From Medieval Monks to Henning Mankell: Exploring Ystad’s History and Mystery

Half-timbered house in Ystad

Located on Sweden’s southern coast, overlooking the Baltic Sea, the small town of Ystad is an idyllic sort of place, with flower-filled cobblestoned streets and half-timbered houses that reflect its medieval origins. It’s not the sort of place you’d associate with murder and mayhem, but thanks to author Henning Mankell’s bestselling series of crime novels about police detective Kurt Wallander, Ystad is now known as much for mystery as it is for history.

IMG_7219The town originated as a fishing settlement early in the 12th century, and herring remained an important source of income for hundreds of years. Ystad’s oldest church, St. Maria, was built early in the 13th century.

In 1267, Franciscan monks – commonly known as the Greyfriars – arrived in Ystad and established a monastery that thrived for almost 300 years, until 1532, when the Reformation drove the monks out of the town. Parts of the monastery fell into ruin, while others were used as a hospital and later as a royal distillery. Threatened with demolition in the late 19th century, the ruined monastery was eventually saved and was restored between 1909 and 1912. It’s now one of Ystad’s most important historic sites.

IMG_5700During the 14th century, Ystad was part of the Hanseatic League. In fact, for most of its early history, the town – like the rest of the province of Skåne – belonged to Denmark. Not until the Treaty of Roskilde in 1658 did Ystad become permanently Swedish. Reflecting this Danish past, Ystad has more half-timbered houses than anywhere else in Sweden, and likely all of Scandinavia. There are approximately 300 such buildings, dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries. The city’s entire core reflects this medieval heritage, yet the streets are very much alive with modern-day shops, cafés, and locals going about their everyday business. It’s a wonderful place to wander, with charming sights awaiting around almost every corner.

Charming street in Ystad

Still, these days tourists come to Ystad not just for the history, but to walk in the footsteps of Kurt Wallander. Henning Mankell’s 10 novels about the morose police detective (and one spinoff about his daughter, Linda) have given rise to dozens of Swedish films based on the books as well as additional ideas generated by the author. In addition, the BBC’s English-language series Wallander, starring Kenneth Branagh, has drawn legions of new fans into Mankell’s fictional world.

Ystad street

Numerous guided Wallander-themed tours are available through the Ystad Tourist Office at St Knuts torg. Options include guided walking tours, coach tours to Wallander locations in the countryside outside Ystad, and a Wallander tour on the Ystad Volunteer Fire Brigade’s vintage fire engine. There are also Wallander packages available that include sightseeing, accommodations at a hotel with a Wallander connection, and coffee and dinner at some of the character’s favorite spots.

Wallander's house at Mariagatan 10
Wallander’s house at Mariagatan 10

The Tourist Office also has a self-guided brochure (also available as a mobile app by searching for “Wallander”) for visitors interested in finding their own way to locations made famous in the books or the films. Key sights include Wallander’s home on Mariagatan; the police station at Kristianstadsvägen 51; Fridolfs konditori, Wallander’s favorite café; the historic Hotel Continental, home to one of Wallander’s favorite restaurants; and the pizzeria where Wallander goes to enjoy a slice and discuss life with the owner, Istvan.

Fans of the Wallander films may also want to visit Cineteket, the Ystad movie museum that includes a collection of sets, costumes, and props from both the Swedish and English productions.

For more information about Ystad and the surrounding area:

Ystad Tourist Office, St. Knut’s torg

Ystad & Österlen Tourism website

Visit Skåne website

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