The people of Gothenburg have nicknamed their city “the face of Sweden”. This maritime metropolis has for centuries been one of Sweden’s gateways to the outside world. Historically, the Göta Älv river was the country’s only outlet to the west, as can be seen by the remains of fortresses and earthworks that once protected it. Gothenburg is still Sweden’s most important port and holds fast to its maritime past.
POINTS OF INTEREST
The cheeky red and white GötheborgsUtkiken office building has dominated the Lilla Bommen harbor area since 1989. Architects Ralph Erskine and Heikki Särg’s daring design was soon christened the “Lipstick” by Gothenburg wits. Standing 86 m (282 ft) above sea level, it offers incredible views over the harbor and the city center from the top floor.
One of the world’s few preserved four-masted vessels from the great age of sail is permanently moored in Gothenburg. The Viking was built in 1906 by the Copenhagen shipyard Burmeister & Wain. She sailed the wheat route to Australia and shipped guano from Chile in South America. A fast and beautiful vessel, she logged a record speed of 15.5 knots in 1909. Her days as a merchant ship ended in 1948. In 1950 she became a training center for sailors and chefs. Today, the Viking is an unusual setting for a hotel and conference center. In summer the 97 m (318 ft) deck becomes a popular harbourside café, restaurant and bar, with a very lively, bustling atmosphere.
The 1994 opening of the impressive Opera House reflected in the water of the Göta Älv river had been eagerly anticipated by western Sweden’s music lovers. This is shown by the vast donation wall listing the names of the 6,000 people who helped to fund the new building. The theater is designed on a grand scale. The octagonal auditorium seats 1,300 people, all able to enjoy the excellent acoustics. The main stage covering 500 sq m (5,380 sq ft) is complemented by a further four equally large areas for storing sets. Using advanced technology, it is possible to switch quickly between productions, thus enabling the Opera House to stage a repertoire of opera, musicals and contemporary dance. Architect Jan Izikowitz was inspired by Gothenburg’s harbourside location, the aim of his design is for the “building to be possessed by a lightness which encourages thoughts to soar like seagulls’ wings over the mighty river landscape”.
As the city’s new port facilities moved further out towards the sea, Gothenburg’s inner harbor became denuded of ships. Fortunately, the situation was rectified in 1987 when Göteborgs Maritima Centrum was set up on the harbor. The museum now has 13 vessels at anchor, comprising what is said to be the world’s largest floating ship museum. Vessels include the destroyer Småland, built in 1952 at Eriksbergs shipyard on the other side of the river, the submarine Nordkaparen (1962), and the monitor Sölve (1875), as well as lightships, fireboats and tugs.
A grand brick building in the Dutch style, Kronhuset was constructed in 1643–55 and is Gothenburg’s oldest preserved secular building. This part of town was originally a storage area for the artillery. The ground floor was converted into a chamber for the parliament of 1660. Today, the building is used regularly for popular events such as concerts and exhibitions. Around the square are Kronhusbodarna (the Kronhus sheds), which create a pleasant setting for craftspeople whose wares include pottery, glass, clocks and homemade sweets. There is also an old-fashioned country store with a café.
GUSTAV ADOLFS TORG
Gothenburg’s founder, Gustav II Adolf, gave his name to the city’s central square. Since 1854 Bengt Erland Fogelberg’s statue of the “hero king” has gazed imperiously over the square and Rådhuset (the town hall), Börsen (the Stock Exchange) and Stadshuset (the City Hall). On 6 November, the date on which the king died at the Battle of Lützen in 1632, a special marzipan cake is made in his honor. It is topped with a piece of chocolate in the shape of the king’s head. Rådhuset, closest to Norra Hamngatan, was designed by Nicodemus Tessin the Elder and completed in 1673. It has a Functionalist extension designed in 1937 by Gunnar Asplund. Both the 18th-century Stadshuset and Wenngrenska Villa, located on the north side of the square, are used by the city administration. Börsen, designed by P J Ekman in 1849, is the city’s main venue for receptions and council meetings.
