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When in Stockholm, set stock by Swedish design. It pervades everything and every place—the cafes and museums, the castles and parks, the streets, metro stations, and even public toilets. Characterised by a minimal, clean approach that combines form and functionality, Swedish design is simple: it strips back the superfluous to reveal the essentials. But the city’s architecture and sights are more complex than 20th century minimalism. 

Located at the highest point of Gamla Stan, between the Royal Palace and Börshuset (the Stock Exchange), the Storkyrkan cathedral with its immense vaulted and carved interior, houses the celebrated Vädersoltavlan depicting a halo display; an atmospheric optical phenomenon, seen in Stockholm in April 1535. It is not the original though, and is a 1636 copy by the German portrait painter Jacob Heinrich Elbfas. There is also a new sculpture by Lena Lervik of Joseph and Mary, dated 2002. The most storied work of art in the cathedral is Saint George and the Dragon, an oak sculpture, created, painted, and partly gilded, by Gothic artist Bernt Notke of Lübeck, in 1489. The Vasa Museum is a well-preserved warship of 1628 and showcases the life and times of 17th-century Sweden. 

Interiors of the metro station
Oskar II’s writing room at the palace

The Swedes take their past seriously; Old Town (Gamla Stan) is one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval 
city centres.In most cities, the metro is the best way to get around. But the T-bana, the Swedish subway system runs contrary to this method. Approximately 100 subway stations have been converted into destinations in themselves as living art galleries, letting you get up close and personal with murals, paintings and art installations. The crown jewel of Sweden’s art circuit is the National Museum, with an awe-inspiring collection of 7,00,000 objects, including paintings, sculptures and drawings from the 16th century up to the beginning of the 20th century. The artists on display are a veritable who’s who: Rembrandt, Rubens, Renoir, Degas, Goya, and Gauguin along with Swedish masters such as Ernst Josephson, Carl Larsson, and Carl Fredrik Hill. There’s no way that the colours and brush strokes leave you unaffected.

Not far is the stunning Royal Palace, built in baroque style by architect Nicodemus Tessin during the 18th century. As many as 600 rooms are designed into 11 floors around a courtyard. Not to be missed among the palace’s five museums are the Gustav III’s Museum of Antiquities, which first opened its doors in 1794, and the Tre Kronor Museum.

For modern art aficionados, there’s no better place than Moderna Museet, designed by Spanish architect Rafael Moneo. Also known as Modern Museum of Art, it offers a stunning collection of more than 1,30,000 works, including those by Picasso, Dali, Derkert and Matisse.  It also houses the Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design, ArkDes, which focuses on the future of design. Then there is the sanctuary-like Artipelag, a gallery, where you see a medley of design and nature. Located 19 kilometers from Stockholm, the gallery—framed by the sea, rocks and pine trees—is a celebration of art.

The main building, set in a 54-acre expanse has pitched-pine planks and a plant-covered roof. Inside, large windows facing the trees and sea offer the perfect backdrop to the artworks. Stockholm successfully uses the tenets of good design to drive social, cultural and environmental change.

Courtesy: Susanne Hallmann

ETERNAL BEAUTY: The Skogskyrkogården Woodland Cemetery—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—draws inspiration from German forest cemeteries like Friedhof Ohlsdorf in Hamburg and Munich’s Waldfriedhof. The UNESCO inscription calls Skogskyrkogården “an outstanding example” of the successful application of the 20th-century concept of “architecture wholly integrated into its environment: the chapels and other buildings there would lose much of their meaning if isolated from the landscape for which they were conceived”. 

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