Stockholm: A Cultural History

Stockholm: A Cultural History

Stockholm: A Cultural History

Stockholm: A Cultural History


Situated on one of the world's most beautiful harbors, Stockholm has set the benchmark for civilized urban living since the time of the Vikings. Tony Griffiths reveals a city of power, intrigue, and murder; of scientists and investors; and a sensual city, home of Greta Garbo and the sm rg sbord. Its medieval period saw the Vasa dynasty turn a small town into the capital of a dominant European power and a major trading port. In the Napoleonic era, Stockholm established itself as a center of both technical and social innovation. While the city has suffered more than its fair share of misfortune, Stockholm's cultural and commercial elite transformed it into a community which now welcomes innovation and spreads the fruits of its achievements far beyond its borders.



I had an apartment in Vasagatan, in the shadow of the systembolaget, premises belonging to the state alcohol monopoly. Vasagatan is named after the most famous royal dynasty in Sweden, and naturally the street is appropriately located at the centre of things. From Vasagatan the Vasa Bridge connects downtown Stockholm with the island on which the city began, Gamla Stan. Completed in 1878, the Vasa Bridge lines up with Stora Nygatan, literally the big new street, but new a very long time ago. Touring Stockholm’s terrain, ignore Gamla Stan for the moment and turn right instead at the end of the Vasa Bridge towards Riddarholm, the Knight’s Harbour.

I can imagine Yinka Shonibare, nominated for the 2004 Turner Prize, doing this, wandering around Stockholm’s landscape, as part of his investigation into the relationship between power and class, colonialism and European technology. As imperialists went, the Swedes were small beer. There was a Swedish East India Company founded by a Gothenburg merchant, Niklas Sahlgren. Its earliest ship, Friedericus Rex Sueciae, sailed for China with a Scot on board, Colin Campbell, who was the King of Sweden’s first de facto ambassador to China. the seic was profitable for only a couple of decades, and was put out of business by the English and the Dutch, not lasting long enough to take part in the scramble for Africa.

Shonibare probably walked across the Vasa Bridge and crossed the even smaller bridge to Riddarholm. Riddarholm is a tiny island indeed, but as the headquarters of Sweden’s ruling class for three or four hundred years it is very important. in 1773 the Swedish nobility erected a statue of Gustav Vasa to celebrate the 250 anniversary of the day that the young noble entered Stockholm after a triumphant war to deliver his country from the Danish yoke.

Riddarholm is a place with mixed messages mirroring the ebb and flow of aristocratic fortunes. the island has one site marking the spot where three other nobles, Count Brahe and Barons Horn and Wrangle, were brought to the scaffold. They were executed on 13 July 1756, charged with conspiring to undermine the constitution. Marshal Axel von Fersen . . .

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