Exploring a City of Islands & Bridges: PART II


Thursday, March 23, 2017


Fortified with the VASA Museum’s lunch, we exit into the sun for a slow stroll home. Typically we tour one museum a day to avoid museum-itis; but, today we thought we’d check out the Medeltidsmuseet or Medieval Museum. Unsure if we wanted to put it on our ‘to-see’ list, we thought we’d scope it out since it was on our way back to the Airbnb apartment.

We boarded the ferry for a short ride with a gaggle of school young’uns

and landed on Gamla Stan, the old town built on one of the islands. Although we were tempted to just wander through the alley ways hemmed by old buildngs, we kept going knowing we’d back to this area during our stay.

Plus, it was a wee bit chilly.

We crossed one bridge

then another (note the kayaker)

to reach the museum. Surprisingly the sign pointed down, under the bridge, which piqued our curiosity. There an opportunity presented itself…

resulting in Max mimicking a pose he performed in 2003 next to another Romanesque statue.

We poked our heads into the museum only to be captured immediately by the displays, which led us through the Middle Ages in Stockholm. The museum came to be due to a crew digging for a parking lot in the 1970s. In doing so they found foundations dating 1530s, halted construction and built a museum instead around the old city walls. Lucky us. Not so fortunate those who needed the car park.

I won’t go into all the history but will provide a quick overview:

The first settlement was on the island of Birka, next to Stockholm, in 750 C.E. For roughly 200 years this town’s merchants and craftsmen traded internationally.

In 980 C.E. a Christian town, Sigtuna (named “God’s town”), overshadowed Birka and remained viable until plundered by pirates in 1187. (Max visited this one day and his write-up follows this one.)

Stockholm became the next and lasting economic settlement with the fall of Sigtuna. Situated in the shipping lanes going to and from Lake Malarian, the town attracted the merchants and craftsmen. With the economic growth came protection as the Royals settled in with a fortress and palace.

The city’s name first appeared in writing in July 1252 in a letter of patronage for Fogdo Abbey; however, the origin of the name is still up for grabs since ‘stock’ can mean boundary posts or water that piles up or defensive logs around the town (they use to ring the harbor’s waters with posts to discourage landing of large boats carrying unsavory characters).

The town evolved into a thriving metropolis, at least for the area, with a population between 5,000 and 7,000 during the latter part of the Middle Ages. When most Swedish towns averaged 500 and the next largest city being Finland’s Turku with 3,000 residents, Stockholm definitely qualified as the happenin’ place.

Being the most prominent site of the Kingdom of Sweden, Stockholm attracted the attention of other kingdoms, primarily Denmark. The Danish Queen Margrethe Valdemarsdotter beseiged the city 1391-95 eventually forcing Sweden and Norway into  the Union of Kalmar in 1397 with Denmark leading the pack.

This union set the stage for bloody battles between Sweden and Denmark such as…

The Battle of Brunkeberg 1471 when the Swedes won a decisive victory over the Danish King Christian I and his Danish-Swedish Army.

The Bloodbath of 1520 when Danish King Christian II, after besieging and occupying the city, invited those to whom he granted amnesty to a feast at the Castle only to take them all prisoner and then publicly execute them the next day either by beheading or hanging. Great hospitality.

But, out of the bloodbath came freedom when Gustav Ericsson Vasa, a son of one of the headless and drooping tongue victims above, mobilized resistance to the Danes. He won independence in 1523 becoming King Gustav I. This feat is celebrated as National Day on June 6.

I have to confess. I wanted to know why all of these guys are facing to their left, showing their right side; yet, when checking quickly on the Internet, it appears that studies are done on just the opposite:  why portraits had sitters showing their left side due to, and I quote SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, “Generally, the left half of someone’s face (the side controlled by the emotive right brain) is more expressive, and surveys in European and American art museums have found that some- thing like 56 percent of men and 68 percent of women in portraits face the left side of the canvas and thereby show more of the left side of the face. Crucifixion scenes of Jesus suffering on the cross showed an even stronger bias, with over 90 percent facing left. (By chance alone, you’d expect closer to 33 percent, since subjects could face left, right, or straight ahead.” Curiouser and curiouser…

According to some historians, I’m now out of the Middle Ages (I won’t bore you with that trivial nugget of info) so I’ll stop with this abbreviated history lesson. At least you and I now see the connection between this Vasa guy and the other one who ordered a ship built that sailed. Well, sailed ever so briefly.

Interestingly the Medieval Museum hosts another old ship, built in the early 1520s and outfitted with guns. The Riddarholm Ship (it was found in the Riddarholm Canal) didn’t sail too much either. Her construction was deemed poorly built with cheap timbers.

I followed the prescribed path through a sampling of how life was lived via the exhibits of artifacts and a recreated town street.

One of the displays catching my eye was a 1535 painting, “The Sun Dog”. First, I was struck by how un-middle-agey it looked with the astrologcal glowing circles in the sky and, second, I thought what a weird name for a painting. The picture is the earliest image of Stockholm and represents an actual astronomical event on April 20 of that year. As per The History Channel’s site: “Also called parhelion, mock sun, or phantom sun, sun dogs are an atmospheric phenomenon that result in bright spots of light in the sky, often as luminous rings or halos on either side of the Sun. They are formed when the Sun’s light refracts through ice crystals high in the Earth’s atmosphere. Though they may be formed anywhere in the world during any season, sun dogs are usually formed in very cold climates and are most conspicuous when the Sun is low.” If our friend Seppe, an amateur astronomer, had been with us, I wouldn’t have had to look this all up.

The hour went quickly ending especially due to my seeing another lone visitor (the museum maybe had five of us there) and discovering she was from Iran, which led to conversation away from Sweden’s history. Love those chance encounters. I eventually did meet up with Max who asked if I had seen the torture picture… I obligingly took a snapshot for him to add to his MDTs (Max Disaster Tours).

And, on that happy note we caught the metro at Central Station and headed home.

PART III coming soon…




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