Stockholm: Medieval Museum (Medeltidsmuseet)

After visiting the Swedish History Museum and enjoying their excellent historical timeline galleries, I found it difficult to believe that another, smaller museum would be able to cover medieval Sweden as well as they did, so I was happy to skip the Medieval Museum, which we had originally planned on visiting. However, by the last day of our trip, we decided that we’d spent enough money (probably my fault; I was eating like three ice creams a day, but thinking about it now makes me feel a little ill since I’ve been working through the remains of my birthday ice cream pie all week and have been in pretty much a constant state of bloat as a result. (Yes Jessica, nice subtle way to sneak your birthday in there. And actually, who am I kidding, I’d eat an ice cream right now if you put it in front of me)), but we had about 5 hours to kill before our flight home and the Medieval Museum was free, so we found ourselves there anyway.

  

It is located right by the Royal Palace in “Old Town Island” (Gamla Stan), so I also found myself back in Old Town, even though I vowed not to go there again after fighting my way through the hordes of tourists one too many times, but it ended up being OK because the entrance was in a fairly secluded area by a small pier, so we didn’t have to force a path through the crowded, narrow shopping streets, and we got to see an unexpected changing of the guard as they paraded by (with a jolly band!) whilst we were waiting for the museum to open. Because the museum opens quite late, at noon, even though we got what we thought was a late start, we still had to hang around for a bit until they unlocked the doors (and we weren’t the only ones waiting!).

  

The museum is built around some ruins of medieval Stockholm that were excavated in the 1970s when they were trying to turn the site into a parking garage (obviously that fell through when they found the ruins), including an old wall, and a medieval churchyard (though I think they moved the human remains elsewhere, so it’s really only the wall left). The museum consists of a tunnel leading into a small entryway room, and one larger room where the ruins and most of the museum content was located.

  

Almost every label in the museum was written in Swedish and English, which was the case at all of Stockholm’s museums (or the ones we visited, anyway). There was a short introductory video at the start of the tunnel about how the ruins were discovered, and the opening gallery attempted to “introduce” us to some of the people who would have lived in the medieval city; though I love wax figures, these ones were a bit odd because they kept them in a darkened nook behind glass, only intermittently shining a light on them. I guess maybe it was supposed to give them a ghostly effect, but really it just made them hard to see.

  

The main room was a little better, as I could instantly tell upon walking in and seeing a wax figure of an alleged plague victim sitting there (but with no sign of buboes, I’m not sure I trust their diagnosis. I suppose she could have had pneumonic plague, which would explain the blood on her handkerchief, but TB would have been my first guess). There was also a small reconstructed village, complete with graveyard and gallows hill (which was obviously my favourite bit), and the ruins of the medieval wall were down the centre of the room (though apparently some of the wall was built in 1530, which is really early modern rather than medieval (putting my MA to use right there)).

  

To be honest with you, a lot of the information in this gallery seemed outdated…for example, in the section about food, it was mentioned that medieval people ate heavily spiced food to kill the taste of rotten meat, but I’m pretty sure that for a while now the consensus amongst historians has been that people ate heavily spiced food both as a sign of prestige, and simply because they liked the taste. After all, most meat was slaughtered as needed, so it was very fresh, and, then as now, people weren’t going to eat rotten food unless it was a starvation situation, in which case they certainly wouldn’t have been able to afford expensive spices!

  

And though I definitely enjoyed the mannequins (even the iffy plague victim), you could only go into a couple of the reconstructed buildings, and they didn’t have much in them (most of the mannequins are from street scenes). One building simply had a room full of long tables, with signs saying that you weren’t allowed to eat or drink there (which spoiled the atmosphere somewhat; also, it seemed like kind of a waste of space, since there was literally nothing else in that boring room), and another contained samples of cloth and a video showing how medieval women would have gotten dressed (interesting, but they didn’t really have to show her lacing up the whole damn kirtle. They could have just skipped ahead after the first set of laces).  There was also a mock-up of a church with a statue of St. George in it, and reading his story just annoyed me (I mean, I knew it involved a dragon, obviously, but I wasn’t aware of all the irritating details). So, this town had to sacrifice someone to a dragon like every week so he didn’t destroy them all, but it wasn’t until a princess was about to be sacrificed that George stepped in and killed the dragon. Why didn’t he just do that as soon as the dragon started demanding human sacrifices? I guess the ordinary people weren’t worthy of being saved?! What a jerk! I wish the dragon had killed George’s ass instead.

