Stockholm was founded around 1250 on a small island in the narrow Strömmen channel between the Baltic Sea and Lake Mälaren. Today, the Swedish capital stretches across 14 islands. As well as a stunning waterside location, Stockholm boasts a rich cultural heritage. Its 750-year history has produced a wealth of beautiful buildings, such as the Royal Palace and Drottningholm – symbols of Sweden’s era as a great power in the 17th and early 18th centuries. Many other impressive treasures from the past can be discovered in the city’s fine museums.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Stockholm’s 700-year-old cathedral, known as Storkyrkan (literally, “big church”) is of great national religious importance. From here, the Swedish reformer Olaus Petri (1493–1552) spread his Lutheran message around the kingdom. The cathedral is also used for royal ceremonies. A small church was built on this site in the 13th century, probably by the city’s founder Birger Jarl. In 1306, it was replaced by a much bigger basilica, St. Nicholas. The 15th-century Gothic interior was revealed in 1908 during restoration work. The late Baroque period provided the cathedral’s so-called “royal chairs,” the pews nearest the chancel, which were designed by Nicodemus Tessin the Younger (1654–1728) to be used by royal guests on special occasions. The 66-m- (216-ft-) high tower was added in 1743. The cathedral houses some priceless artifacts, such as Bernt Notke’s late-Gothic sculpture of St. George and the Dragon (1489), celebrating Sten Sture the Elder’s 1471 victory over the Danes. Other prized treasures are the silver altar (1650s) and the Parhelion Painting, which depicts a light phenomenon observed over Stockholm in 1535. Research has proved the painting is not the original, but a copy from the 1630s.
Completed in the mid-13th century, the Tre Kronor (Three Crowns) fortress was turned into a royal residence by the Vasa kings during the following century. In 1697, it was destroyed by fire. In its place, the architect Nicodemus Tessin the Younger (1654–1728) created a new palace with an Italianate exterior and a French interior that also shows Swedish influences. Though the palace is no longer the king’s residence, the State Apartments are still used for official functions. Banquets for visiting heads of state are often held in the magnificent Karl XI’s Gallery, which is modeled on the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles outside Paris, and is a fine example of Swedish Late Baroque. Look out for the exquisite ivory and silver saltcellar, designed by Flemish painter Rubens. The two-story Hall of State, designed by Tessin and Carl Hårleman, combines Rococo and Classical elements and contains one of the palace’s most valuable treasures, the splendid silver coronation throne of Queen Kristina (reigned 1633–54). Below the Hall of State is the Treasury, where the State regalia are kept, including King Erik XIV’s crown, scepter, and orb. Other priceless artifacts, such as two crystal crowns belonging to the present monarchs, King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia, are on view in the Royal Chapel. Within the palace are two museums. Gustav III’s Museum of Antiquities opened in 1794 in memory of the murdered king, and contains artifacts collected during his journey to Italy in 1783–4. The Tre Kronor Museum illustrates the palace’s 1,000-year history, and has relics rescued from the burning palace in 1697. A very popular tourist event, the daily changing of the guard, takes place at midday in the palace’s Outer Courtyard.
Built on the site of the late 13th-century Greyfriars abbey, founded by Magnus Ladulås, this majestic brick church is best known for its ornate burial vaults. Dating back to the 17th century, the vaults hold the remains of all the Swedish sovereigns from Gustav II Adolf, with two exceptions: Queen Kristina, buried at St. Peter’s in Rome in 1689, and Gustav VI Adolf, who was interred at Haga, on the city outskirts, in 1973. Especially moving are the graves of royal children, including the many small tin coffins that surround the tombs of Gustav II Adolf and his queen, Maria Eleonora.
Probably Sweden’s biggest architectural project of the 20th century, the Stadshuset (City Hall) was completed in 1923 and has become a symbol of Stockholm. It was designed by Ragnar Östberg (1866–1945) and displays influences of both the Nordic Gothic and Northern Italian schools. Many leading Swedish artists contributed to the rich interior design, including Einar Forseth (1892–1988), who created the stunning Byzantine-inspired gold-leaf wall mosaics in the Golden Room. The building contains the Council Chamber and 250 offices for administrative staff. As well as a workplace for the city’s councilors, the Stadshuset also provides a venue for special events, such as the annual Nobel Prize ceremony, which takes place in the lavish Blue Hall.
STUREPLAN AND STUREGALLERIAN
After a fire at the Sturebadet swimming pool in 1985, the Stureplan district was revamped and restored to its late 19th-century glory. Part of the renovation of the area included building a stylish shopping mall, the Sturegallerian, which boasts some 60 retail outlets. The Sturebadet public baths, within the mall, have been rebuilt according to their original late 19thcentury Art Nouveau design.
The city’s oldest park, the King’s Garden takes its name from when it was a royal kitchen garden in the 15th century. During the summer, open-air theater, dancing, concerts, and food festivals take place here. In winter, the skating rink is a popular attraction. At the center of the park is a bronze fountain (1866) by J.P. Molin, who also designed the statue of Karl XII (1868) at the park’s southern end. Overlooking this part of the park is the city’s royal opera house, the Kungliga Operan (1898), whose ornate interior includes the Gold Foyer, with ceiling paintings by Carl Larsson. In the 16th century, the kitchen garden was transformed into a Renaissance garden. The 17th-century summer house built for Queen Kristina still stands on the park’s western flank.
