Stockholm History

Stockholm’s earliest years have been somewhat hazed by the mists of time, but we know that it emerged from relatively humble Viking beginnings in the middle of the 13th century to become, within 100 years, the largest city in Sweden. The name, which translates loosely as ‘trunk islet’ or ‘log islet’, is thought to refer to the cargos of timber that made up much of the region’s water traffic in those early days.

Stockholm’s location made it a hugely important strategic port during the years of the Kalmar Union (which united Sweden with Norway and Denmark). Relations with the Danes were often strained, however, and there were a number of violent conflicts, including the celebrated Battle of Brunkeberg of 1471, during which Danish king Christian I sailed a fleet of ships into Stockholm in a bid to depose the Swedish viceroy. However, astute warfare tactics on the part of the Swedes – and the fact that Christian lost most of his teeth after being hit in the face by musket fire – meant the Danes were eventually repelled.

The satisfaction was short-lived, however. Hans of Denmark succeeded in taking Stockholm in 1497, and the next two decades saw yet more to-ing and fro-ing – as well as a short period of peace – before the conflicts between the two nations culminated in a particularly gory clash in 1520 still known as the Stockholm Bloodbath. Danish King Christian II was answerable for the grisly execution of close to 100 nobles and clergymen, many of whom were decapitated. 

Not long after, the reign of Gustav Vasa (or Gustav I of Sweden) brought a greater degree of stability, and the city in time grew and prospered accordingly. The current layout of the Old Town owes much to a large-scale fire in 1625, which reduced a large section of the centre to ashes and resulted in two new major streets – Lilla Nygatan and Stora Nygatan – as well as a number of grand palaces. Stockholm was proclaimed capital of Sweden in 1634, but endured a troubled period of plague and poverty – partly as a result of Sweden’s diminished status as a European power – before scientific and artistic breakthroughs in the 18th and 19th centuries heralded the constructions of many of the fine buildings still evident today.

Swift industrialisation followed, and within a few years of the city hosting the 1912 Olympic Games it was home to more than 350,000 people. Town planning continued to transform its appearance, with new towns emerging on the city outskirts and poorer suburbs being demolished to make way for modern developments and office blocks. The physical expansion of the city was reflected by a stronger finance sector, and by the 1980s the krona had become a powerful currency. Over this time, labour-intensive industries were replaced by more knowledge-based sectors, a process that ultimately resulted in the tech-savvy Stockholm of the present day. Concurrently, a steady influx of immigrants has helped to shape the city into a multicultural destination and today, it has elevated itself into an uber cool capital city.