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.

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….

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.

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.

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

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.  

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.

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.

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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