- Mariatorget was born as a firebreak after a big fire in 1759
- Initially, it was known as Hornstorget, later as Adolf Fredriks torg
- The square received its current form around the turn of the 20th century
- Thor’s Fishing, the fountain dominating the square, was placed there in 1903
Södermalm, located just south of the Old Town of Stockholm, is an island of many different faces. Probably my most favourite part, though, is the one west of Götgatan passing through the middle of the island. Especially the northern part of ‘Maria,’ where you would find Mariaberget, Mariaskolan, Maria Magdalena Church, and Mariatorget, is close to my heart.
Mariatorget is perhaps the liveliest place in this neighbourhood, and it has been lively for a long time, but for different reasons. Keep reading to find out how the square was born from the ashes of the historical locality and how it caused a confusion barely anyone noticed.
It is the summer of 1759, and things are looking good in Södermalm. This part of Stockholm has grown considerably over the last few decades as a natural extension of the Old Town which has been getting more and more crowded. Some influential figures have adopted these new neighbourhoods as their homes, too. And then it comes, a disaster!
More than three-hundred houses burn down, Maria Magdalena Church and other prominent buildings are massively damaged in the fire. The entire area is in flames only hours after the chaos erupted.
Eventually, things calm down, and it is time to think about the future again. The authorities not only need to figure out how to get the area back on its feet as quickly as possible, but they must also prevent such events from ever happening again.
That last task is the reason why a new square, called Hornstorget, is created in the area. It is meant to function as a firebreak so that when the next big fire comes, Hornstorget will help slow down its progress.
The new square is little more than an open space covered in sand, but soon enough, the trade of many important supplies moves here from Slussen. Hay, straw, firewood, logs, and grain coming to the capital from the countryside are now being sold at the plaza every day while animal trade is only permitted once a week.
Hornstorget apparently is not a cool name anymore, and the magistrate decides to ask for permission to name the square after King Adolf Fredrik. To honour the king, they say.
Soon enough, they receive the permission but with conditions attached. Executions and similar incivilities must not take place at Adolf Fredrik’s Square (Adolf Fredriks torg).
In the 1770s, the neighbourhood which once accommodated Erik Dahlberg, the author of ‘Suecia Antiqua et Hodierna,’ becomes popular with Adolf Fredrik’s successor, King Gustav III. He comes to visit from time to time. Not just that, he decides that Adolf Fredrik’s Square would make a great venue for a medieval knight tournament. So, he organises one.
Suecia Antiqua et Hodierna
Suecia Antiqua et Hodierna (‘Ancient and Modern Sweden’) is a collection of engravings collected by Erik Dahlberg showing Stockholm during the era of the Swedish Empire. The work containing 353 plates is often the only preserved source showing us how certain city parts and structures looked in the 17th century.
In 1777, Gustav III challenges his brother Karl (later Karl XIII) for some brotherly competition. Even the well-known nobleman Axel von Fersen joins the tournament in his golden armour. It would be fun, he thought.
Nobles and royals from afar form teams and ride their horses to Södermalm. They need to make sure to follow the special traffic rules announced for the occasion, though. To enhance that charming medieval atmosphere in the air, everyone comes dressed in medieval outfits so that everything is authentic.
Eventually, Karl and his team beat his older brother by mere three points, 174 to 171.
New year comes and with it the Russo-Swedish War. Now, the burghers use the square to sharpen their fighting skills to be able to protect their beloved Stockholm from the enemy.
Gustav III arrives back at Adolf Fredrik’s Square once again after the war to hold a speech in which he thanks his dear citizens for their brave acts and for protecting the city.
Another hundred years of selling hay and grain go by before a major change hits the square which has now established itself as an integral part of the city. Its face quickly changes beyond recognition. From a sandy marketplace, Adolf Fredrik’s Square turns into a pleasure park with soft lawns, colourful flowers, and singing birds.
All trade in the location is soon forbidden while the artist Anders Henrik Wissler works on one of the most beautiful sculptures that will decorate Stockholm for many decades to come. Then, in 1903, the fountain with the sculpture group known as “Thor’s Fishing” (Tors Fiske) is revealed, and Adolf Fredrik’s Square is never going to be the same old empty plaza it once was.
An important change that will hurt the souls of many Stockholmers is yet to come, though. Trams have been making lives of the local residents easier since the turn of the 20th century. However, time keeps moving forward and a metro line is slowly making its way to Södermalm.
The authorities are now facing a tough dilemma trying to help people solve a problem they never knew they had. Reportedly, Adolf Fredrik’s Square might be easily confused with Adolf Fredrik’s Parish in Norrmalm, so to help commuters not get lost, the square on Södermalm should be renamed, the authorities conclude.
Upsetting more than one honourable citizen, they carry out the plan and change the name of Adolf Fredrik’s Square to Mariatorget (‘Maria Square’). The new metro station carrying the name of the plaza with a beautiful fountain is inaugurated in 1964, and fewer and fewer people question this decision ever since.
Even in the 21st century, Mariatorget remains to be an extraordinarily popular place where locals meet to relax and enjoy themselves in the beautiful historical environment. Whether you are looking for a place to grab lunch, spend an afternoon with a good book, or a wild evening with your friends, Mariatorget has something for you.
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Hellbom, Thorleif, Gullers, Peter, 1996. Stockholm. Om livet på torgen.
Stockholms stadsmuseum, 1998. Mariatorget – kort beskrivning av områdets historia. [stockholmskallan.stockholm.se].
Sparre, Carl, 1777. Regler för invånarna under tornerspel. [stockholmskallan.stockholm.se].
Torner- och riddarespel, hållit af konungen och hans kongl. höghet hertigen af Södermanland, i Stockholm på Adolph Friedrichs torg, den maji 1777. [stockholmskallan.stockholm.se].