Thursday, June 14, 2012

Hejsan from Stockholm!

by Rachel Bonet and Matthew Borden


Hejsan! The University of Illinois students living here in sweet Stockholm Sweden kicked off their studies with a tour of Gamla Stan, the old town of Stockholm, and a tour of the Vasa, a famous Swedish warship from the 17th century. Our tour started off with a guided tour as well as a history lesson on the Riksdaghuset – Parliament House – the Royal Palace of Stockholm, and various historical areas throughout old town. The Royal Palace, a once mighty fortress that boasted a core tower, was known as the Tre Knonor – Three Crowns – is an architectural and cultural landmark at the heart of Stockholm. While touring we got the chance to see a copy of the famous Sankt Goran and the Dragon statue, a famous depiction and Swedish allegory to a great battle in the 15th century of Sweden (Saint George) against Denmark (the evil dragon) to defend the fair maiden princess (Stockholm). Some beauty does come with a bloody history such as the Stortorget – The Great Square – where in 1520 the Danish-Swedish King Christian II beheaded more than 80 Swedish nobles. For those looking for a tight squeeze, Gamla Stan is home to the alley of Marten Trotzig which happens to be the narrowest functioning alley in all of Stockholm. Gamla Stan is a wonderful place and if you look hard enough you may be able to find ancient Norse runestones built right into a building or two.

Tuesday, the second day, included a visit to the Vasa Museum, which included the Vasa ship that tragically sank on its maiden voyage on August 10, 1628 due to incorrect measurements of the weights of the bottom in proportion to the top of the ship (insufficient ballast). The ship keeled over and 30 people died as a result.  It was not rediscovered and raised out of the water again until the 1961, when thousands of ship parts and other artifacts were found aboard the sunken ship. The ship was built as a symbol of power for the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus and the ship’s ornate carvings of power symbols from many non-Scandinavian cultures (such as Roman figures and lions) symbolize how Gustavus wished to be viewed as a courageous warrior and leader of a nation that was on par with the rest of Europe. The museum included other aspects of the disaster such as the unearthed remains of some of those trapped aboard when the ship sank.  It cast a humanizing light on the entire experience as it showed how individuals created certain aspects of the ship and died and well as how the nation, Scandinavia as a whole, and sectors of people (such as sailors) were all integral in the creation, sailing, and aftermath of the disaster. The sheer size of the ship and the aspirations that were linked to its creation and maiden voyage are clearly felt throughout the museum, which is a wonderful tribute to the Scandinavian culture of the period.

Rachel Bonet is a senior studying Anthropology, Animal Sciences, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She intends to study Environmental Law. Rachel comes from Darien, IL.


Matthew Borden is a senior in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, concentrating in Human Dimensions of the Environment. He is from Oak Forest, IL.

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