Stockholm’s history starts at Gamla Stan (Old Town), which still has the character of a medieval city. Its narrow lanes follow the same curves along which the seamen of former times carried their goods.
The best place to start a tour is Stortorget, the center of the original city, from which narrow streets fan out in all directions.
In medieval times, Gamla Stan’s Stortorget was a crowded noisy place of trade, where German merchants, stallholders, craftsmen and young servant girls and boys jostled and shouted. In the cobbled square today, people laze on benches or sit at one of the outdoor cafés, and it is hard to visualize that in 1520 the cobbles ran with blood during the Stockholm Bloodbath.
Despite a guarantee of safety, the Danish King Kristian II, known as The Tyrant, murdered 82 people, not only nobles but innocent civilians unlucky enough to have a shop or a business nearby. This gory incident triggered the demise of the Kalmar Union, which had united Sweden with Denmark and Norway.
Three years later, Sweden’s first heroic king Gustav Vasa, put an end to the union and made Stockholm his capital.
From the square, it’s a short walk to the Cathedral (Storkyrkan). The awesome Gothic structure is the oldest building in Gamla Satan, in part dating ty the 12th century. It has high vaulted arches and sturdy pillars stripped back to their original red brick. Its most famous statue is St. George and the Dragon, the largest medieval monument in Scandinavia, a wooden sculpture carved by Bernt Norke in 1489, which has retained its original coloring.
The cathedral was the setting fot the June 2010 royal wedding between Crown Princess Victoria and commoner Daniel Westling; crowds of around half a million lined the streets to watch the procession.
Västerlänggatan is a favorite shopping street for locals and tourists alike. Here and on nearly every other cobbled lane in the Old Town you will find shops, restaurants and cafés to suit every taste. Particularly enjoyable are the cellar restaurants with their musty smell and stone walls. It’s easy to imagine the Swedish troubadour Evert Taube (1890-1976) raising a beer stein to his compatriots as he composed yet another lyric to the Swedish way of life.
Hint: See more and pay less with a Stockholm Card, available from the Stockholm Tourist Center. It offers free travel, free admission to museums and sights, discount and guidebook.
Stockholm – The Vasa Capital, written by Tor Kjolberg
City Hall Square in Copenhagen