- Strömsborg is the smallest island in Stockholm
- It has been a part of the Old Town (Gamla stan) since 1934
- The palace standing on the island was completed in 1897
- Today, it houses the headquarters of IDEA
Naturally, we tend to know places we see more often better than those that do not cross our sight frequently. However, it is also true that some places we might pass around almost daily, never really catch our attention enough for us to give them a second thought. The place that I tell you about in this post might easily fall into this category despite its central location in the Swedish capital. Some have even gone as far as to suggest that it is the least known of all islands forming the city of Stockholm.
The history of Strömsborg, the smallest island in Stockholm, begins in the era when many popular attractions were born in the city. Strömborg’s story has never been too glorious, though. Sometimes it was quite the opposite.
According to available historical sources, the island, then known as Stenskär, was first used by Queen Christina in the first half of the 17th century as a royal getaway with a fishing cabin. Today, it is hard to imagine how one would consider Strömsborg located only a stone’s throw from the Royal Palace a getaway location but that is exactly the kind of new perspective these historical stories can give us.
In 1647, the queen donated the island to her half-brother Gustaf av Wasaborg who was indeed not thrilled about the gift. He left Sweden the same year and never touched the island which was, hence, abandoned until his death, six years later.
Perhaps unexpectedly, the island’s unattractiveness eventually turned out to be what gave it its new life. In the first half of the 1700s, the merchant Berge Olofsson Ström bought the Birger Jarl’s Tower on Riddarholmen, mainly because he enjoyed the beautiful sea views that he could get from there.
Unfortunately for Ström, there was something that disturbed his enjoyable views. That is where Stenskär, the ugly little island destroying Ström’s sea view, comes into the story. The merchant was not a man that would let his problems bother him and, therefore, he looked for a solution.
Buying the island turned out to be the best one he came up with. Consequently, in 1747, he acquired Stenskär from the City of Stockholm for 600 riskdaler. He had a two-floor, castle-like house, which gave the island its modern name, built on his new land. Strömsborg is a name created by combining the owner’s name with the Swedish word for castle, ‘borg,’ hence Strömsborg can be literally translated as Ström’s Castle.
You would be wasting your time looking for the 18th-century house today, though, but we will get back to that shortly. Already in the 1700s, Strömsborg became a popular place for entertainment and nightlife with several popular restaurants having been located on the island over the centuries.
Big changes came just before the turn of the 20th century when the builder Johan Andersson acquired the property and decided to build a new, 4-floor house for himself and his family there. His plan was opposed by several high-profile individuals who argued that the house was too big for the island. However, he was permitted to move forward with his bold plan and the modern-day monumental building standing on Strömsborg was erected between 1895 and 1897.
It is said that the house attracted so much attention that King Oscar II himself approached Andersson with an offer to buy it for his son Prince Carl. Reportedly, Andersson answered simply that he, too, had a son, which illustrates the strong connection he is said to have had with his family.
During the 20th century, the palace served several purposes. First, in the late 1920s, the island became the property of the City of Stockholm once again and the building standing there was reconstructed by the architect of Stockholm City Hall, Ragnar Östberg, with the intention to house the headquarters of the Swedish Sports Association.
At the time, the bottom floor was still a place for public entertainment where a popular restaurant, as well as one of Stockholm’s most renowned dancing halls, resided. In the 1970s, the Judicial Department of the City of Stockholm moved into the premises of the Sports Association and remained there until the fundamental reconstruction which took place in the late 1990s.
During the reconstruction, the building was returned to its form from before 1953 when the well-known dancing porch had first welcomed its guests. Since 1998, Strömsborg is the home of IDEA, an intergovernmental organisation supporting democracy worldwide.
Hopefully, this story will inspire you to explore Strömsborg, which despite being a part of Stockholm’s Old Town (Gamla stan) since 1934 still remains a somewhat overlooked place on the city landscape of Stockholm.
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