Stockholm’s Medieval Past Unearthed

Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholms medeltidsmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden

Ah, the Middle Ages!  They are so creepy, so fascinating, so… Swedish.  Yes, I know that doesn’t make sense, but in my little brain the medieval world is summed up in ‘The Seventh Seal’ – a Swedish film.  Not that you get to play chess with Death at this museum, but you do get to experience a clean and tidy version of medieval Stockholm.

Let me explain.  The museum is actually constructed around an archaeological site that was worked on in the 1970s, during some building work for the Riksdag (Parliament).  This was the first time that such a large area of old Stockholm had been excavated, and it brought to light objects from the 13th century onwards.  Amazingly, they found 55 meters of the town wall built by Gustav Vasa in the 1530s, 11 boats, and the churchyard of Helgeandhuset (with 7 metric tons of skeletons, apparently: a bit of a Mengele way to quantify bodies).  These finds meant that plans for the Riksdag changed; the site, called the Riksgropen (the National Pit) in the press, became a priority to preserve, so out went plans for a parliamentary carpark and in came plans to create a subterranean museum dedicated to the city’s medieval heritage.  Now if that doesn’t show how cool the Swedes are, I don’t know what does.

Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

The Museum has a very promising start, as you enter the exhibition area by going further down underground via a tunnel, with the sound of water and the flickering of lights simulating water.  Oooooh….

Walking further down into the body of the museum, through a canal from 1642 (arches are 18th century), Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

Walking further down into the body of the museum, through a canal from 1642 (arches are 18th century), Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

A small exhibition space shows a few recreations, and a few archaeological finds which give an introduction to the medieval city.  The origins of Stockholm are Viking, with a settlement built around 1000 – but the current city is thought to have started to flourish at the beginning of the 13th century.

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Striking use of metal fish in a net, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

The earliest evidence for the name Stockholm is in this document, 1252, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

The earliest evidence for the name Stockholm is in this document, 1252, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

A murderous cobbler looming in the darkness, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden.  The shoes and soles on the right are originals. 

A murderous cobbler looming in the darkness, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden.  The shoes and soles on the right are originals.

Wait, is that a drawbridge?  We must be about to enter town in the Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

Wait, is that a drawbridge?  We must be about to enter town in the Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

The 12 year old me enjoyed going over a drawbridge into the main body of the museum, because the 12 year old me finds it very easy to escape from the considerably older me when we visit museums.

Then the 30-something me gets excited at seeing that 1530s wall I mentioned.  And the lovely little objects that had been found during the excavations.  I loved the candlestick (you could buy a reproduction in the shop) and the striking pattern in the cut leather piece at the front right of the case.

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Some of the early 16th century city wall, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

Some of the treasures unearthed in excavations, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

Some of the treasures unearthed in excavations, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

The Gustav Vasa wall, early 16th century, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

The Gustav Vasa wall, early 16th century, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

A knight, some flags and the entrance to a tunnel leading to the castle, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

A knight, some flags and the entrance to a tunnel leading to the castle, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

So then you round the corner and… what’s this?

Who's that staring out the window?  Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

Who’s that staring out the window?  Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

It’s a little recreated town!  And you can go upstairs in some of the buildings as you learn about the working and living conditions of the Stockholm locals from the city’s beginnings in the 1250s, to the 1520s.  

The 12 year old me got very excited by this too.

View of the recreated old town, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

View of the recreated old town, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

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Crucifix, 15th century, from Storkyrkan, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

Detail of Crucifix, 15th century, from Storkyrkan, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

Detail of Crucifix, 15th century, from Storkyrkan, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

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The monk doesn’t look too pleased with his crops, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

It's always awkward when you visit a couple while they're still brooding after an argument, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

It’s always awkward when you visit a couple while they’re still brooding after an argument, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

View of the buildings and exhibits, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

View of the buildings and exhibits, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

View from the window of a house, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

View from the window of a house, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

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A medieval woman’s work is never done, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

There were good sections explaining various medieval crafts – for example, showing the textures and colours of fabrics, dyed with materials available at the time.

But what was really amazing was the amount of leather shoes they found.  And the condition of some of the boots is just fantastic: they’ve fared better than my Rocket Dog boots.

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Shoes, boots and booties in the Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

Amazing boots and booties, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

Amazing boots and booties, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

The other really remarkable find is the Riddarholm Ship.  It was constructed in the early 1520s, in a style the Vikings employed in their shipbuilding, only the Riddarholm ship was clearly badly built and sank pretty soon after it was launched.  I would have been more impressed by this if I hadn’t seen the remains of the Vasa the day before: and I was left feeling that in the 16th century, the Swedes had major problems building ships that were seaworthy.

The remains of the Riddarholm Ship, 1530s, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

The remains of the Riddarholm Ship, 1530s, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

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Another view of the remains of the Riddarholm Ship, 1530s, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden

So In Summary

Honestly, there’s not an awful lot to the museum, but it is a cute little place which makes for a fun place to spend some time.  I think it’s a shame that there aren’t more medieval objects on show, and as much as I like the large-scale recreations (the wax models are eerily good), it would be nice to have more reproduction objects, to make it that bit more evocative and easier to engage with.  But if you are into medieval history, do pop in – it’s fun.

Further Information

The museum is free.  There is an awesome little gift shop where you can buy reproductions of cool medieval things.  Lovely, pretty things.  Which I couldn’t afford.

The museum has a website, which is more thorough in Swedish, but which gives all the basic information you’ll need in English:  www.medeltidsmuseet.stockholm.se

I would also say that the museum is great for kids – the little recreated areas are evocative and detailed and a lot of fun to explore.  For adults, they organise tours, which look quite interesting – the information is available via their website.

How To Get There

The museum is located by the river, under the Norrbro bridge, near the Parliament.  For how to get there by public transport, check out the handy SL website: www.sl.se

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