The location of the Nationalmuseum, on the Strömmen channel, inspired the 19thcentury German architect August Stüler to design a building in the Venetian and Florentine Renaissance styles. Completed in 1866, the museum houses some 500,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings from the 15th to the early 20th centuries. The focus of the painting and sculpture section is Swedish 18th- to early 20thcentury art, but the 17th-century Dutch and Flemish, and 18thcentury French schools are also well represented. Highlights include Rembrandt’s The Conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis (1661–62) and The Lady with the Veil (1769) by Swedish portrait painter Alexander Roslin. The decorative arts department contains 30,000 works. Among the exhibits on display is Scandinavia’s largest display of porcelain, glass, silverware, and furniture. Another exhibit, Design 19002000, tracks the history of design to the present day. During renovations, part of the collection will be on display at Konstakademien (Fredsgatan 12) and Kulturhuset Stadsteatern at Sergel’s Torg.
The Museum of Modern Art is an airy, contemporary building, designed by the Catalan architect Rafael Moneo in 1998. The light and spacious venue provides a perfect setting for the museum’s world-class collection of international and Swedish modern art, photography, and film. Built partly underground, the museum includes a cinema and auditorium. All the works on display date from between 1900 and the present day. Two of the star exhibits are The Child’s Brain (1914) by Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico, widely considered a precursor to the Surrealists, and Monogram (1955–59) by the late American painter and sculptor Robert Rauschenberg. Among the collection of Swedish works is Nils Dardel’s Expressionistic painting, The Dying Dandy (1918).
The centerpiece of the city’s most popular museum is the massive royal warship, Vasa, which capsized in Stockholm harbor on its maiden voyage in 1628. Rediscovered in 1956, the vessel has been painstakingly restored to 95 percent of its original appearance. The warship is decorated with around 700 sculpted figures and carved ornaments, designed as a type of war propaganda. King Gustav II Adolf, who commissioned Vasa, was known as the Lion of the North, so a springing lion was the obvious choice for the figurehead on the ship’s prow. It is 4 m (13 ft) long and weighs 450 kg (990 lb). Although visitors cannot board the ship, full-scale models of Vasa’s upper gun deck and the Admiral’s cabin provide a glimpse of what life on board was like. There is also a fascinating display of items retrieved in the salvage operation, including medical equipment, an officer’s backgammon set, and a chest still neatly packed with clothing and other personal belongings. Moored in the dock alongside the museum are two other historic vessels, collectively referred to as the Museifartygen. The lightship Finngrundet was built in 1903 and worked for 60 years before becoming a museum. Sankt Erik was commissioned in 1915 and was Sweden’s first seagoing icebreaker.
The world’s first open-air museum opened in 1891 to show an increasingly industrialized society how people once lived. Around 150 buildings were assembled from all over Scandinavia, to portray the life of peasants and landed gentry, as well as Lapp (Sami) culture. In the Town Quarter glassblowers and other craftsmen demonstrate their skills. Two of Skansen’s oldest “exhibits” are a 650-year-old wooden farmhouse from Dalarna, and a 14th-century storehouse from Norway. Nordic flora and fauna can be seen, with moose, bears, and wolves in natural habitat enclosures and marine animals in an aquarium. Gröna Lund theme park offers 30 attractions, including a love tunnel, haunted house, white knuckle roller coasters, and hosts many music concerts.
Housed in a Renaissance-style building, the Nordiska museet’s collection was started by Artur Hazelius (1833–1901), founder of the Skansen open-air museum, with the intention of reminding future generations of the old Nordic farming culture. Today, the museum has over 1.5 million exhibits portraying everyday life in Sweden from the 1520s to the present day. Items on display range from priceless jewelry, to furniture, dolls’ houses, and replicas of period rooms, such as the splendid 17th-century state bed-chamber from Ulvsunda Castle. Highlights include the monumental gilded oak statue of King Gustav Vasa (1924) and 16 paintings by the Swedish author and dramatist August Strindberg (1849–1912).
Sweden’s National Historical Museum was opened in 1943. It originally made its name with relics from the Viking era, as well as its outstanding collections from the Middle Ages. The latter include one of the museum’s star exhibits – a richly gilded wooden Madonna figure, from Sweden’s early medieval period. In the prehistoric collection is the Alunda Elk, a ceremonial stone ax, discovered in 1920 at Alunda and thought to have been made around 2000 BC. Since the early 1990s, the museum’s priceless collection of gold and silver, dating from the Bronze Age to the Middle Ages, has been on show in the Guldrummet (Gold Room). Look out for the stunning Elisabeth Reliquary, an 11thcentury goblet, with a silver cover made in 1230 to enclose the skull of St. Elisabeth.
With its sumptuous palace, theater, park, and Chinese pavilion, the whole of the Drottningholm estate has been included in UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Contemporary Italian and French architecture inspired Nicodemus Tessin the Elder (1615–81) in his design of the royal palace. Begun in the 1660s on the orders of King Karl X Gustav’s widow, Queen Hedvig Eleonora, the building was completed by Tessin the Younger. Today, the present royal family still uses parts of the palace as a private residence. The most lavish rooms open to the public include Queen Lovisa Ulrika’s library, designed by Jean Eric Rehn (1717–93), and Queen Hedvig Eleonora’s state bedroom, decorated in Baroque style. The Baroque and Rococo gardens and lush parkland surrounding the palace are dotted with monuments and splendid buildings. The blue and gold Chinese Pavilion (Kina Slott) was built for Queen Lovisa Ulrika in the latter half of the 18th century and contains many interesting artifacts from China and Japan. The designer of the Chinese Pavilion, Carl Fredrik Adelcrantz, was also responsible for the Drottningholm Court Theater (Slottsteatern), which dates from 1766. This simple wooden building is the world’s oldest theater still preserved in its original form. The scenery, with its wooden hand driven machinery, is still in working order. In summer, the theater hosts opera and ballet. There is also a museum, which focuses on 18th-century theater.