Skansen is the first open-air museum and zoo in Sweden located on the island Djurgården in Stockholm, Sweden. It was opened on 11 October 1891 by Artur Hazelius (1833–1901) to show the way of life in the different parts of Sweden before the industrial era. At Skansen, there are today (2014) about 140 buildings from Scandinaviaof which the oldest is Vastveitloftet from the 14th century.
At the beginning of the 1870s, three million of Sweden’s population of just over four million people still lived in the countryside. But country life had changed. The number of independent farmers had declined and the ranks of the landless had grown. The increase in population created a growing body of tenant cottagers, servants to the gentry and indentured labourers. Land reforms that destroyed villages and re-allocated the fields transformed the way of life in the countryside as well as its buildings. Agriculture became mechanized, industrial products did away with crafts and new means of communication opened up more efficient ways of distributing goods.
The landless classes left their homes to seek work on the railways, in the shipyards and the factories and in the sawmills of northern Sweden. Sweden developed into an urban society. Crop failures at the end of the 1860s caused more than 100 000 Swedes to emigrate to America. This wave of emigration reached a peak in the 1880s when 325 000 Swedes left for America and a further 52 000 emigrated to other countries.
Hazelius realized that Swedish society was changing. During a visit to the province of Dalarna in the summer of 1872 he noted how rapidly the transformation was taking place. He started to collect clothing, household utensils, furniture and hand-tools from the old farming culture: everything that needed to be preserved for posterity.
Skansen’s founder Artur Hazelius was worried that Swedish folk culture would be lost, and in the summer of 1872 he made a fundraising trip, from which he returned with objects, folklore and literature. The collections were shown at Drottninggatan 71 (in Davidson’s pavilions ) in Stockholm, then under the name “Scandinavian-Ethnographic Collection”.
In 1873 Hazelius opened his first museum, the Scandinavian Ethnographic Collection, in Stockholm. His museum showed cottage interiors decorated with authentic objects as well as fullsized dolls dressed in folk costume. Painted panoramas provided the backdrops. At the world exhibition in Paris in 1878 Hazelius was able to try out his ideas about exhibitions on an international audience and he was awarded a gold medal.
His success in Paris and the growing collections in Stockholm caused Hazelius, in 1880, to change the name of the museum to the Nordiska Museet (the Nordic museum). The museum became an independent foundation. Hazelius later noted with pride that the Nordiska museet “could be considered the property of the Swedish people”. The network of contacts that Hazelius had built up throughout the country led to the rapid growth of the collections. There was a pressing need for a larger building and, in 1882, Hazelius managed to persuade the crown to make land available on Djurgården. Building was commenced in 1888 but it was not until 1907, six years after Hazelius’s death, that the new Nordiska Museet was opened to the public.
Traditional exhibitions and museum interiors were not sufficient to fulfil Hazelius’s educational aims. He wanted to emphasize the sense of history by showing complete environments, that is, fully furnished houses occupied by people wearing period costume surrounded by their domestic animals in a natural landscape.
Hazelius had probably long nurtured the idea of an open-air museum but with the acquisition of the so-called Mora cottage in Dalarna in 1885 his plans took more solid form. In 1891 he was able to buy the first piece of ground at Skansen. In his own words: “it was hither that my thoughts removed of founding a museum which was unlike any existing museum, namely, an open-air museum devoted to folklore and the history of civilization”.
On Sunday the 11th of October 1891 Skansen was opened to the public with the Mora cottage as the museum’s first building. During the early years Skansen occupied an area of less than 30 000 m2. In 1892 Hazelius acquired the tower known as Bredablick with the surrounding park and this was incorporated into the original site, increasing the size of Skansen six-fold. Shortly prior to his death in 1901, Hazelius made his largest acquisition of land when he purchased the old fairground which comprised what is now the Solliden plateau as well as the area below it. Skansen was now almost the size it is today. A few later extensions have brought the current area up to some 300 000 m2.
During the expansive 1890s Skansen’s activities were organized in accordance with aims that Hazelius was later to enumerate: “But the Skansen open-air mu-seum has much greater diversity and still greater tasks… It seeks more to be a living museum, a museum that does not merely exhibit buildings and furnishings, tools of very varying sorts, memorials… Along side all of that it seeks to do much more: to present folk life in living brushstrokes.”
