Uppsala, Sweden – once the Religious, Academic and Political centre, an Introduction

It may not be the capital, but Uppsala in Sweden is more than a capital, it is the foundation stone of pre-Christian (pre-Sigtuna) Sweden.

From at least 1087, pre-Christian Uppsala was the location on which the most imporatnt Norse Temple was located. It was also the home of the Thing of all Swedes (Governing body of elders).

Imagine a scene like this taking place at the ancient Temple in Uppsala.

Or another one like this.

According to the Archbishop Adam of Bremen, “That folk has a very famous temple called Uppsala, situated not far from the city of Sigtuna and Björkö. In this temple, entirely decked out in gold, the people worship the statues of three gods in such wise that the mightiest of them, Thor, occupies a throne in the middle of the chamber; Wotan and Frikko have places on either side. The significance of these gods is as follows: Thor, they say, presides over the air, which governs the thunder and lightning, the winds and rains, fair weather and crops. The other, Wotan -that is, the Furious–carries on war and imparts to man strength against his enemies. The third is Frikko, who bestows peace and pleasure on mortals. His likeness, too, they fashion with an immense phallus. But Wotan they chisel armed, as our people are wont to represent Mars. Thor with his scepter apparently resembles Jove. The people also worship heroes made gods, whom they endow with immortality because of their remarkable exploits, as one reads in the Vita of Saint Ansgar they did in the case of King Eric.

For all their gods there are appointed priests to offer sacrifices for the people. If plague and famine threaten, a libation is poured to the idol Thor; if war, to Wotan; if marriages are to be celebrated, to Frikko. It is customary also to solemnize in Uppsala, at nine-year intervals, a general feast of all the provinces of Sweden. From attendance at this festival no one is exempted Kings and people all and singly send their gifts to Uppsala and, what is more distressing than any kind of punishment, those who have already adopted Christianity redeem themselves through these ceremonies. The sacrifice is of this nature: of every living thing that is male, they offer nine heads with the blood of which it is customary to placate gods of this sort. The bodies they hang in the sacred grove that adjoins the temple. Now this grove is so sacred in the eyes of the heathen that each and every tree in it is believed divine because of the death or putrefaction of the victims. Even dogs and horses hang there with men. A Christian told me that he had seen 72 bodies suspended promiscuously. Furthermore, the incantations customarily chanted in the ritual of a sacrifice of this kind are manifold and unseemly; therefore, it is better to keep silent about them.”

The Christian wave brought the destruction of the Temple at Uppsala (it was burnt down by Christians). In its place, the cathedral of Uppsala and the first Archdiocese in Sweden were set up – the Archdiocese of Uppsala, first Catholic, presently the seat of the Lutheran primate of all Sweden.

Present-day Uppsala Cathedral

Being a Catholic nation and the seat of Christianity, a papal bull next established the second most important part of Uppsala – Uppsala University.

The Carolina Reviva Library in Uppsala

Uppsala University was established in 1477 and was the first university in all of northern Europe. The university grew and grew and was home to global intellectual luminaries such as Jons Jacob Berzelius, Carl Linneaus and Christopher Polhem. At its height, Uppsala (together with Lund University) was spoken of with in the same breath as Oxford and Cambridge. This was when there was a Swedish Empire. While the British Empire thrived and enabled the Oxbridge Universities to reach astronomic heights, Uppsala retained its standards but lost the astronomic reputation because of the loss of empire.

The city grew into a university town (ironic, but that’s how it went). Even today, it is still a lively University town with 40,000 students in a city of 150,000.

Uppsala University’s Smaland Nation Buffet on a Saturday

Located near the cathedral and the university is the Uppsala Castle, a historically important – albeit small – castle. It was built in the 1600s from the material of the former Archbishops Castle and was constructed during the Protestant Reformation. Its constructed coincided with Sweden’s rise as a world power.

Uppsala Castle in the background

The lion in the Coat of Arms of the county has lent itself to the Coat of Arms of the country.


While Stockholm has risen in comparison, Uppsala has retained its spiritual importance as the central of Lutheranism in Sweden. It is also a huge biomedical and biotechnology hub with some of the biggest names in pharmaceuticals setting up shop there (including Pfizer, Abbott, GE Healthcare.

Despite its small size, Uppsala is a city that can be enjoyed but not fully explored in a single trip.

Everything felt slower here, more relaxed than the pace of life in Stockholm. More calm than the rush in the big city. People here seemed happier, kinder, calmer.

There is life to Uppsala, more than just all this. I’ll let the rappers tell you about their Uppsala.


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