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Merket: an uninhabited Swedish-Finnish island

Lists of unusual national borders are often found on the Internet. For example, territorial anomalies are observed on the borders of such countries as the USA and Canada, Holland and Belgium. The Finnish-Swedish border, which lies on the small island of Merket in the Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic Sea, looks no less strange. The thing is that it has a bizarre Z-shape. What is the story behind this fact and why is the island the property of two states at once?

An unusual zigzag boundary

Merket could rather be called a "skerry" - a small rocky island whose seashore is cut by narrow and long straits (fjords). It is the world's smallest island, divided between two nations. Geographically, it is located in the Södra-Kvarken Strait. Surprisingly, there are two time zones on the same island - just take a couple of steps to the side and the time will change.

According to the Friedrichsgam Peace Treaty of 1809, signed after the end of the Russo-Swedish War, Finland and the Åland Islands became part of the Russian Empire. For inexplicable reasons, the border was drawn right down the middle of Merket Island and remained unchanged.

Merket, part of the Åland Islands, is an uninhabited rocky skerry with an area of only 3.3 hectares. Despite such a small area, the island is shared by two countries. The western part of the land belongs to Sweden and the eastern part to Finland. Both countries take their possessions very seriously: every 25 years the borders are rechecked. This is due to the fact that the shape and size of the island is constantly changing.

To mark the border, 10 markers were drilled on the rocky island, as strong storm winds and powerful waves tear down any non-fundamental buildings. Every 25 years, representatives of the two countries come here to reconcile the boundaries. The last time this procedure was carried out in 2006 with the participation of third countries and with the mandatory agreement of the Åland Islands.

Market Reef Märket Island OJ0JR
Market Reef (Märket Island). Author - Franz Airiman.

Dangerous rocks and lighthouse construction

Due to the huge number of rocky skerries, shoals and cliffs, the waters of Botany Bay were considered unsafe. In 1873 alone, eight ships were wrecked near Merket Island. Only experienced pilots could competently correct the course and avoid the inaccessible rocky coastline with a dense network of underwater reefs. The terrain is constantly changing, so the danger for mariners remains today. Over 30 ships have sunk in local waters, including two Russian submarines.

Merket was important for navigation in the past. In 1885, on the initiative of the Russian authorities, a lighthouse was built on the tiny uninhabited island. The project was carried out by Finnish architect Georg Schreck. The structure was erected on the highest point of the island - 3 metres above sea level, so that the foundation would not collapse due to the impact of frequent storms. The location was on the Swedish side of the border, which was not an obstacle to the construction of the navigation facility. At that time, there were no maps showing the exact territorial boundaries of the island.

Although the lighthouse was officially located on Swedish territory, the Finns continued to use it. A conflict soon broke out between the Nordic countries, which was not resolved until a century after the lighthouse was built. An acceptable solution was found for both sides: the piece of land with the lighthouse was replaced by the same piece of land belonging to Finland. As a result, one of the most unusual Z-shaped boundaries was formed. At the same time, the territorial division of the coastline was preserved so that the rights of fishermen were not violated.

Merket lighthouse today

The lighthouse became automated in 1979, but was soon abandoned by the Finns and fell into disrepair. Since 2007, volunteers from the Finnish Lighthouse Community have regularly travelled to the island to spend the summer, renovate the lighthouse and tell rare tourists about the history of the ancient navigation facility. The foundation is dedicated to the reconstruction and protection of ancient lighthouses, considering them unique historical monuments. Becoming a member of the organisation and spending time on the island can be done for a small amount of euros.

On a deserted rocky island in the middle of the sea, where there is no vegetation, all life is centred in the lighthouse. It stands out against the harsh landscape with its red and white colouring. In addition to the lighthouse, several other structures have been erected on Merket.

The maximum number of people that can be accommodated inside the structure at the same time is 12. Conditions are modest, but there is everything necessary: library, kitchen, workshop, offices. All rooms are heated by stoves. In addition, volunteers have built a small sauna. To prevent the structure from being blown away by strong gusts of wind, it is tied with ropes.

Travelling to Merket

The coastline around Merket is still treacherous and not always accessible. During the cold season, the winds are fierce and storms are fierce. It is one of the windiest places in Finland, so boats come here mostly in summer.

Getting to these wild and unequipped places for tourists is not an easy task. A ship periodically sails from Ekkerö in the far west of the Åland Islands, bringing food and building materials for the volunteers. During the summer months on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays there are also excursions to Merket from Karingsunds harbour. The journey time is about an hour and the island tour itself only takes a couple of hours.

Daredevil travellers, professional romantic photographers and lighthouse lovers head here for the panoramic views. Rare tourists are attracted by the stark, laconic Scandinavian-style landscape. Here, the sky flows smoothly into an endless water surface, and in the middle you can see a small patch of land with cracks in the rocky ground and a towering lighthouse.

OJ0JR. Where is Market Reef Märket Island located. Map.

OJ0JR Market Reef. Sunrise 07-17-2024 at 01:46 GMT sunset at 19:52 GMT
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