does not move, it will simply sink into the earth.


At an estimated cost of over $2billion, LKAB will begin the process of dismantling and moving the historic town of Kiruna this month, to make room for Europe’s biggest iron ore mine.

Among the buildings which must make the move are the town’s ice hotel, and a red wooden church which was voted the country’s most beautiful building.

With the blessing of its 18,000 inhabitants, most of the town’s other 1,100 buildings, excluding the church, will be demolished and replaced on the new plot. 

LKAB will compensate owners by paying them 125 per cent of their property value or build a new home.

In the face of falling iron ore prices, LKAB, which planned the move in 2004, is hoping that its world-class quality commodity – which makes up 90 per cent of iron ore produced in Europe - will make the strategy worthwhile.

"We have to move past the grief because we've made a decision and 96 percent of the people supported it," Kiruna deputy mayor Niklas Siren told Reuters.

"The town and the mine live in symbiosis: there is no town without the mine and no mine without the town."

A model of Kiruna town showing the expected expansion of the iron ore mine on the town's outskirts. (Image: Reuters)

Vicar Lars Jarlemyr, whose flock attends the iconic Kiruna Church, told Reuters: “A town is not just buildings but also people. So when you tear it down, you do the same with a community.

"People move, get new neighbours, new everything and because everything will be new, it will also be more expensive,” Jarlemyr added.

The houses closest to the mine, which tremble from the force of underground blasts each morning, will be the first to be pulled to pieces.

But the enormous undertaking of moving an entire town won’t be complete until 2033, according to arts website Hyperallergic.

Mikael Stenqvist, of the White architecture firm which re-designed the town with fellow Scandinavian firm Ghilardi + Hellsten, has described the city’s relocation as a “walking millepede".

Additional reporting by Reuters