Stockholm‘s Gamla Stan is where Stockholm began, back in 1252, and it is one of the biggest and best preserved medieval Old Towns in the world.
The name ‘Stockholm’ easily splits into two parts – Stock-holm, “Log-islet”, but as no serious explanation to the name has been produced, various myths and legends have attempted to fill in the gap.
According to a 17th-century myth the population at the viking settlement Birka decided to found a new settlement, and to determine its location had a log bound with gold drifting in Lake Mälaren.
It landed on present day Riddarholmen where today the Tower of Birger Jarl stands, a building, as a consequence, still often erroneously mentioned as the oldest building in Stockholm.
The history of Gamla Stan is as fascinating as you’d think: until the 13th century Stockholm wasn’t even the capital of Sweden – that honour went to nearby Sigtuna. When warfare weakened Sigtuna, the government needed to find a new home.
Until the 19th century Gamla Stan was called Staden (The Town), mainly because there was little more to Stockholm proper than this small island, with the surrounding islands called malmarna (ridges).
In fact, it wasn’t until 1980 that Gamla Stan became the official name – before then it was called ‘Staden mellan broarna‘, or ‘Town Between the Bridges’.
The architecture of Gamla Stan, which has a strong north German influence, is remarkably well-preserved, which is somewhat surprising when one considers that this was once a rough-and-tumble slum area prone to marauding gangs visiting violence on the city.
It was overcrowded and disease-ridden up until the early 20th century, and it wasn’t until the early 1980s that it became a tourist attraction. Post-World War II part of the area was demolished to make way for an enlarged parliament, and just 370 structures remain today.
Today in Gamla Stan around 3,000 people live in the Old Town and it is packed with cafés, restaurants, tourist shops, studios, galleries and museums, including the Nobel Prize Museum, the Post Museum, and The Royal Coin Cabinet in the National Museums of Economy.
It is hard to believe that the Old Town was once considered a slum, when it is now a sought after address.