The first years of the 1890s were devoted to building up the open-air museum with historically interesting buildings, animal enclosures, paths and gardens. When this had been achieved, programmes of events began to be organized at Skansen. Hazelius realized that festivities were attractive to the public who attended in great numbers. Historical events were remembered; there were spring festivals and the royal name of Gustav was celebrated on the appropriate day in the calendar, the 6th of June. This latter was duly transformed into a celebration of the Swedish flag and this in turn, in 1983, was officially deemed Sweden’s National Day.
The basic programme of events, which remains the backbone of Skansen’s popular entertainment, was thus laid down during the 1890s: the celebration of feasts throughout the year and in people’s lives, traditional country dances and folk music, living crafts and household activities in cottages and farms. But such popular events have to keep up with the times and today Skansen can offer a wide-ranging programme for people of all ages with events for children, appearances by popular artists and concerts of all sorts of music.
Natural history department
In 1850, Stockholm’s Tivoli had been founded down on Djurgårdslätten, with several theaters and pubs. Tivolit also had a menagerie, where animals were kept in smaller cages, which all together constituted one of Stockholm’s most attractive entertainment destinations, and for Hazelius it constituted competition, even though Skansen had some animals.
In 1894, Skansen took over a complete aquarium exhibition, with aquariums, fish and machines. It was Johan Flor’s inaugurated Stockholm Aquarium in 1891, which Flor did not want to pursue further. In January 1895, the aquarium exhibition was opened with 35 species of reptiles, fish and crustaceans in Sagaliden with animal keeper Nordenfelt as responsible keeper.
Already when Skansen opened in 1891, there were animals in its own area; Reindeer, Lapphund, chickens, geese and ducks together with two goats made up the animal population in the first year. In the coming years, several animal species were acquired, many exotic such as walrus, rhinoceros and ax deer.
After Skansen in 1901 bought the lower area that previously belonged to Stockholm’s Tivoli and extended from the current main entrance to Galejan and Sollidsporten, more species from Tivolit’s menagerie were added such as the brown bear female Maja originating from Värmland and the polar bear male Prinsen from the North Pole..
In the same year, 1901, Alarik Behm became deputy director of Skansen, and Behm was then head of Skansen’s natural history department 1907-1937. In 1937, Carl Fries became head of department, and he was succeeded in 1953 by Kai Curry-Lindahl, who became the last head of Skansen’s natural history department, which changed upon his resignation.
In connection with the zoologist Pelle Palm’s successor Kai Curry-Lindahl in 1975 as animal manager at Skansen, the name of the animal department was changed from Skansen’s natural history department to Skansen’s zoological department.
Skansen was counted as a zoo since 1924 when the Grill donation and Knut and Alice Wallenberg’s fund provided the necessary capital needed to build the then ape house, the so-called Djurhuset * (now privately owned Skansen aquarium below restaurant Solliden ) in 1924, whereupon Skansen achieved it number of species that were then required to be counted as a zoo. The exotic animal population included everything from baboons, gibbons and smaller monkeys, to parrots, turtles and aquarium fish. The animal house became an eldorado for generations of animal enthusiasts, who with their proximity to the animals, with sounds and smells gave the impression of being in a jungle. After the 1st animal keeper Sven Rydh retired, he was succeeded by Helmut Pinter (1924-2017), who was responsible for the care of the primates at Skansen between 1965 and 1984, also in the new aphus.
Elephants had been kept at Tivolit since the 1860s, they had been a major attraction, and in the summer of 1930 Skansen borrowed an elephant from Hagenbeck Zoo, which the visitors got to ride on. It was a great success, which also gave a good profit, and they decided to buy their own elephant. In 1932, the Asian elephant cone Rani was purchased, renamed Lunkentuss at Skansen. In 1939, the elephant Bambina arrived from Hagenbeck Zoo, followed by Fatima in 1950. Shortly after a new elephant house was built, Nika arrived in 1960, Noi arrived in 1967 and Skansen’s last elephant Shiva arrived in 1984, but before that Lunkentuss had died in 1941, Bambina died in 1967, Fatima was sold. 1972, and Noi sold in 1981.. 1st elephant keeper Sven Borg (1907-1998) was responsible for the care of the elephants at Skansen between 1932 and 1976, and under his leadership, hundreds of thousands of children rode on Skansen’s elephants Lunkentuss and Bambina. Elephant riding was discontinued in 1957.