The City Museum is located in the Ostindiska Huset (East India House). The building, designed by Bengt Wilhelm Carlberg and Carl Hårleman, was constructed in 1747–62 as management premises, auction rooms and a warehouse for the East India Company. When trading ceased in the early 19th century the building became a natural history museum, and in 1861 the City Museum was founded. The permanent exhibitions show the early history of Western Sweden and the importance of the Göta Älv river as a route to Europe from the Viking period onwards. Displays focus on the history of the first inhabitants of Gothenburg and the industrialization and social upheavals of the 20th century. The work of the East India Company and its trade in exotic goods such as Chinese porcelain, silk and lacquer work, is also featured.
Gothenburg’s cathedral, Gustavi Domkyrka, was designed by C W Carlberg in Neo-Classical style in 1815–25. It stands on the ruins of its two predecessors, which were both destroyed by fire. In front of the cathedral in Domkyrkoplan is one of the city’s preserved watering places: from the late 18th-century water was transported here in hollowed-out oak logs from the well of Gustafs Källa to the south of the city.
Gothenburg has many parks, but Trädgårdsföreningen is in a class of its own. In 1842 work began to transform a marshland south of Vallgraven into beautiful parkland for the benefit of the city’s residents. The flora of five continents are represented in the magnificent Palmhuset (Palm House) built in 1878. The building is filled with flowering camellias, giant bamboo, exotic orchids and plenty of palm trees. Vattenhuset (the Water House) is carpeted by the twisting roots of mangrove trees and the 2-m (6-ft) wide petals of the giant water lily. The Rosarium is not to be missed, especially by rose lovers. It has become a leading world collection with more than 1,900 varieties. There are cafés in the park and Trägår’n, a restaurant and nightclub which has been entertaining pleasure-seeking locals since the 19th century. It is now housed in a new building with a large open-air terrace for partying.
Sweden’s largest arena, Ullevi, opened for the 1958 football World Cup and over the years has hosted numerous international events. Architect Fritz Jaenecke’s elegant wave-shaped ellipse has been renovated and modernized several times. The arena seats 43,000 spectators for sporting events and can accommodate an audience of 75,000 for concerts. In front of the arena, a statue has been erected in honor of the great Swedish boxer Ingemar “Ingo” Johansson (1932–2009).
The country’s leading museum of applied art and design, Röhsska Museet contains a marvelous collection of 20thcentury Nordic domestic and decorative items. Other parts of the museum are devoted to European applied art, and antiquities from the ancient world, Japan and China. A mere fraction of the total of 50,000 objects can be displayed at any one time. Specialist temporary exhibitions are also mounted. The museum was founded with donations from financiers Wilhelm and August Röhss. It opened in 1916 as the Röhss Museum of Handicrafts in the beautiful brick building designed by architect Carl Westman. Next to the museum is the University College for Arts and Crafts Design.
Along the Mölndalsån river, not far from Kungsportsavenyn, spreads an area containing several of Gothenburg’s major sights and venues, including Liseberg, Ullevi and Universeum, the largest science center in Scandinavia. While the aim of Universeum is to stimulate the interest of children and young people in science and technology, it provides a fun, educational experience for the entire family. The center was built largely with recycled or ecologically friendly materials, and solar panels on the roof ensure that the building has a low impact on the environment. Exhibits are often interactive and include a tropical rainforest populated by snakes, frogs, and spiders; a large aquarium with sharks and rays, as well as a Swedish West Coast tank filled with local sea life; and a space station where you can learn about the life of an astronaut in space.
Designed by the London-based architects Cécile Brisac and Edgar Gonzalez and completed in 2005, the icecubelike Världskulturmuseet is a museum of world cultures. The exhibitions, like the building, are far from traditional; they are intended to surprise, provoke and question stereotyped attitudes towards culture and subculture, and are complemented by a program of concerts, films, dance, and poetry.
The people of Gothenburg are rightly proud of their amusement park which attracts huge numbers of visitors. Apart from the latest rides, this is the place for dancing and entertainment, shows and theatre performances. It is also a beautiful green park where garden design has always played a major role. The park’s history began in the 18th century when financier Johan Anders Lamberg bought the land and built the first magnificent house, Landeriet, in 1753. He had two passions in life – gardening and his wife Lisa, after whom the new house on the hill was named, Liseberg. The City of Gothenburg bought the site for the Gothenburg Exhibition in 1923 and founded the amusement park with the installation of a wooden roller-coaster. Other rides followed, attracting 140 million visitors over the past 80 years. “Balder” is said to be the best wooden roller-coaster in the world. It reaches a speed of 90 km/h (56 mph) from a top height of 36 m (118 ft). This rollercoaster is reminiscent of the park’s first one. “Kanonen” offers another extreme experience, with its rapid acceleration, sharp loops and turns and 360-degree rotation.
