The Backstugas of Sweden

In a forest in southern Småland, in southern Sweden, there is a small earthen cabin you can rent on Airbnb. The cabin is partially buried in the ground with its sod roof almost flush with the ground level, which renders the cabin nearly invisible. This type of house is known as “backstuga” in Sweden, which is literally “hill cottage”. They are not very common today, but back in the 17th and 18th centuries, some of the country’s poorest people lived in them.

Many backstugas had just a single room and were often built into a hillside. It had three walls made of wood, while the hill served as the back and the fourth wall of the house. This style of building was common in southern and southwestern Sweden, where wood was expensive.

The people living in these dwellings were called backstugusittare. They were almost always very poor who lived on another person’s property and made a living doing temporary jobs, handicrafts or on charity. Sometimes the landowner let them use a small parcel of land to grow potatoes or a garden. Such cottages were typically built on land useless for farming, or on common land of the village, or that of the parish. The backstugusittare never paid any taxes, and so were often disliked by the government.

Times changed and as the social status of the backstugusittare improved, a lot of these cottages were abandoned. Some of these cottages are now preserved in Åsle outside Falköping.

The cozy little cabin pictured above, in Småland, was built in the early 1800s. The family who owns the land and the cabin today have restored the cabin, made it waterproof and now rents it out to visitors.

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