From the 1960s, penguins and sea lions were also kept in the lower Galejan area, and sea lions in particular were a popular attraction for feeding with their arts. In addition, a new monkey house with two “monkey mountains” was built outdoors, in a then elegant concrete complex designed by Stockholm’s city architect Holger Blom. During the 60s, chimpanzees and gibbons were moved there, and the old animal house was rented out to Jonas Wahlström, who together with the conservator Birger Westblom started up a snake terrarium, later Skansen-Akvariet. Nowadays, the “new” ape house is also included in the Skansen Aquarium.
The sea lion was sold in the early 1980s and the penguins at the end of the decade, and flamingos have been kept there for some time.
Over time, the elephant house at Skansen was considered too small because the Swedish Board of Agriculture and later the Swedish Board of Agriculture demanded larger and larger areas for zoo animals. Since the 1980s, the elephants have been kept on exemption for falling 14 square meters because the areas did not meet the requirements of 100 square meters, and Skansen must build a new house and outdoor fence to be able to keep elephants. 1st elephant keeper Dan Köhl was responsible for the care of the elephants at Skansen between 1986 and 1992, and became the last with this position. After tenacious conflicts, Skansen’s board decided in 1992 that the elephant herd at Skansen would be phased out, and the last two of Skansen’s elephants, Nika and Shiva, were donated to a zoo in England. The old elephant house has since been home to Colobus monkeys.
Today there are mainly Nordic wild animals and Swedish landraces of several kinds at Skansen. In the lower area, there are still a few exotic animal species left, such as colobus monkeys, Mozambican and astrilds. Skansen’s bear mountain, which was originally built in the 1930s, was reopened after rebuilding and expansion in 1998 and today only holds brown bears. Furthermore, there are the larger Swedish predators such as lynx and wolverine. Even elk, wild boar and otters can be seen at Skansen.
A large aviary where the barn owl is located is next to the bear mountain, where the audience can go in and see the owls without nets in between. Berguv has long been present at Skansen and over 50 cubs have been released into the wild, in recent years in collaboration with the Archipelago Foundation. In 2016, a new aviary was inaugurated where White-backed Woodpecker is now kept. The purpose is to, in collaboration with the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, raise young to release into the wild and inform the public about the species and why it is seriously endangered in Sweden.
Skansen is a member of the Swedish Zoo Association and the European Zoo Association EAZA, as well as the global zoo organization WAZA.
The Swedish landraces that exist in the cultural-historical environments at Skansen are all more or less endangered and are included in the gene banks that have been established for each animal breed. Mountains close to the mountains, gut sheep, ridge sheep and goats are examples of landraces. A number of poultry such as the Skåne goose and the hedemora hen also belong to the landraces found at Skansen.
In Skansen’s stable there are Norwegian fjord horses, Gotland Russians, Shetland ponies and northern Swedes. Children can ride them at certain times every day. It is also possible to ride a carriage on horseback. The horses are also used to drive bridal couples who get married in Seglora church. The so-called russ poison from Gotland also contains some of Skansen’s russ.
The bison is a parade animal for Skansen. Alarik Behm had already in 1910 acquired the first bison and in 1918 the first calf, “Billa”, was born at Skansen by the cow “Bilma”. Skansen came to play a major role in saving the species from extinction. Two of the remaining 54 individuals of the species identified in the 1920s in the world were found at Skansen. Bilma and the bull “Bill” are two of only twelve so-called “founders” of today’s two recognized breeding lines, the Lowland line and the Lowland-Caucasus line. Among other things, Alarik Behm participated as a co-founder in 1924 in the Internationale Gesellschaft zur Erhaltnd des Wistents in the internationally organized efforts to save the species from extinction.
In 1929, the bivalve heifers “Biserta” and “Biscaya” were transferred to the newly established breeding station Bisonławieża Białowieża in order to rebuild a bison population there, together with other imported animals. Later they were followed by “Bilma” and “Björnson”. This breeding was also successful and in 1952 led to a first release in the open in the Białowieża forest.
