Far out in the Baltic, 171 kilometers (106 miles) from Copenhagen, lies the Ertholmene Archipelago, Denmark’s most remote islands. More commonly called Christiansø, after the largest island, the archipelago has been administered by the Danish Ministry of Defense since 1684, when King Christian V had a naval fortress built here during a period of conflict between Denmark and Sweden. The original fortress consisted of the two towers and four batteries that can still be seen today.
Gripsholm: A Renaissance Castle Steeped in Swedish History
In the pretty town of Mariefred on the southern shore of Lake Mälaren, just an hour southwest of Stockholm, sits one of Sweden’s most impressive castles, Gripsholm, constructed during the first half of the 16th century on the site of an earlier 14th-century fortress. Built in red brick with round towers, it has served as…
Döda Fallet: The Dramatic Story of Sweden’s Dead Falls
Once upon a time there was a waterfall known as Storforsen (the Great Rapids), which tumbled 35 meters (115 feet) out of Lake Ragunda along the Indalsälven river in Jämtland, Sweden. Yet in 1796, this mighty waterfall was silenced forever due to a combination of human interference and the power of nature. The site of one…
Unity and Conflict: Queen Margrete I and the Kalmar Union
The Middle Ages were a time of intermittent warfare in Scandinavia, with recurring power struggles and ever-shifting borders. Yet in the late 14th century, a remarkable woman, Queen Margrete I, managed to unite the three kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway in what became known as the Kalmar Union. The decades leading up to this…
Raiders, Traders, and Settlers: A Brief History of the Vikings
“Never before has such terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race, nor was it thought that such an inroad from the sea could happen. Behold the church of St. Cuthbert, splattered with the blood of the priests of God, despoiled of all its ornaments.” So wrote Alcuin, a Northumbrian scholar…
A Royal Visitor Remembered: The Thai Pavilion in the Swedish Countryside
Deep in the countryside of Jämtland stands a surprising structure: an authentic Thai pavilion. The story of how this incongruous structure came to be built among the forests and fields of north-central Sweden dates back to the late 19th century and the connection between two monarchs from very different countries.
The Old and New of Trondheim, Norway
Guidebook writer David Nikel takes us through his adopted hometown of Trondheim, where history and modernity walk happily hand in hand.
The French Army Officer Who Became a Scandinavian King
In 1818, a Frenchman named Jean Baptiste Bernadotte ascended the Swedish throne as Karl XIV Johan. The new king was a career soldier whose life took an unexpected turn due to a combination of the Napoleonic Wars, the decline of Swedish power in the Baltic region, and the premature death of a Danish prince.
Tracing the History of Norwegian Polar Exploration at Oslo’s Fram Museum
For anyone with even the slightest interest in polar exploration, Oslo’s Fram Museum is not to be missed. Built around the polar expedition ship Fram, it tells the story of Norway’s expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Round Churches of Bornholm
The Danish island of Bornholm is known for its four round churches built in the 12th and 13th centuries — four of only seven such churches in all of Denmark.
The Nobel Museum in Karlskoga and the Story of the Prizes that Almost Never Were
The prizes established by Swedish inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel in his will are generally considered the most prestigious awards in the world. Yet the Nobel Prizes almost didn’t end up existing at all. During the last years of his life, Alfred Nobel spent the summers at Björkborn, a 17th-century manor in Karlskoga in the…
On the Viking Trail through Scandinavia
A thousand years after Scandinavian raiders went a-Viking throughout Europe, their story continues to fascinate. The Viking legacy remains in the thousands of runestones scattered throughout Scandinavia, as well as in archaeological sites and museums where you can learn about how they lived, fought, and sailed the seas even beyond the boundaries of the known world.
A Walking Tour of Stockholm’s Old Town
No one knows exactly when people first settled the place now known as Stockholm, but the city was first mentioned in writing in 1252 in documents signed by the regent Birger Jarl and his son, King Valdemar. Walking through Gamla Stan is like walking through Swedish history.
Mine, All Mine! The Underground World of Sala Silver Mine
Deep underground at the Sala Silver Mine, my guide, Marcus, begins to sing. I close my eyes as the words of the psalm reverberate around me in the appropriately named Echo Chamber. There’s no other sound except this single voice bouncing off the soaring stone walls, 155 meters (more than 500 feet) beneath the surface. It’s unexpected and altogether magical.…
The Stave Churches of Norway: Architectural Treasures from the Middle Ages
Among Norway’s most striking historical buildings from the Middle Ages are its wooden stave churches. Erected at a time when other parts of Europe were raising great cathedrals in stone, they are, in the words of UNESCO, “one of the most elaborate and technologically advanced types of wooden construction that existed in North-Western Europe during the Middle Ages.”…
This Day in History: Swedish Traffic Switches Sides – September 3, 1967
You’ve heard of D-Day, but have you ever heard of Dagen H (Swedish for H Day)? H stands for Högertrafikomläggningen, or the Right-Hand Traffic Diversion. On Sunday, September 3, 1967, Sweden changed from driving on the left-hand side of the road to driving on the right. As you might imagine, this switch was anything but easy.
From Medieval Monks to Henning Mankell: Exploring Ystad’s History and Mystery
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.
Runestones: Words from the Viking Age
Remnants of Scandinavia’s Viking past are scattered throughout the countryside of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. Among the most intriguing are the stones covered in Viking runes that give a glimpse of the culture and society of the era.
Frederiksborg Castle: Denmark’s Renaissance Masterpiece
The largest Renaissance castle in Scandinavia, Frederiksborg Castle is located in the center of Hillerød, north of Copenhagen. It was built during the first decades of the 17th century by King Christian IV with the goal of demonstrating the power and status of the Danish monarchy. Following a fire in 1859 that destroyed large parts of the interior, the castle was reconstructed according to its original design. Since 1878 Frederiksborg has housed the Museum of National History, whose collections include paintings, furniture, and other artifacts representing 500 years of Danish history.
Roskilde Cathedral: Denmark’s Royal Burial Church
A visit to Roskilde Cathedral is a journey through centuries of Danish history. The first church on the site, made of wood, was built in the 900s by King Harald Bluetooth and was replaced in the following century by a stone church. The current brick church was begun in the 1170s and took more than 100 years to finish. The main body of the cathedral was completed in 1280 and is one of Scandinavia’s earliest examples of Gothic brick architecture.
The Churches of Stockholm, Part 2: Södermalm
Some of Stockholm’s most imposing churches are located on the island of Södermalm south of Gamla Stan. Since much of Södermalm consists of a ridge rising above the rest of Stockholm, these churches are visible from many parts of the city and often command sweeping views.
The Churches of Stockholm, Part 1: Gamla Stan
Gaze out from any viewpoint overlooking Stockholm, and you’ll notice the spires and cupolas soaring above the surrounding rooftops. Stockholm has a wealth of churches dating from various periods in the city’s history. The oldest of these provide a fascinating journey into the past and are, logically enough, located in the Old Town.
The Nobel Prize: History and Trivia
The Nobel Prizes have been awarded every year on December 10 since 1901 and are among the world’s most prestigious honors. Alfred Nobel was a Swedish industrialist who designated most of his estate to establish the prestigious prizes that bear his name.