- The Old Parliament House became the seat of the Swedish Parliament in 1865
- Parts of the building date from the Middle Ages
- The Parliament moved out in 1905
If you have ever visited the Riddarholmen Island in Stockholm, you know that strolling around it does not take long at all. Despite that, the island might manage to keep some of its gems hidden from your sight. I think it is absolutely worthwhile to discover every corner of the island, though, which is why I introduce you to the Old Parliament House (Gamla Riksdagshuset) in this post.
While from the centre of Riddarholmen this structure might appear rather subtle, it is its front façade facing the lake that is the most impressive. Speaking of the Old Parliament House in Stockholm, we should keep in mind that the building dates back far longer than the modern-day parliament itself.
As early as in the 13th century, the Franciscans who resided nearby used to have their basement vaults in the location. During the following few centuries, and after the Reformation, this place housed various institutions including a sanctuary, an orphanage, and a mint. Before the nobles took over Riddarholmen, Stockholm’s first prison was located on the southern edge of the island for some time.
With important changes that the 17th century brought to the Swedish society and the international standing of the country as a whole, noblemen from around the country were starting to occupy more and more land in the capital where they erected their prominent residences.
One such nobleman was Johan Sparre, a member of the Privy Council, who received a parcel in the location of the present-day Old Parliament House from the renowned King Gustav II Adolf. The donation took place in 1628 and Sparre started building soon after.
His three-floor stone house incorporating elements of existing medieval buildings was completed in around two years and Sparre, hence, became one of the first noble residents of the islands. As you can see primarily from Birger Jarl’s Square (Birger Jarls torg), which forms the central point of Riddarholmen, he was soon joined by several others including Fredrik Stenbock and Carl Gustaf Wrangel whose palaces belong to the most impressive in Stockholm to this day.
Sparre’s residence is, however, known under a different name today. Hebbe’s House (Hebbeska huset) carries the name of a later owner Simon Bernhard Hebbe, the director of the Ostindiska kompaniet (Swedish East Indian Company) – Sweden’s largest trading company in the 18th century focused on conducting trade with the Far East, primarily China.
(To learn more about the company and the fascinating history of trade with the Far East, I recommend you visit the Maritime Museum in Stockholm (Sjöhistoriska museet) and their exhibition entitled ‘The Voyagers.’)
Hebbe and his wife are said to have been a couple with great taste which resulted in their giving the family residence a truly luxurious interior. Moreover, it turned out to be a good investment as the property remained in the hands of the dynasty all the way until 1865.
However, the adjacent house became the first joined seat of the three commoner estates of the Swedish Riksdag of the Four Estates – namely the priesthood, the bourgeoisie, and the peasantry – already a few decades earlier. 1865, on the other hand, was the year when the outdated Riksdag of the Four Estates was abolished and replaced by a bicameral parliament.
In connection to this big shift on the Swedish political scene, the main building was extended and reconstructed, and Hebbe’s House was acquired by the state to become a part of the new complex.
During the reconstruction led by architect Johan Fredrik Åbom, the main building received an additional floor to accommodate the two cameras of the newly formed Parliament.
As it was so often the case throughout history, the authorities soon realised that one additional floor would not cut it and that the Parliament would soon outgrow its new residence. Eventually, the Old Parliament House only housed the Swedish Parliament for forty years between 1865 and 1905 when the new Parliament House standing on Helgeandsholmen was completed.
The insufficient capacity of the building was not the only issue, though. From the health perspective, the environment in the old building was unsatisfying, too. Hence, the concerns about the health of the parliamentarians and other staff also contributed to the quick shift of the seats of the Swedish Parliament.
After another fundamental reconstruction, completed in 1911, several government offices moved into the historical premises on Riddarholmen. Just like most of the island, the Old Parliament House is in near-perfect shape today, at least on the outside. This was achieved, in part, through a recent renovation during which the façade was redecorated, and the window frames were repainted.
Part of the 2014 renovation was also repainting the building complex in three different colours instead of five one could see there earlier. The idea behind this clever strategy was to differentiate individual parts of the complex consisting of what originally were three separate buildings.
After all these extensive reconstructions, it seems that the Old Parliament House in Stockholm with its improved energy efficiency and fancy noise isolation is ready to continue its journey, which started in the Middle Ages, for many years to come.
The only thing left now is for you to go and explore this historic site first-hand, to appreciate all its subtle details while adoring its massive character.
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