The contribution to the return of bison in the open has continued. In 2009, a Skansen-born bison was released into the wild in a reserve in Romania.
In recent years, all of Skansen’s bison have names that begin with “Sto”, (for example Stocka, Stolle) to distinguish them from bison from other places, while e.g. Avesta’s sages’ names begin with “Off” (for example, Avi).
Lill-Skansen has been the children’s zoo part since 1955. Its target group was smaller the smaller children and the department ran the business with the motto “Now your kids can meet our kids”. It was first located between the lookout tower Bredablick and Bergsmansgården. In 1971, Lill-Skansen was moved to its current location. A completely new year-round open Lill-Skansen was opened in the spring of 2012, with a completely new concept and several new species.
In addition to pets, there are also Swedish wild rodents such as Skogssork and Dvärgmus and Swedish reptiles and amphibians such as snok and Grönfläckig toad. Outdoors there is a contact garden with the African dwarf and also a mini pigand Swedish blue duck. A walk-through aviary with parrots where visitors can go in to the birds is open during the summer. Lill-Skansen’s symbol Little Kott suits the animals when the animal keepers are not there. Georg Riedel and Ulf Stark have written a song about Lilla Kott. At Lill-Skansen, lessons are held for younger school children who then get to learn more about animals and nature and where the food comes from.
Stockholm’s Tivoli’s amusement park, with carousels, duck ponds, air rifle shooting, lotteries and more, lives on through Skansen, albeit in a smaller format. The amusement park, which was used by families with children during the day and young people in the evenings, was inserted into Skansen in 1901. The amusement park attractions have essentially retained their appearance from the 1940s.. Generations of children here also got their portraits painted in ink by the artist Willy Hadar.
Galejan’s dance floor was built in 1937 and was designed by Ville Tommos. As a very popular dance floor, it has inspired dance floors in many parts of the country. At most, it has been danced at Galejan six days out of the week seven.
Buried into the rock up towards Solliden, there used to be bear caves for brown bears and polar bears. It was here that opera director John Forsell’s then four-year-old daughter, later author Loulou Forsell, had one hand bitten by a bear in 1926.
Skansen has almost 40 buildings from most Swedish landscapes. The buildings are farms and cottages that were placed so that houses and farms from southern Sweden are located in southern Skansen and buildings from northern Sweden are located in the northern part. Around houses and courtyards, the vegetation reflects the landscape the house comes from.
Skansen’s houses from the countryside include Bergmansgården from the 18th century, Moragården from the middle of the 18th century and Delsbogården from around 1850. Oktorpsgården was moved to Skansen as early as 1896.
When Skansen was inaugurated on 11 October 1891, there were Morastugan, Hackstugan from Orsa, Kyrkhultsstugan and Stenstugan from Blekinge, a Sami residence, originally called the Lapp camp, with reindeer and two charcoal huts.
Folkets hus has been moved from Gersheden in Värmland and shows an environment from the 1940s. Vastveitloftet is one of Skansen’s oldest houses, built in the early 14th century. The house comes from Telemark in Norway.
Skansen’s city district illustrates a medium-sized city in the 19th century, with a post office, pharmacy, shops, workshops and homes. In all buildings, various historical crafts are practiced.
At Hyttorget is the bakery, a pottery, Stockholm’s glassworks and Krogen Stora gungan. Below the cabin is the carpentry factory and the Mechanical Workshop.
A city street leads past older craft houses with typographer, bookbinder, goldsmith and the like down to the area’s newer environments, here you will find, among other things, Järnhandlarens hus from the 1880s with a convenience store from the 1930s.
Skansen’s Christmas market
The Christmas market at Skansen was first organized in 1903 and has since been an unbroken tradition during the Advent weekends. The market is usually held during the four Advent weekends. It is arranged around the dance floor and along Marknadsgatan on Bollnästorget. Then the fixed stands are used, which are supplemented with a larger number of mobile stands and market tents. Classic are the Christmas sheaves that adorn the roofs of market stalls and are appreciated by the small birds.
