Sigtuna, where Sweden begins
This is how the town of Sigtuna is described. This motto made me feel my time in Sweden would have not been fulfilled without a trip to the country’s first town.
On the shores of Lake Mälaren, the town was founded in 970 by King Erik the Victorious. It was an important royal, commercial and religion place for more than 200 years. At the turn of 10th and 11th centuries, first Swedish coins were minted here. Nowadays the town made of wood can be proud of its main shopping street and a network of little narrow streets, runic stones from Viking Age, church ruins, a medieval brick church, town hall and well preserved wooden houses. Sweden’s biggest international airport, Arlanda, is situated only 14 km from Sigtuna.
I was mentally prepared I had to change once, in Knivsta, to get there from Uppsala. Fortunately the traveling turned out to be easier than expected. From Uppsala to Knivsta I took a SL train going to Arlanda, and then I continued by bus number 183.
Knivsta train station looked rather abandoned:
The journey took less than an hour, yet it was bit stressful. I had only few minutes to find a bus stop in Knivsta, but luckily Google Street View and old Swedish lady helped a lot. The ride by bus itself was an experience as well. The driver was coughing quite badly for some time and meanwhile he was cleaning his teeth with a toothpick. Please, could you concentrate on driving and get me to my destination? Moreover, the bus did not stop at every bus stop (this looks like a custom in Sweden), as I am used from my country, but only if someone was waiting there or if a passenger pressed a button next to the seat. This button looked exactly like “emergency stop button” in Czech busses, the button whose misuse is fined. So, I was kinda glad when two more people got on the bus on the way and one of them pushed the button while we were approaching the stop, where I was about to get off.
It looks like you are expected to know the area once you decided to travel. Without stopping it was hard to keep track of stops (sometimes only a sign post between road shoulder and field), but little screen in the bus showing the name of next station helped a lot. So, with one eye I was hypnotizing the screen and my other eye was admiring Swedish landscape. I do not want to go to details, since it was the same is usually. However, I do not believe I can ever get tired of the view: red wooden houses, forests and fields with cereals, these days shining in golden already, underneath unbelievably blue sky.
There were couple more bus stops in Sigtuna and I got off at Sigtuna busstation. Its location was just perfect for a newcomer: right opposite the church and close to tourist information office. I began my visit in the later one.
The tourist information is found in Drakegården (The Dragon / Drake Garden), an 18th century house.
The building used to be an inn and private residance, and a nice garden is located nearby. Numerous houses and farms have burnt down throughout the years of existence of Sigtuna, however this block gives an image of what Sigtuna used to look like when it emerged.
In the early 20th century the garden was managed by Drake family and fruit trees as well as currant bushes were planted there, and also vegetable and flower beds were created.
This first stop was enough to give me a clue the town might be a nice place to see and take picture there. In the tourist office I got a map and checked their souvenirs. Doing my research of souvenir offer in three cities of southern Swede, I think the best stuff can be found in Sigtuna. Their articles ranged from spoons to mugs, clothing, to books, to candies and toys and much more, but first of all the items were very original. At the tourist information there was also a bathroom, so for the first time in my life I peed while a royal couple watched me from the wall.
Drakegården is located on the town’s main street, Stora Gatan:
Except for being the town’s main street, Stora Gatan is also the oldest street of the country. Although the town has been rebuilt, the street network is based on the original city plan more than 1000 years old.
The main road was full of life on Saturday early afternoon: tiny stores offering anything from flowers, handcraft, to books or clothing, cafes and restaurants. It was nice to walk down the street full of medieval wooden houses. Lots of them had a little sign informing about well known history of their owners and what they were used for. Oftentimes it was able to track house owners known by name as back to the past as beginning of 17th century. I could read about occupations of the owners and what kind of stores used to be there: bakery, tailor’s, smithy, lots of houses hosted post office, too. Except for the frequent post office hosting, the houses had one more thing in common: at least once in their history they burnt down. In case of Sigtuna’s wooden houses other colors than red were popular: mostly light shades of yellow and green, and some houses were grey, too.
I particularly liked history of a house located on Kyrkolundeden 2 & 3, nearby the town hall:
Until 1633 it was owned by Jacob Silton, a Scottish colonel in Swedish service during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). In 1662 the house was aquired by a customs official, Jöran Ross. In the building he ran an inn together with his wife, Gertrud Parker. Later, the property had several female owners and was finally bought by Claes Lampa, who sold it in 1737 to Johan Henrik Scheffel, one of the foremost portrait painters of his time. Between 1838 an 1887 mayor Carl Bahman lived here and Upplands Bank had its office in the building 1921-1987.
I also enjoyed ubiquitinous shop signs: they were nicely crafted and made absolutely clear what store was located there and without any Swedish knowledge needed.
