A visit to Uppsala is a visit to the intellectual heritage of Sweden, where you may visit the oldest university building in the country. The building is called the Gustavianum after king Gustavus II Adolphus who contributed a lot of funds, and built in the 1620’s to replace an even older university founded in 1477. The architecture is solid and imposing, but today what you find inside is a mainly small Museum of Greek and Roman Antiquities, the Victoria Museum of Egyptology and a collection highlighting the history of the university – and in the cupola an anatomical theatre, reconstructed to be exactly as the original, built in 1662-63 to let autopsies be performed in front of medical students and a paying audience as well. It was inspired by the anatomical theatres in Leiden in Holland and in Bologna in Italy and the idea of the anatomist Olaus Rudbeckius senior, a famous scholar who later left common sense behind and conceived the idea that Sweden in fact was Atlantis and that all culture actually came from here. Though it is a nice idea it is unfortunately not true…
The Gustavianum is situated exactly opposite the cathedral of Uppsala, a gothic church in red brick started at the end of the 13th century and completed after 165 years of hard work. It was restored in 1885-93 and the wall paintings from that date suit it strangely well, a kind of gothic, romantic pre-jugend style. The grave of Gustavus Vasa and two of his queens is there, as well as that of the king of botanical science, Linnaeus. It is possible to take a lift up into one of the towers to see the treasures of the church in a museum – there are embroidered vestments, golden crosses and chalices but sadly no window to appreciate the view.
On the other side of the Gustavianum lies the main university building from the 19th century, and a few blocks away the university library with the Codex Argenteus, the Silver Bible. This is a bible written in the gothic language with silver and gold ink on the finest purple parchment. It was made in the 6th century and taken as booty from Prague twelve centuries later at the end of the Thirty Years War. Parts of it can be seen in the exhibition hall, as well as some other interesting manuscripts – but why not slip inside the large reading rooms in use today instead? You may sniff the aroma of all the collected wisdom and see the scholars and students labor away at their desks. Their pale and tired faces are guaranteed to make you feel wonderfully free and vacational, and will give you the energy to walk up to the castle, glowing red on the hill nearby. It contains both the representative apartments of the County Governor of Uppland and an art museum, the latter of which can be visited.
These sights are what usually is recommended for a short excursion to Uppsala, but what if you are left with an afternoon to spend, or if you have planned to stay on your own for a few days? Not to worry, there is something for everyone!
- The archaeology buff has no problems. Taking a bus out to the grave mounds from the 5th and 6th centuries at Old Uppsala, visiting the Archaeological Museum there and figuring out which parts of the medieval church actually belonged to the grand heathen temple that stood there before it – this is the job of an entire day. In need of even more archaeology? Let the Tourist Office describe the way to the Mound of King Björn and the other graves around it on the outskirts of the city!
- The folklore fan can visit the Uppland Museum in the centre of the town, looking at quantities of furnishings from rural Uppland, including flower-painted chests and cupboards. He or she can also take the bus to Old Uppsala, but this time to visit the outdoor museum Disagården with farm buildings collected from the countryside (open in summer only). Should a real romantic immersion in the bygone life of the countryside be wished for, then the ancient village of Ekeby by is recommended, with a medieval lay-out, old red-colored buildings and a windmill as bonus. On Sundays in summer there is a café, and the countryside here is a beautiful spot for a walk. Drawback: infrequent bus services with bus nr. 848, so plan the visit.