The focal point of the city is Götaplatsen, the square at the southwestern end of Kungsportsavenyn. Here Gothenburg’s bastions of culture, Konst museet (the Art Museum), Konsthallen (the Art Hall), Konserthuset (the Concert Hall), Stadsteatern (the City Theatre), and Stadsbiblioteket (the City Library) sit in the state. In the center of this grand square, the water plays around Carl Milles’ giant statue Poseidon, which has become the symbol of Gothenburg. Götaplatsen was built for the city’s 300th anniversary and the Gothenburg Exhibition in 1923, which is why many of the buildings were exhibition premises from the start. Wide steps lead up from the southeastern side of the square to Konstmuseet, designed by Sigfrid Ericson. It contains a rich collection of Nordic art, with key works by Carl Larsson, Ernst Josephson and the Gothenburg Colourists. The Danish golden age, Dutch and Flemish painting and French Modernists are also represented. Pride of place is taken by Furstenbergska Galleriet, a copy of the gallery which the great patron of the arts had in his private palace in the late 19th century. The neighboring Konsthallen shows temporary exhibitions. The bronze lion on the façade is by Palle Pernevi. Konserthuset on the southwestern side of the square was designed by Nils Einar Eriksson and opened in 1935. The foyer is decorated with murals by Prince Eugen (Grove of Memories) and Otte Sköld (Folk Song) as well as a large tapestry by Sven X-et Erixson (Melodies in the Square). Stadsteatern, built in 1934, reopened in 2002 after extensive renovation to highlight the best of Carl Bergsten’s elegant 1930s architecture.
Topped by a golden crown, the octagonal Skansen Kronan fortress dates from Sweden’s Age of Greatness. It sits enthroned on the peak of Skansberget. Like its counterpart Skansen Lejonet, near the station area, Kronan is one of the most striking survivors of Erik Dahlbergh’s fortifications. It was built in 1687 to protect the city from attack from the south. During the 1850s it was used as a shelter for homeless citizens and has also been a prison. The fortress is surrounded by Skansberget, a leafy park offering excellent views from the top, up steep steps.
The former working-class area of the city south of Vallgraven is one of the few places to experience old Gothenburg. The cobbled streets, courtyards and wood-and-stone houses of Gamla Haga are home to craftspeople and lined with small shops, cafés and restaurants. Haga was Gothenburg’s first suburb as early as the 17th century and was mainly populated by harbor workers. During the industrialization of the 19th century a shanty town grew up here and tenements filled with people thronging in from the countryside to seek work. In the 1960s and 70s Haga was fast becoming a slum and threatened with demolition. Widespread public opposition to the plans ensured that important parts were saved and the houses renovated. Some of the landshövdingehusen (“county governor’s houses”) typical of the area can be seen. These were built in the 1880s- when rules set in 1854 banning wooden houses in the center more than two stories high were circumvented – with the governor’s approval. Providing the building had a ground floor in brick, as these do, it could have two wooden floors above and not constitute a fire risk.
It is easy to see why the wits of Gothenburg nicknamed the fish market Feskekôrka (the fish church). Victor von Gegerfelt borrowed from Gothic church architecture when he designed this market hall in 1874, incorporating a steeply pitched roof and large oriel windows. The catch from the North Sea is brought here directly, guaranteeing the freshest mackerel and the most delicious shellfish. These days there is more to the market than simply selling fish over the counter – the hall provides a colorful setting for restaurant tables at which seafood specialties can be sampled.
The maritime history of Gothenburg and Bohuslän is one of the subjects of Sjöfartsmuseet (the Maritime Museum). Set up in 1933, it was funded by the Broström shipping family and is situated on Stigberget, high above the Göta Älv river. The fascinating displays also explore the sometimes complex relationship between man and sea, and show how the port has adapted to a changing world. Those who wish to find out more about marine life can head to Akvariet (the Aquarium), which has 25 tanks covering both Nordic and tropical waters. Here, it is possible to see how crabs, starfish and sea anemones live 40 m (130 ft) below the surface. A touch-pool allows visitors to come into close contact with some creatures. Gamla Varvsparken contains various busts including one of the shipbuilder F H af Chapman (1721–1808). Sjömanstornet tower outside the museum is topped by Ivar Johansson’s bronze sculpture Woman by the Sea, 1933, in memory of the sailors from western Sweden who died in World War I.