Among the Christmas market’s classic Christmas items such as mustard, sausages, straw goats, wreaths, glasses and textiles, there are also old-fashioned Christmas decorations, Christmas cakes, saffron bread, wooden crafts and Sami handicrafts. During the Christmas market days, you can visit the open workshops in the City Quarter where various historical professions are open at Christmas time. The Christmas market also includes the shops in Stockholm’s glassworks, Logen, Keramikverkstaden and Bageriet as well as the Skansen store, which is located outside the main entrance.
The cultural-historical houses and the printing house in Stadskvarteren have set Christmas tables or coffee tables. The Christmas tree is decorated in the Post Office from Virserum. The visitor can also dance around the Christmas tree on Bollnästorget’s dance floor or listen to choirs and musicians.
Selected buildings and facilities
Apoteket Kronan is a historic pharmacy at Skansen. Apoteket Kronan is located in the same corner building as Petissan with an entrance to the left in the doorway. The interior originates from, among others, Carl Wilhelm Scheele’s pharmacy in Köping in Västmanland from the second half of the 18th century.
The bakery is located in the city district and is located in a house from the 18th century that has stood on Gotlandsgatan 52 on Södermalm.
Bollnässtugan is a timbered house, moved from the farm “Knubbens” in the village Herte Bollnäs parish in 1892.
Bredablick is a 31 meter high brick tower that was built in 1876 by life doctor Fredrik Adolf Wästberg. The tower has six floors and was designed by Johan Erik Söderlund. Until 1892, the tower was called “belvedere Westemansberg” or just “belvedären” (from Italian bello vedere, beautiful view). The tower was then bought by Skansen and named after Breidablick from Norse mythology.
The printing house shows a bourgeois home in the 1840s. Adjacent to the home is Boktryckeriet.
Ekshäradsgården is a man building from the 1820s that has stood in Norra Skoga, Ekshärads parish, Hagfors municipality in Värmland. It was moved to Skansen 1952–1953.
Finngården comes from Torsby in Värmland.
Gubbhyllan is originally a accommodation building and summer home from 1816 that previously stood on Hasselbacken just outside Skansen. Since 1963, the Tobacco and Match Museum has been housed in the building.
Högloftet and Nyloftet are adjacent to the Bredablick tower. The building was built in 1904–1905 according to drawings by architect Karl Güettler. The building is used by Skansen as a party venue and as Café Högloftet during the Christmas market weekends.
The hardware store’s house is located in the city district. The hardware store dates from the 1880s and opened in 2006. The same building also houses the Consumer Store and an apartment.
The grocery store is located in the city district in Järnhandlarens hus and is a milk and bread store from the 1930s. In such a shop, in addition to milk, cream, yoghurt, bread, cakes and buns, butter and margarine (Konsum’s own brand “EVE”), beer and soft drinks and sweets were also sold.
The restaurant Stora gungan is located in the city district, is a restaurant from 1801 that previously stood on Åsgärdesvägen in Gamla Enskede. It was dismantled in 1969 and opened at Skansen in 1975.
The Hazelius House is located in the city district and was originally built in 1720 as part of Henriksdal’s ore farm at Surbrunnsgatan in what is now Vasastan. Artur Hazelius, Skansen’s founder, was born in the house in 1833. The building was moved to Skansen in 1926.
Jakobsbergs ore farm is located in the city district and is an ore farm from the end of the 17th century by the current Liljeholmsbron on Södermalm. It was moved to Skansen in 1936. The farm is Skansen’s office and official residence and is not shown to the public as it lacks original furnishings. Next to Jakobsberg’s ore farm are the Hazelius House and the Petissan.
Julius Kronberg’s studio from Lilla Skuggan on Norra Djurgården was moved to Skansen in 1922. The studio was built according to the artist’s own drawings in 1889 and extended in 1912. The artist Julius Kronberg died in October 1921. The studio with all its equipment, just as it was in Lilla Skuggan, was bought in 1921 by Countess Wilhelmina von Hallwyl and she donated the studio to the Nordic Museum and Skansen the same year. The studio was moved in 1922 to a secluded area near Bredablick. Countess von Hallwyl paid for the move.
