History of Stockholm

Mother Earth Travel > Sweden > Stockholm > History

Once upon a time a fisherman was in Bishop of Strängnäs's service at the castle of Tynnelsö. On an especially beautiful day the fisherman caught an enormous salmon that he wanted to keep for his own. Therefore, he decided to flee across the islands of lake Mälaren and ended up on an island at the outlet of the big lake, and became Stockholm's first inhabitant.

This popular story about the salmon fisher is one of many legends of how Stockholm was founded. With regards to the name Stockholm, there is another known tale that goes as follows: when the town Sigtuna was destroyed by the Estonians, the citizens hid their things of great value in a hollow log and threw it in lake Mälaren. The log (called stock in Swedish) floated ashore at the island (holm) in question, and the homeless Sigtuna citizens thought this was the perfect place to settle down.

Archaeological excavations show that Stockholm was not founded until the 13th century. According to Erikskrönikan, the oldest depiction of Medieval Sweden, the regent Birger Jarl was Stockholm's founder. Stockholm went through a swift expansion and already in a document from 1289 the city is described as one of the most populated in Sweden. From the middle of the fifteenth century, the city had more than 1,000 households and a total population of 5,000 to 6,000, thus being far larger than any other contemporary Swedish city. Back then, and for a long time afterwards, the population consisted of three dominating ethnic groups: the Swedes, who were a majority, the Germans, of whom many were leading merchants, and the Finns who mainly worked as servants and plain craftsmen. Maybe the most important prerequisite for the city's early expansion was the fact that Stockholm had an excellent location as a lock to Mälaren. The elevation of the land made Stockholm's stream the only passage for ships heading towards the Baltic sea.

The battle at Brunkeberg became one of the most influential events in Sweden's political history. It once and for all ended the union kings' power over Sweden and the group of Swedish employers who had been allied with Denmark finally surrendered. 10 October 1470 the Swede Sten Sture fought the Danish king Kristian. The Dane had besieged Brunkeberg, which had not yet been settled, and the swamp where Kungsträdgården, Norrmalmstorg and Birger Jarlsgatan are today located. The Danes were attacked from two fronts and tried to retreat to Blaiseholmen. However, Stockholmers in boats attacked the bridge and succeeded in cutting it to pieces as the Danes ran over it. A lot of soldiers fell into the water and many drowned. Sten Sture's victory was great and glorious. King Kristian was wounded in battle - he lost some teeth caused by a bullet in the mouth - and never returned to the Swedish east coast. Sten Sture erected a monument in honour of his victory; the result was the wonderful sculpture Sankt Göran och Draken (St George and the Dragon) that can now be seen in Storkyrkan. More than a monument it was a token of appreciation for the saint's support and assistance during the battle.

Stockholm gained such strength and independence during the latter part of the Middle Ages, that the city became a powerful factor nationally on a political level, acting between the Danish union kings and the national movement lead by the Sture family. The dramatic course of events culminated in 1520 in a mass execution of the leading Swedish opposition. The massacre would forever be remembered as "Stockholm's bloodbath". The main part of the townspeople and the realm's nobility had been invited to the coronation of the Danish king Kristian II, nicknamed Kristian the Tyrant. After three days of hectic partying, the archbishop Gustav Trolle accused the nobility of heresy, and a temporary court found all of them guilty. The executions began the very next day. Between the depressing 8 and 9 November approximately 100 people were beheaded at Stortorget.

The massacre became the beginning of a series of events that resulted in that Gustav Vasa (with a fast-growing beard) marched into the city in 1523 and proclaimed himself Sweden's first king and dynasty founder.

On 7 May 1697, Stockholm's pride until then, the castle Tre Kronor (Three crowns), burned down. As a blessing in disguise, no one perished in the flames. The fire broke out in the middle of the day in the attic above the drawing-room, which was located in the Medieval part of the big complex: the old castle consisted of houses from different eras. When the fire was finally discovered it had spread with such speed that the outer roof and the inner ceiling were ablaze. The old tower Tre Kronor was on fire as well, and eight guns and one church bell that were stored on the upper floor fell down with a terrible crash into the queen's wine cellar, causing the whole tower to collapse. The fire continued the whole day and the whole night and destroyed everything except the north wing. The new castle - Slottet - is located exactly where Tre Kronor once stood, facing the Opera.

It was not until the seventeenth century that the political institutions such as riksdagen, the central administration, and the Svea court of appeal were located in Stockholm.

A couple of bad yields during the end of the seventeenth century and a plague in 1710-11, along with the big Nordic wars, resulted in economical overexertion. However, through growing industrialization, at the end of the century Stockholm managed to regain its role as the realm's prominent industrial community.

It has gone down in history as the "masquerade murder". King Gustav III adored France and it was through him that the Swedish language, art, music and other culture developed, inspired by the baguette-loving kingdom. On Friday 16 March 1792 the king went to the opera in the evening for a masquerade. He had been warned that if he attended the feast he might be assassinated. Unfortunately the king ignored the warning, put on his mask and walked downstairs to the party. A group of masked men surrounded him and greeted him with the words "Bonjour, beau masque" (Greetings, beautiful mask). In the very next instant the king was shot from a close distance. But he did not fall over, he just uttered "Je suis blessé" (I am hurt). The assassins screamed "fire has broken out!" but no one panicked and they were all caught and arrested. Gustav III did not die that night at the opera, but the gun wound became infected and many days later he expired. Captain Anckarström, one of the conspirators, was the one who fired, and he would take all guilt upon himself. His destiny was execution.

Stockholm was one of dirtiest cities in Europe in the early nineteenth century. In addition, it was overcrowded. Söder was pure slum. Many children became disfigured since they grew up malnourished and in tiny basements with no sunlight. In this situation, the working class movement developed quite early, and 1909 the Social Democrats together with the liberals had the majority in the city council.

28 nations participated in the Olympic Games held at Stockholms Stadion in 1912. During these early Games the host countries usually won most gold medals, and Sweden was no exception.

As to more recent occurrences, the United Nations held their first international environmental conference in Stockholm 1972. One night thousands of young people demonstrated in favor of the preservation of the whale. They walked through the city behind a truck made up to look like a black whale. The demand was to end whale hunting. The next day an unprecedented resolution was accepted about a ten-year interruption to whale-fishing.

A lot has happened since that beautiful day a long, long time ago when the Bishop's fisherman caught his big salmon. Hopefully this short glimpse of history had given you a better idea of the Venice of the North - Stockholm.