My next stop was Sigtuna Rådhus (Town Hall) at Stora torget (Main Plaza).
Town Hall dates back to 18th century and is the smallest town hall in Scandinavia. The present town hall was rebuilt when the mayor Eric Kihlman began his service in 1737. The new building was built on the place of former town hall and its tower was moved from the old building to the new one.
In 1744 the first general council was held in the new building of Town Hall. It had two rooms: guardroom of the police with two cells, and the council hall. Most of the furniture and other objects were brought there by mayor Kihlman between 1740 and 1750.
Unfortunately I was not able to get the best view of the Town Hall, since it was reconstructed at the time. The plaza next to the Town Hall was surprisingly empty: only one greengrocer had his stand there.
Mariakyrkan (the Church of Mary) was the place I visited next. I enjoyed my time in the building as well as its surroundings. The church was built from red bricks, had beautiful and old interior, and was situated on a vast green lawn, between tall trees, and in proximity of a cemetery.
Mariakyrkan is the oldest brick building in the Mälardalen valley (region of the Lake Mälaren), dating back to 1247, while its murals originate from 14th and 15th centuries. Originally it was a church of Dominican monastery.
The three churches (St. Olof, St. Lars and St. Per) were probably built in 12th and 13th centuries and were in use until the Reformation. At that time new Protestant churches were erected and the original Catholic churches were abandoned.
S:t Lars kyrkoruin (church ruins of St. Lawrence) was located just few minutes of walking from the previous one. To be honest, this one was my least favorite ruin. Since there was really little left, there was no room for imagination where church windows or towers could have been centuries ago.
The third church ruin, S:t Per (St. Peter’s church ruin), was bit farther and little bit of climbing was needed to reach it. However, the church ruins of St. Peter was my favorite one.
When Sigtuna was founded, the intent was to seek control over people and create an empire like the European kingdoms and the goal was a kingdom with one king and one God. King Erik, the founder of the town, would be the king and head of Church. So, Sigtuna was established as the first Christian town in Sweden, and as the center of the new religion.
During the Middle Ages, as many as seven large stone churches were erected by merchant guilds and wealthy townspeople.
By the time I reached the shores of the Lake Mälaren, it was sunny again. I took a rest there, admiring the vast area of the lake and watching people sailing, kayaking, driving boats and riding water scooters. The bay was apparently also a favorite meeting point of Harley Davidson motorcyclists.
Laka Mälaren early in the afternoon…
… and much nicer shortly before my departure back to Uppsala.
Shores of the lake Mälaren was also a place, where I saw a very unusual conversion of jeep car into a baby-friendly model:
As I mentioned before, Sigtuna is also famous for its runstenar, runic stones.
Sigtuna boasts more than 150 runic inscriptions, which more than in any other Swedish town. However, inscription from the Viking Age were found not only on the stones, but also on bones.
The runic stones were originally memorial stones, erected during 11th century by wealthy citizens and merchant guilds. They were usually placed along streets and roads, where they would be seen and read by all who passed. Each stone bore a name of the person, in whose memory it was erected.
The runic stones were scattered all around the town: only in the downtown at least five of them could be found, and many more were located in the town’s surroundings. Next to each stone, there was a sign depicting the original writing as well as its translation in Swedish and English. Moreover, origins of mentioned names were explained and I could also read, where that particular stone was found.
History of two stones, both located near the S:t Lar Church ruins, was especially interesting to me.
One of them was raised in honor of the person, who financed its erection. This seemed to be very unusual, since the other stones commemorated e. g. builders’ family members.
The other stone was found in two pieces, making the message illegible in its most interesting part – who was the father of a woman, in whose honor it was erected, it might have been a king!
When I got “tired” of the town and its runic stones I decided to climb a bit, to find out what was the little tower I could see from the different spots of the town. A belfry.
It took me a while and two circles round the wooden structure to figure out. It was in use for ages and got electricity only few decades ago. The walk up the hill was nice not only because of the red belfry, but also because of its surroundings.
The whole areas is called Klockbacken and should be the right place for barbecue. Since I was not prepared for that I had to be fine with my very last Czech biscuit.
While waiting for the bus back to Knivsta, I just walked along the lake once more and strolled through town’s little streets.
Not far from the main street I found a very original fencing round a house and its garden:
An old wooden phone booth was worth taking a picture, too. By the way, there was no phone inside.
There was a female bus driver on the way back to Uppsala. She was really young and very nice – remembered me to change for a train in Knivsta. This time there were 4 people in the bus. We all got on the bus at the same station, so there was not a single stop on the way. I rushed to catch the train, but this was not needed, since I had more than 10 minutes to do.
Swedish modern and very convenient train – hard to compare to Lennakatten, is not it?