The western side of the Stigberget hill was formerly the site of the Amiralitetsvarvet shipyard and it was here in the early 1700s that Privateer Captain Lars Gathenhielm was granted land by Karl XII. His widow built a two-story manor house here in 1740. It is one of Sweden’s best examples of a Carolian wooden house designed to imitate stone. Next to the house is an open-air museum of small wooden houses showing what a suburb looked like in 1800.
SLOTTSSKOGEN AND NATURHISTORISKA MUSEET
Since the 1870s, Slottsskogen has been one of the city’s finest green spaces. Criss-crossed by paths, it features dazzling planting, ponds, a zoo, and various activities. In spring the azalea valley is ablaze with color. In 1999, what was then the world’s longest border, with over 90,000 flowering bulbs, was created. There are a number of old cottages from western Sweden to be seen in the park. Areas for sport and outdoor activities include Slottsskogsvallen. The park has several cafés and a restaurant. Gothenburg’s oldest museum, Naturhistoriska Museet (the Museum of Natural History), lies in the northern part of the park. Dating from 1833, it moved to Slottsskogen in 1923. Its vast collection of more than 10 million exhibits incorporates animals of all sizes from all around the world, including brightly colored insects and an African elephant. The most famous of its stuffed animals is Malmska Valen, a blue whale measuring more than 16 m (52 ft) long, which was beached in Askimviken in 1865. It was stuffed and mounted on a tree trunk. The upper jaw opens, and inside the whale, there is a room with benches and wall hangings where it is said coffee used to be served. Now the whale is only open for visits on special occasions.
Covering 1,750,000 sq m (432 acres) and containing 16,000 species, Gothenburg’s Botanical Garden is one of the largest of its kind in Europe. Just under a fifth of the area has been developed into gardens, while the remainder forms a nature reserve partly consisting of a primeval forest. The gardens began to be designed in 1916 and have been expanded continually ever since. The Rhododendron Valley offers a rich tapestry of dazzling flowers in late spring each year. The Rock Garden, in a former quarry, contains 5,000 alpine plants from around the world. In early summer the Japanese Glade with its scented magnolias is a delight while autumn sees an oriental riot of color. Large greenhouses shelter the plants from the sometimes bitter climate. The controlled environments within recreating a variety of conditions from desert to steaming rain forest. In the tropical house, bamboo and banana plants stretch more than 10 m (33 ft) up to the ceiling and there are 1,500 orchids in the most amazing colors and shapes.
Seafaring has been of immense importance to Gothenburg and the harbor and shipyard have long dominated the area along the Göta Älv river. Now the shipbuilding industry is a shadow of its former self and apart from ferry traffic, the major shipping activities have moved down to the mouth of the river. Yet, although there is little loading and unloading to be seen in the center of the city these days, three times more goods are shipped today than in the 1960s. The inner harbor and shipyard area bordered by the imposing Älvsborgsbron bridge have been transformed to provide housing, offices and centers for research and education. Nevertheless, the pulse of seafaring can still be experienced either on a regular ferry from Lilla Bommen to Eriksbergsvarvet shipyard or on the white, flat-bottomed Paddan Boats which run from Kungsport splatsen bridge (about a 10-minute walk away) via 17th-century Vallgraven down the river to the inner harbor. The round trip takes about 50 minutes. GöteborgsOperan is best viewed from the water, as are Barken Viking and Maritiman. Eriksbergs shipyard on Hisingen is the home port of the spectacular East Indiaman Götheborg, which is often out on voyages all around the world. Tours also operate around the island of Hisingen and the outer harbor, and to the Gothenburg archipelago.
NYA ÄLVSBORGS FÄSTNING
In 1660 a new fortress on Kyrkogårdsholmen, at the mouth of the Göta Älv river, replaced the dilapidated, centrally located Älvsborg castle to defend Sweden’s precious gateway to the North Sea. It was besieged by the Danes in 1717 and 1719 but never captured. In the late 18th century it became a prison that closed in 1869. Today the fortress is a popular tourist destination in summer; it even has a wedding chapel.