One of Sweden’s oldest settlements, Uppsala, on the banks of the Fyrisån river, is also a lively university town. On the last day of April, crowds of students wearing white caps parade through the town for the traditional spring season celebrations. Dominating the town’s attractive medieval center is the Domkyrkan, Scandinavia’s largest Gothic cathedral. Its chapel contains the relics of Sweden’s patron saint, Saint Erik. The onion-domed Gustavianum, opposite the cathedral, dates from the 1620s and houses the Uppsala University Museum. The museum’s exhibits include a 17th-century anatomical theater and Egyptian, Classical, and Nordic antiquities. Just a short walk away stands the Carolina Rediviva, the impressive university library. Uppsala Slott, the town’s hilltop fortress, was built in the 16th century by King Gustav Vasa, although it was later destroyed by fire. Now restored, it also houses the Uppsala Art Museum. A short bus ride north of the town center, Gamla Uppsala is the site of the Kungshögarna, royal burial mounds believed to date from the 6th century. The Historiskt Centrum acquaints visitors with the history, legends, and lore surrounding the burial mounds and contains displays of local archaeological finds.
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The first sight on approaching Uppsala is the 119 m (390 ft) high twin spires of the largest cathedral in the Nordic region. The building, with its impressive, Gothic nave, was consecrated in 1435. Many monarchs have been crowned here and kings Gustav Vasa and Johan III, as well as botanist Carl von Linné and theosophist Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), are buried here. The chapel contains the remains of St Erik, patron saint of Sweden, in a golden shrine. The cathedral treasury, Skattkammaren, has a superb collection of textiles and silver.
Named after King Gustav II Adolf, who donated both funds and land, this is the oldest preserved building of Uppsala University. The unusual dome was built in 1662 for Olof Rudbeck’s Theatrum Anatomicum. This is an amphitheater with standing room for 200 spectators – students and paying members of the public – who would gather here to watch dissections of executed criminals. The room which visitors see today is largely a faithful reconstruction. The Gustavianum mounts exhibitions connected with the work of the university since its foundation in 1477. One of the gems on show is the Augsburg Art Cabinet from the early 17th century. It is a kind of universal museum showing the world view of the time in miniature. Various archaeological collections from Egypt and the Classical world are also on display.
In 1841, the 200-year-old university library moved into this specially designed building which houses 5 million printed books and 4 km (2 miles) of shelving holding handwritten manuscripts. Rarities include the Silver Bible from the 6th century and Olaus Magnus’s Carta Marina (1539).
Standing on a glacial ridge, this Vasa castle competes with the cathedral for domination of the city. Established as a fortress in 1549, it was added to several times but never finished. A disastrous city fire in 1702 destroyed much of the castle and restoration work was started by Carl Hårleman. The castle now houses Uppsala’s art museum, the governor’s residence and the House of Peace, a museum that explores world conflicts and Sweden’s long history of neutrality.
The botanical gardens have had an educational function since the end of the 18th century. They hold more than 130,000 plants, many exotic, in a beautiful setting that includes several greenhouses, one of which is tropical. The first garden was established on the banks of the Fyrisån river by Olof Rudbeck in 1655. In 1741, Carl von Linné took it over and made it one of the leading gardens of its time. Lovingly restored, it is now known as the Linné garden. After a donation from Gustav III in the late 18th century, teaching was switched to the castle garden, where the Linneanum, housing the orangery, opened in 1807.
Gamla Uppsala and its museum are like a time capsule. Royal burial mounds rise up from the plain as they have done for 1,500 years. This was a center for worshipping the Norse gods long into the 11th century, with a temple which, according to Adam of Bremen’s description from 1070, was clad entirely in gold and contained images of Odin, Thor and Frey. Every nine years, a bloody festival was celebrated with men, stallions and dogs sacrificed around the temple. In the early 12th century, the heathen temple gave way to a Christian church, then a cathedral. But in 1273, the seat of the diocese moved to Uppsala and the cathedral became a parish church of which only small parts remain. Nearby is Disagården, an open-air museum about the life of local farmers in the 19th century.
Linné bought Hammarby farm in 1758 because he thought the air in Uppsala was bad for his health. The estate was his rural retreat, where he was able to cultivate plants that could not tolerate the moist soil in the botanical gardens. The farm is now owned by the state and run by Uppsala University.