Kyrkhultsstugan is one of the first buildings to be moved to Skansen in 1891. The type of house, often called a high-ceilinged cottage, has existed in southern Sweden since the Middle Ages. The house comes from Kyrkhults parish in Blekinge and shows a farmhouse from the beginning of the 19th century.
The mechanical workshop shows how mechanical workshops worked and worked until well into the 1950s. The workshop is adjacent to Stockholm’s glassworks, west of the city district.
Moragården was Skansen’s very first building, purchased in 1885. One of the sheds called the pagan house has been dated to the first half of the 14th century.
Petissan, Petit Café or “Lilla kaféet” is located in the city district and is a café in a house from the 17th century that has stood at the intersection Drottninggatan / Kungstensgatan in Vasastaden, Stockholm. Teknologcaféet Petissan was an old student café located at Observatoriekullen next to the then Technical University. When the Technical University was to be built in 1907, Petissan was moved to Skansen. The building was first located on lower Solliden, where the elephant house used to be, but was moved to the city district in the 1930s. Apoteket Kronan is also located in the building for Petissan.
The post office was moved from Virserum. The post office was built in the 1840s, it was later rebuilt in the 1860s and built in the 1890s. The house served as both a post office and a postmaster’s residence. Per August Nilsson, who was post office manager between 1895 and 1911, lived here.
Skansen’s allotment garden was moved in 1997 from Tantolunden. The allotment garden consists of two lots, each with its own typical cottage from the 1920s and 1940s.
Skansen’s mills consist of three windmills located at the open-air museum. These are two post mills from Torslunda and Glömminge parishes, western Öland and a hollow mill from Främmestad parish in Västergötland. Ölandskvarnarna was moved to Skansen in 1922 and Främmestadskvarnen in 1900.
Swedenborg’s gazebo is named after the naturalist Emanuel Swedenborg. Emanuel Swedenborg lived at the top of Hornsgatan in Stockholm and around 1750 he had an ore farm built. A gazebo in his garden was moved to Skansen in 1896.
Seglora church is a church that was inaugurated in 1730 in Seglora parish, Borås municipality. The church is today an ecumenical church with regular services. It is one of the country’s most popular wedding churches.
Skansen-Akvariet is a tropical house with landscaped rainforests and an aquarium, the facility opened in 1978 and has since been continuously expanded.
Skansen’s funicular is about 200 meters long and runs between Hazeliusporten and Tingsvallen / Bollnästorget. It was originally built in 1897 for the General Art and Industry Exhibition.
Stockholm’s glassworks is located in the city district, was built in 1936, but was already started three years earlier in a basement room at Södermalms torg by Slussen. Old drawings of a glassworks in Johannisholm – in Venjan’s parish in Dalarna – from the end of the 18th century, have stood as a model for the construction.
Skogaholms manor is a manor built around 1690. The main building was donated in 1929 to the Nordic Museum and moved from Svennevads parish in southeastern Närke. The manor was inaugurated on October 4, 1931 in the presence of Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf.
Tottieska ore farm is located in the city district. The farm was originally located on today’s Bondegatan on Södermalm in Stockholm. Part of the ore farm’s main building was moved to Skansen in the years 1932–1935. The Tottie farm is named after its builder Charles Tottie, who was one of Sweden’s wealthiest merchants in the 18th century.
Every New Year’s Eve, SVT broadcasts the reading of the poem Nyårsklockan vid tolvslaget in the TV program Tolvslaget på Skansen. The tradition dates back to 1895. One of the first speakers was Anders de Wahl, who read the New Year’s Bells for the first time in 1897 and the last time in 1945. Other speakers have been e.g. Jan Malmsjö. Currently (2015) it is Malena Ernman who performs the New Year’s bells.
Several other holidays, such as Sweden’s national day, Midsummer and Lucia, are usually noticed. During the Advent season, the annual Skansen Christmas market takes place. The Christmas market was first organized in 1903 and has been an unbroken tradition ever since. It was in Bollnässtugan, in 1893, that the Lucia celebration in Sweden was seriously resumed as a tradition that was considered worthy of preservation.
Ever since 1894, Walpurgis Night has been celebrated at Skansen with the program consisting of student singing, concerts, Walpurgis bonfire and spring speech.