Last weekend was a trip organized by the foreign researchers' group. We went to the old town of Sigtuna, travelling via a castle called Skokloster (the name means "the cloisters on the shoe-shaped peninsula").
Skokloster is an attractive if rather strange stately home. We were shown round by some guides in period costume; their English was surprisingly poor, considering that almost all Swedish people speak English fluently, and you'd think that they'd look for language skills in that sort of job. The bulk of it was built in the 17th century by a chap who obviously had more money than taste; Wrangel made a lot of money and acquired various titles due to his military success in a period when Sweden was making a bid for imperial power. He decorated his castle (which had been a monastery pre-reformation) with everything he could lay his hands on that was as visibly expensive as possible, and that seems to have been the only criterion. There are insane things like entire large rooms completely wallpapered in tooled calf leather, or rooms with enormous fire-places which were purely for show and stand next to actually functional state of the 17th century art stoves.
Due to various historical accidents Wrangel's nouveau riche excesses have been extremely well preserved, but most of it is only interesting because of its age, there's little of genuine artistic value. He attempted to build an anachronistic mediaeval-style Great Hall, but died while it was still in process. Since none of his successors had the money for such an over-the-top project, the hall was left suspended in mid-construction for the next 350 years! So it's now an interesting living museum of seventeenth century building techniques; the builders even left their tools lying around in the hope that the money would show up to resume the project. The most worthwhile part of the castle is the armoury; there are several thousand pieces and many of them are really beautiful. Clearly this is the area where Wrangel actually knew his stuff, rather than just spending as much money as he could manage.
With so many of original furnishings still in place, they are very strict about prohibiting photography. There are plenty of images on the website I linked to though. I took just a couple of photos of the exterior and one of a canon looking over Mälaren lake:
Sigtuna itself is a pretty little town. It was probably founded somewhere between 700 and 900, but being made of wood almost none of the original town survives. Although it may have been a fairly major port and at least regional capital in the first millennium, the capital moved to Birka and then to Stockholm and there isn't much dating from any period between 900 and 1800. Lots of fun runestones from around the 11th century, and a 12th century stone and 13th century brick church, the latter still in use:
However, it's a very attractive nineteenth and early twentieth century town, (which happens to have some historical interest as well):
Two 18th century buildings:
And some quirky little things:
They were having a Mediaeval reenactment weekend as a tourist attraction, so there were lots of people in costume:
Rather a fun Mediaeval fair, actually. It's really easy to spot the genuine enthusiasts among the people who are just playing dressup or trying to screw money out of tourists, and there were a pleasingly high proportion of the first group. I wished some of you guys could have been there because you would have appreciated it. Especially lethargic_man who is into Viking stuff. But pseudomonas would have liked the period musicians, and hatam_soferet would have liked the scribe, and ewtikins and owlfish would have liked the drop spindle lady, and there was a potter and a woman winnowing straw:
I was little disasppointed in the social side. Mostly the SIRAP group are very good at being friendly and make a point of talking to everybody, but on this trip it seemed like everybody had come in pairs (not necessarily the romantic kind). Nobody was rude by any means, but there were few opportunities to talk to people without directly interrupting ongoing conversations. Anyway, it was a fun trip and I'm glad I did it.
Hm, this is long, I should put the Midsummer stuff in a separate post!