Quick Facts

  • Stockholm Olympic Stadium was built for the 1912 Olympics
  • It is a massive brick building prevalently in National Romantic style
  • The stadium has hosted a great number of sports and cultural events
  • The finish of the yearly Stockholm Marathon is at the Olympic Stadium

There are many historical places in Stockholm that have witnessed a plenty of action during the past centuries. Some of them were even there when world’s unique ideas and institutions, such as the world’s first central bank, were formed. One building, though, has seen more action in the last one hundred years than probably any other, especially in one specific field – sports.

Stockholm Olympic Stadium in Stockholm

Stockholm Olympic Stadium (Stockholms stadion) was built as the main arena for the 1912 Olympic Games hosted in Stockholm. Before we come to the stadium itself, though, let’s have a look at how it came to life in the first place.

It was in May 1909, around three years before the event, that the decision was made to organise the Games in Stockholm. Initially, the authorities planned to host the Games in a provisional stadium just like the three preceding cities. For this purpose, architect Torben Grut, who was an athlete himself, created a design proposal depicting a wooden stadium that was meant to be painted white.

However, when the committee formed to oversee the process decided to go with a permanent solution, the plans had to be reworked. Not only that but the location of the new stadium was debated, too. Architect Grut was one of those who supported the location that was eventually chosen as he saw a great potential for a modern sports complex there.

The next design Grut came up with was a modern building to a large extent designed in accordance with the then popular National Romantic movement. It was a massive brick construction reminiscent of castles from the era of Gustav Vasa and medieval city walls.

According to the architect himself, it was a modern application of medieval artisanal construction art. Every part of the building was organically created by the construction needs. He said it was plain like a boat or a bridge, with the aesthetics created by the materials and proportions.

Olympic Stadium in Stockholm

In the early 1900s, people worldwide had so little experience with organising large sports events that it was incredibly difficult for the organisers to estimate how many spectators to expect and hence, how many seats there should be at the new stadium.

Originally, a grandstand was built separated from the athletic track by what was meant to become a promenade after the Olympics and where a temporary wooden stand was created for the duration of the Games. The interest of the public largely exceeded any expectations, though, and the lower stand was left standing even after the event. Eventually, it was rebuilt in 1920 when the original wooden construction was replaced by pillars and beams made of concrete.

The façade of the stadium was built using handmade, large-sized bricks from Helsingborg with 2cm joints. Various brick patterns were used to create subtle decorations above the entrances and in other parts of the building. There are also a plenty of granite blocks incorporated into the façade that were meant to be turned into sculptures but most of them never were.

Grut believed that sports competitions should give people a complete aesthetic experience. Both spectators and athletes were to have the possibility to take a walk in the nearby park between the events and be inspired by the art displayed at the venue. Interestingly, at that time, five artistic disciplines were officially parts of the Olympics. These were architecture, sculpting, painting, music, and literature.

To elaborate on this idea, the architect created a thoughtful plan for placing sculptures in the park located in the stadium’s neighbourhood. Unfortunately, the budget did not allow him to execute the plan before the Olympics. A revised version, presented in 1931, was at least partially implemented during the year of the 25th anniversary of the arena.

An interesting detail to notice is the flag bars, which were designed as an extension of the roof covering the spectator stands. This way, the flags are always fully visible, which was the architect’s intention. The only bars that are vertical are the three on the northern side of the stadium used for award ceremonies.

The use of the stadium after the Olympic venue was over was not less important to Grut. He envisioned his masterwork as a ‘Nordic athletic castle’ used for both sports and cultural events for decades to come. It is hard to tell today whether he was even able to imagine the variety of purposes the popular stadium has served over more than a hundred years of its existence.

Stockholm Olympic Stadium has witnessed athletes compete in everything from athletics, to football, to ice-hockey, to motorcycle sports. It has also hosted countless public festivals including yearly celebrations of the Swedish Flag’s Day (Svenska flaggans dag), now known as the National Day of Sweden (Sveriges nationaldag). Several World and European Cups have taken place there as well as the equestrian part of the 1956 Summer Olympics.

The venue remains largely unchanged since the day of its construction. Perhaps the most significant modification was done in 1958 when another permanent grandstand was built on the northern side for the European Athletics Championships. The western and the eastern stands have also been modified in the ‘50s and the ‘60s after the one on the west burned down in 1954.

The Olympic Stadium in Stockholm remains to be one of our time’s most valuable sports venues and as such it has been an example for many other arenas across the world. During the years, a total of 83 world records have been broken at the stadium and the Stockholm Marathon would never be the same if its finish was moved somewhere else.

I hope you liked the story of this legendary place. If you did, feel free to share it with everyone who you think might find it interesting and make sure to come back to Trevl for more interesting stories about places in the Swedish capital.

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Århem, Barbro, 1990. Stockholms stadion.
Århem, Barbro, 1989. Stadion: byggnadshistorisk dokumentation inför byggnadsminnesförklaringen.
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