The city of Stockholm was not nicknamed the ‘Venice of the North’ by accident. The inner city of the Swedish capital is composed of 14 islands in a Baltic Sea archipelago, which are obviously connected by many bridges. Both historically and in the present day, these bridges have always been essential to the city infrastructure and have shaped the character of the city to a larger degree than most of us realise. In this post, I tell you the most interesting bits of the stories behind a few of them.
In the mid-17th century, all existing bridges in Stockholm were made of wood. Obviously, this material was not ideal for a construction standing in or floating on the water. These bridges were easily damaged by weather and were often quite dangerous or impossible to drive through in carriages. All of this resulted in the maintenance costs being too high.
For these reasons, one of the most prominent architects of the time Jean de la Vallée proposed the construction of a stone bridge that would connect the Royal Palace with Norrmalm passing through the Helgeandsholmen island. However, this idea was introduced in 1654 and even though the distance between the islands in question was not exactly huge, the terrain between them was considered too difficult for the realisation of these plans using then available techniques, tools and materials.
While the plans were not executed, it did not stop King Karl XII to come up with a new idea a few decades later. In a letter to architect Nicodemus Tessin the Younger, written in 1712, he described his intention to build a bridge that would act as an extension of Drottninggatan and, therefore, connect this street with Helgeandsholmen.
The architect created plans describing a bridge that would stretch from Drottniggatan all the way to the existing bridge on the other side of the Helgeandsholmen island, essentially creating one long street stretching from Norrmalm to the Old Town (Gamla stan). As all of this happened during the Great Northern War (1700 – 1721), resources were scarce and this plan, too, was abandoned.
Meanwhile on Djurgården, there was a bridge through which one could get to and from the island. However, it was also a rather weak wooden construction and the Royals, among whom the place was very popular, could not be driven through the bridge. That was why Frederick I (Fredrik I) came up with a plan to replace the bridge then known as the New Bridge.
Many proposals and over 100 years later, the idea of connecting the Royal Palace with Norrmalm was back on the table. Eventually, in 1756, the decision was made to build a new bridge, which became known as the Norrbro bridge (“North Bridge”), completely made of stone to replace the existing wooden bridges. It soon became apparent, though, that the bridge was not the highest priority for the authorities. When the focused centred on building the Gustav Adolf’s square (Gustav Adolfs torg) and the new Opera House on the other side of the bridge instead, the works were essentially halted.
As it is often the case, priorities shifted quickly when the existing bridge was severely damaged in a flood in spring 1780. Suddenly, the need for a new bridge was greater than ever and so, the works resumed soon after. The northern part of the bridge between Gustav Adolf’s square and Helgeandsholmen was completed in 1796. Afterwards, works started to extend the bridge toward the Royal Palace.
The bridge, which is now the only remaining stone bridge in Stockholm, was opened in November 1807. Apart from the materials and techniques used to construct the bridge, there was another novelty that this place introduced to the city. The Norrbro bridge was the first public location in Stockholm featuring pedestrian sidewalks. These were coated by flagstones to distinguish them from the road and they remain that way to this day.
Discussions about a more modern and permanent solution between Östermalm and Djurgården took place in the early 19th century under the reign of Charles XIV John (Karl XIV Johan). These ended with a compromise, though, and the existing bridge was replaced with a new wooden one once again.
It did not take long for the issue to be revisited and as soon as about twenty years after the last wooden bridge in the location was completed, it was replaced with a brand new, steel bridge. It seemed that this was a long-lasting solution and no new bridges would need to be built there for a while.
However, as the Stockholm Exhibition (Stockholmsutställningen) was approaching, the Royals decided they were not quite happy with the steel bridge which would be seen by all visitors of the fair taking place on Djurgården. Therefore, in mere two years between 1895 and 1897 a new, 57-metre long bridge inspired by modern constructions in continental Europe was born. Featuring sculptures of Nordic mythology Gods on tall columns on both sides of the bridge and nice street lamps, Djurgårdsbron is perhaps the most beautiful of bridges in the floating city of Stockholm.
Ten years later, and only a few years after the Swedish Parliament (Sveriges riksdag) and the Swedish National Bank (Sveriges riksbank) moved to their new facilities on Helgeandsholmen, the question of constructing a bridge from Drottninggatan to Riksgatan became acute. It had been almost two centuries since the original plans had been proposed but there was still no progress on this front.
To resolve the situation, a temporary solution was found in 1907 when a provisional pedestrian bridge consisting of a steel construction and a wooden road was built. However, this bridge not only did not solve the problem entirely, it was also unpopular among the public who nicknamed it the ‘Mouse Trap’ (“Råttfällan”).
Although it took longer than many expected, a decision to move forward with building a permanent bridge in the location was made in 1924. The current Riksbron bridge, made of concrete, stood ready in 1931; 219 years after Karl XII had proposed it. Perhaps paradoxically, the bridge was later closed for traffic after the Parliament moved into the western wing of the present-day Parliament House, too. This together with archaeological discoveries made during the reconstruction of the Swedish Parliament Building were the reasons behind the decision to only allow pedestrians to cross Riksbron.
If you would like to learn more about any of the bridges mentioned in this post, click on the name of the one you wish to explore and read the whole story. Have a look at my earlier post where are show you all interesting bridges in Stockholm’s Old Town, too. Next time, we are going to discover a quite different piece of architecture that you can find in Stockholm, which is well-known both in Sweden and internationally.
Until then, join us on Facebook to keep yourself updated on the latest additions to Trevl and check out our Instagram account for photos of beautiful places to see in Stockholm and other major cities.