  

But as far as the museum goes, although I shouldn’t complain too much about a free museum (I probably still have though), it was something of a disappointment. I learned far more about medieval Stockholm at the Swedish History Museum, and there were way more interactive elements there too!  Except for a handful of video screens and a small display that opened in 2015 about archaeological findings from Slussen (a juncture in Stockholm that connects Sodermalm with Stadsholmen), and despite their claims to have undergone a renovation in 2010, it feels like the content of the museum (certainly the text) hasn’t really been updated since the museum opened in 1986. It was a perfectly acceptable way to kill some time without spending any money, but it’s not one of Stockholm’s better museums, and I regret not just coughing up the damn krona and visiting the Nordic Museum instead, as it sounds really good, and really, how often am I going to be in Stockholm?  I guess I’ll consider missing out my penance for cheapness. 2.5/5 for the Medieval Museum.

  

12 comments

  1. Happy birthday for whenever it was! I didn’t know the full story of St George either but it doesn’t surprise me that he only bothered about the princess.

    1. Thanks Anabel! It was last Sunday. Not only did that story make George seem like a jerk, it still didn’t really explain why he’s a saint, since, you know, dragons aren’t real, and even if they were, I thought saints were usually martyred in some horrific way. Slaying a dragon doesn’t really seem like saint-making material.

  2. I kinda like the wax figures, though the supposed plague victim looks not so much sick as mildly interested in what’s come out of her mouth. But the one hunkered in the corner of the garden is agreeably creepy – and the one with its head in the cupboard. Also, I love that they always give the male facial reconstructions old metal-head, hoser hair.
    But most importantly – Happy belated Birthday! I hope it was a great one! And I know I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I love that you’re a Virgo too. (I don’t usually get into horoscopes, but I’m quick to claim the people I like.)

    1. I like the garden one a lot too. But she was fenced off so you couldn’t get too close to her. Ha, “old metal-head, hoser hair!” Pretty much!
      And thanks! I fear I have reached the age of boring (actually, I’ve been there for a while); I could tell when I opened my birthday package from my mother and it was composed of like 90% vitamins, toothpaste (I don’t like British toothpaste, it tastes bad), and American foodstuffs, but that is what I asked for, so the boring’s on me. Well, and she got me new high tops and some kick-ass Oreo-print socks, so I really can’t complain. When’s your birthday? (Obviously sometime between August 23-September 22, because I am enough of a nerd to know dates of zodiac signs.) I don’t believe in astrology, but I still kind of like it (I actually just took an online course on Magic in the Middle Ages), like my fascination with Tarot cards that I think I’ve mentioned before. Basically, I want to be a witch, but a non-theistic one who lives in a cool witch cottage and who makes herbal potions that actually work. I’m down to light some candles and incense and dance around under the full moon, I just don’t want to have to actually worship anything whilst I do it.

      1. Oh god, I think I’ve probably hit boring too – but not because I think everything in your birthday package sounds great. (How do the Brits get toothpaste wrong?) I’m such a wild and crazy girl that I’m actually hoping for some kind of floor steamer this year. Wooeee. My birthday’s on the 13th, which I’m always grateful for because I love all that Friday the 13th-bad luck-black cat stuff. Sadly, Friday birthdays are few and far between but boy, am I excited (and tiresome to be around) when I get one.
        Ha! Your description is so perfect. I absolutely get wanting to be a “non-theistic” witch. I’d sign up for that life -and witch-y cottage – any time.

      2. This probably makes me sound even duller, but the toothpaste here is too strong. It starts to burn my gums if I brush my teeth for as long as you’re supposed to brush your teeth. So I have to always haul back a load of Pepsodent (among other things) when I visit the States.
        A floor steamer doesn’t sound like a bad gift if you’ve got a lot of floors to steam…I kind of regret not asking for a blender. I go through phases of missing smoothies, and they’re just not good in a food processor. Too chunky. But Friday the 13th is an awesome birthday to have (even though it’s not always on a Friday)! I’m kind of jealous! My birthday always sucked because it was usually the first day of school. 😦
        And if I ever get a non-theistic coven together, I’ll let you know, but I definitely won’t because I don’t even know 12 people, let alone 12 weirdos like me.

  3. Wax figures really creep me out – they look like they could spring to life at any moment and just start talking. Though, thanks to the Night at the Museum movies I tend to imagine that everywhere I go haha.

    Good call on some of the museum’s misleading statements, especially the meat one. That’s right up there with the “people were way shorter back then” myth. Sorry to hear it was such a disappointment, but at least it was free!

    1. I don’t know why I like wax figures so much, because they are usually super creepy, but then again I like most creepy stuff, so perhaps that’s part of the appeal.
      My personal historical myth pet peeve is the lack of understanding about how life expectancy works. I hate when people think that in eras when the life expectancy was like 40, you were considered ancient if you lived to 50, and they don’t even consider the HUGE role that infant mortality rates play in determining the life expectancy of a society.

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