While my friends will be giving you superb coverage of our day to day travels in Stockholm, I wanted to craft a different narrative for you, one near and dear to my heart. As you may or may not know, I am an avid medievalist, so Stockholm’s dreamy old buildings and exciting museums have been a real treat for me. My journey back in time began in my first few days in Stockholm when I wandered the narrow, cobbled streets of Gamla Stan, or Old Town. Founded officially in the 13th century by the political heavy weight Birger Jarl, medieval Stockholm was limited to three islands- mainland Gamla Stan, Helgleandsholmen (Isle of the Holy Spirit), and Riddarholmen (Knights’ Island)- which now are in the center of contemporary Stockholm. Hopefully this model from the Medieval Museum will help illuminate the geography:
In the center is of course mainland Gamla Stan; at the bottom of the picture is Riddarholmen, and in the upper left hand corner is Helgelandsholmen. The following pictures are from my first encounters with Gamla Stan, hopefully you will get a good sense of important places and a feel for Gamla Stan’s colorful character.
Welcome to Stortorget, the main square of Gamla Stan. If you refer to the model above, you can see Stortorget next to the large cathedral on the main island. This was the location of the infamous Stockholm Bloodbath of 1520, in which King Christian of Denmark had high ranking members of the Swedish nobility executed in a bold move of underhand play.
The wonderful Riddarholmskyrkan. Much of this structure dates back to the 14th century. In my opinion, this church has the most impressive exterior of Gamla Stan’s churches, but unfortunately the interior was closed for the season, so I can’t say much about what it looks like inside.
And some of my favorite miscellaneous shots from Gamla Stan. From left to right: the narrowest street in Gamla Stan. A shot of Gamla Stan’s waterfront, taken from my room aboard Af Chapman. Stockholm’s own Runestone, re-purposed for the construction of some anonymous building. And lastly, Riddarholmskyrkan in the snow.
Last week we had a whirlwind tour of Stockholm with Gustavus’s Vice President for Advancement Tom Young, who got us some behind the scenes access to some exciting locales- including Gamla Stan’s Storkyrkan. We were very privileged to have a tour of the Church’s interior from the current Deacon, the generous Christina. Now the outside of the church may be a drab, unimaginative, Baroque style sadly plastered over the original Gothic beauty, the renovators left much of the medieval interior intact. These pictures are from last Thursday the 21st of March.
After our time in Storkyrkan, we inadvertently paid a visit to another site of medieval heritage in Stockholm with Tom Young. We went to a women’s shelter in Norrmalm, a good deal away from Gamla Stan. True, there were no large population centers outside of Gamla Stan in the middle ages- but there was a nunnery. The shelter, run by Stadsmission (City’s Mission), is located in what used to be part of a large medieval nunnery. I found the continuity of the space as a safe haven for Stockholm’s battered and scared women quite pleasing.
Last Friday the 22nd I had some free time, so I decided to pay the National History museum a visit. This turned out to be a fantastic choice; most of the museum’s artifacts date back to the Viking and Medieval periods. It was a real treat for me to see artifacts in person that I had only seen pictures of in my books. Talk about dreams coming true right? Let’s first start with everyone’s favorite seaborne marauders, the Vikings.
Once converted to Christianity in the 11th century, Sweden entered into its High Middle Ages. Here are some exciting fragments from Sweden’s Catholic past:
And just yesterday, the 26th of March, we finished up our tour of medieval highlights with a guided tour of Stockholm’s Medieval Museum. Our guide was fantastic, treating us to active scholarly debate and modern research. I wished I had more time to speak with him.
Stockholm’s past runs deep. The ritzy, bustling, commercial centers of Norrmalm and Östermalm may appeal to some. There’s quite literally an H&M on every block and many more trendy shops to satisfy anyone’s fashion needs. But what makes Stockholm special to me isn’t its modernity- it’s its antiquity. Untouched by recent wars, Gamla Stan stands as a mirror into a bygone age that I can only grasp at like wisps of smoke. When you walk around the narrow cobbled streets, there’s a certain energy in the air. Voices from the past whisper their stories to you, swallowing you up into a land of imagination and fairy tales. It’s that boyish excitement I feel in Gamla Stan that drives me to study history- to satiate that endless curiosity and fascination. I hope you’ve enjoyed my medieval digression, and come away from my simple blog post with just a piece of that excitement that fuels my historical enthusiasm.
Until next time friends,
-Devon R. Bealke