Archaeological evidence has revealed that the region of Stockholm was first settled at the end of the last Ice Age and by 8000 BC a sizeable population had developed there. The earliest written evidence of the existence of the city of Stockholm comes from the chronicle of Eriks Krönikan, written in the early fourteenth century, which state that the city was founded by Birger Jarl in 1252. Stockholm means “town in between the bridges”. In the early Middle Ages the city was dominated by the majestic Stockholm Cathedral and a tower called the Three Crowns. The rest of city then consisted of tightly-packed wooden houses, which represented a serious fire hazard. Gradually these flimsy structures were replaced by more solid ones, generally in the North German style since most of the inhabitants of Stockholm at that time were of German descent. Many of these ancient constructions are still standing in the old town. In 397 Denmark, Norway (and its dependent states of Iceland and Greenland) joined with Sweden under a single monarch, to form the Kalmar Union. The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries saw a period of expansion and the city of Stockholm spread to include the islands of Norrmalm and Södermalm. The Kalmar Union came to an end in 1523 following bloody conflicts between Sweden and Denmark.
In 1634 Sweden was named the official capital of the Swedish Empire and Sweden’s rise as a major European power during the seventeenth century made Stockholm the home of rich merchants and immigration to the area increased. Stockholm’s growth was stunted by the spread of the plague to the city in 1713 and 1714 however, and when the Great Northern War finally came to an end in 1721 Sweden had lost much of its power and territory in the Baltic regions to Russia. Through the eighteenth century Stockholm nevertheless continued to be an important centre for international trade and culture, and the eventual arrival of the steamship and railway lines added to Stockholm’s significance. Much of the city was rebuilt in the nineteenth century – hospitals, railway stations, post offices – and the tram system was also created.
During the 20th century Sweden developed into a modern welfare state. Although Sweden chose the path of neutrality during both World Wars, and was hardly in a position militarily or economically to oppose Germany, it did supply Germany with much needed supplies of food and war materials during World War Two. Needless to say the assistance Sweden offered the German war machine was criticised following the war, although at the time it was considered necessary to avoid open confrontation with Germany. Swedish volunteers went to defend Finland when it was attacked by Russia in 1939 however, and Sweden supported the Finns with war material. The most famous Swede from the World War Two era was probably Raoul Wallenberg, who with the help of the Swedish legation in Hungary managed to save thousands of Jews from being deported to Nazi death camps. Because of Sweden’s neutrality during the war its industry and infra-structure remained intact, so it was in a strong position to provide goods to war-torn Europe. Indeed the resulting post-war economic boom in Sweden supported the rapid development of the enviable Swedish welfare-state during the 1950’s and 60’s. During the 1970’s the worsening economic situation in Europe and the United States had a negative impact on the Swedish economy and the demand for Swedish products diminished. At this time the government began to borrow money and attempted to prop up the troubled steel and shipping industries. By the beginning of the 1980’s Sweden was borrowing and importing more than it was earning or exporting and these financial problems have not been entirely rectified even now.
Military service has been compulsory in Sweden since 1901, and every man between the ages of 18 and 47, after his initial basic training of seven to fifteen months, is obliged to undertake military refresher courses from time to time.
In recognition of Stockholm’s rich and diverse cultural life, Stockholm was named European City of Culture for 1998.
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