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At the beginning of the 19th century, the site now occupied by Skansen in the royal park of Djurgården consisted only of rocks and pinewoods.

About the year 1810 a merchant named John Burgman built himself a folly as a summerhouse on the top of the hill with a fine view of Stockholm. Burgman also created a magnificent garden.

Burgman’s property was given the name “Skansen” because it was next to a little fortress, known in Swedish as “skans”. This was used by the young princes of the early nineteenth century as a place for playing as soldiers. The fortress was originally built for the heir to the throne Prince Oscar, who was the eldest son of the first of the Bernadotte line, King Karl XIV Johan.

The property extended over about 8 acres and, besides Burgman’s folly, it also contained the buildings known as the Red Row and the yellow House. Artur Hazelius purchased a part of the site in 1891. Five years later he took over the entire property.

Artur Hazelius was born in Stockholm in 1833 and died at Skansen in 1901. In founding Skansen in 1891, he created the world’s first open-air museum. The creation of Skansen is related to the romantic ideas and the patriotic spirit of the latter part of the nineteenth century.

At the beginning of the 1870s, three million of Sweden’s population of just over four million, still lived in the countryside. but country life had changed and many country folk had lost their land and had been forced to seek work on the railways, in shipyards, in factories and the sawmills of urban Sweden. Emigration reached its peak in the 1880s when many Swedes migrated to America and other countries.

Hazelius realised Swedish society was changing. He started collecting clothing, household utensils, furniture and hand tools from the old farming culture, everything that needed to be preserved for prosperity.

In 1873 Hazelius opened his first museum, the Scandinavian Ethnographic Collection, in Stockholm. This showed cottage interiors decorated with authentic objects as well as full sized dolls dressed in folk costume. Following success at the Paris exhibition in 1878, Hazelius changed the name of his museum to the Nordiska Museet (the Nordic Museum) and noted that the museum “could be considered the property of the Swedish people”.

There followed a rapid growth in the collections and there was a pressing need for a larger building. In 1882, Hazelius persuaded the crown to make land available at Djurgården. Building 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.

However, on Sunday 11th October 1891 Skansen was opened to the public with the Mora cottage as the museum’s first building (see colour picture 2 on page 10) following Hazelius’s acquisition of the first piece of ground at Skansen. Up until his death, he managed to acquire more land and buildings so that the present Skansen site is some 300,000 square metres.

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 in period costume surrounded by their domestic animals in a natural landscape. The park functions as an open air exhibition for the buildings with their surrounding gardens and plots as well as animals in enclosures.

The basic programme of events at Skansen was laid down in 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 traditional events have to be accompanied with modern times and events for children and appearances and concerts by popular artists are features of modern Skansen.

The Post Office at Skansen was originally from Virserum in Småland and is furnished in the style of the 1910s with a middle class feeling. Our fellow telephone collectors from the STSF (Swedish telephone Collecting Society) have been working at Skansen to install early electrical and communications equipment. As noted in our November 2006 edition, the ATCS has donated about 50 early porcelain insulators to the Skansen project. These were acquired by John Nichols on his recent European holiday and trip around the Flea Markets.

Skansen would certainly be worth a visit when next you are in Sweden.

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