Sweden // The southwest //

The Night Bugler of Ystad


Staying in Ystad, you’ll soon get acquainted with a tradition that harks back to the seventeenth century: from a room in St Maria church watchtower, a night watchman (tornväktaren) sounds a bugle every fifteen minutes from 9.15pm to 1am. The haunting sound isn’t disturbing, though it’s audible wherever you stay in the centre. The sounding through the night was to assure the town that the watchman was still awake (until the mid-nineteenth century, he was liable to be executed if he slept on duty); however, the real purpose of this activity was as a safeguard against the outbreak of fire. The idea was that if one of the thatched cottages went up in flames, the bugle would sound repeatedly for all to go and help extinguish the blaze. The melancholic bellowing only ceased during World War II, though then the residents complained they couldn’t sleep in the unbroken silence. If you look carefully from Stortorget, you can just see the instrument appear at little openings in the tower walls each time it’s played.

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