My words, thoughts and photos from a Swedish perspective

The Old Town and its narrow streets

A rather wide street to be in the Old Town. A house is apparently undergoing renovation. The German Church’s tower is in the background.

It’s no secret that I love walking around in Stockholm’s Old Town with the camera. It isn’t big, in fact it’s an islet, but I keep finding and discover new things every time I go there. Besides, the Old Town is a bit of a challenge for a photographer; the difference between the light at the rooftops and the light at street level can be measured in several f-stops and it has happened more than once that I have had to go back on another occasion with different light conditions to get the picture I wanted.

Cloudy skies is not what most of us like, but we get a softer and more even light and it’s a great help when shooting subjects like these. The colours and textures may not “pop” the way they do in sunlight, but that’s not the end of the world. I’m happy as long as I’m able to catch the atmosphere and, hopefully, also be able to convey at least a little of it to you. It now looks picturesque and “cute” but it was probably (like most cities then) a very unhealthy, dirty and stinking place in times gone by and I’m very happy to live “here and now”.

Österlånggatan – I prefer this street to Västerlånggatan, the main shopping street in the Old Town. It’s not as crowded as the latter which means that I can feel the atmosphere better and be more inspired by it. The reincarnated dog in me, you know…

Baggensgatan, a street I have “discovered” recently. It has tried to hide its secrets away from me but now it’s time to reveal them all, little by little and this is the beginning.


7 responses

  1. I can see why you love walking around the old town, but also why light reflecting colors were required back in the ol’ days. It’s beautiful, but probably very dark in the long winter.

    20/11/2009 at 14:07

  2. Nice place to take super shots.

    20/11/2009 at 17:10

  3. Staffan H

    Lynn: You are right – the streets are dark in the winter, but the snow (when/if etc) helps. Still, I love that place.

    imac: Yes, it’s a very nice place in my opinion. I can spend hours walking around there.

    20/11/2009 at 17:50

  4. Staffan this photo, the one with the church’s tower, has stayed with me all day. I saw it this morning and I discussed it with a friend of mine at work. I’ve never been to Europe and I told him about these narrow streets and huge buildings. My friend had been in the U.S. Army and had driven military tanks down such streets. He said sometimes the tanks would actually hit the buildings. He must have been referring to some other streets for I can’t even imagine a car going down such a street.

    Are these pedestrian only type of streets?

    The buildings seem so huge, so close together, wow… Property and easements must be quite an issue here.

    Great photo, can’t get it out of my mind.

    21/11/2009 at 03:48

  5. Staffan H

    Hi Preston,

    First of all, it made me very happy (and proud too) to learn that a photo of mine could have that effect.

    Many old cities in Europe have historic parts like the Old Town in Stockholm and there are plenty of narrow streets in Paris for example. We are lucky to have this heritage, because many cities have been destroyed by fire once or twice through the centuries like Gothenburg on the Swedish west coast.

    Anyhow, this means that your friend may very well have driven tanks down such streets. In Stockholm’s Old Town, cars are allowed in two streets only; the rest are pedstrian only type of streets. Exception to the rule: Deliveries to shops and restaurants are allowed, but only for a couple of hours in the forenoons. Taxis are also allowed. I know that such narrow streets in other European cities may be used without restrictions.

    When cars became common, many of the streets suddenly “sank”. The merchants of the old days didn’t only use the attic for storage – they also used the cellars and also secretly expanded them out under the streets. Nobody could see it and the solution worked for centuries, but the vaults were not designed to carry the weight of cars. There is a photo from the early 1920’s (I think) where an early truck is halfway down through the street.

    The fact that the tanks hit the buildings is not surprising and this has been a problem since the days of horse and carriage. The solution? Take a look at the white (gray?) house’s foundation. Do you see that it goes further out in the street than the wall does? That was one way to keep the carriage wheels off the corners and walls. Other house owners would have a stone placed so the coachmen were forced to pay attention to the corner. Probably wise, because they were not known for sobriety. Some house owners have used old cannons for the same purpose.

    The houses you see were probably not huge from the beginning; it’s more the result of transformation through the centuries and the desire of its owner to manifest his wealth and glory.

    A medieval building has naturally had a number of owners through the years and each one of them has changed the house to comply with their needs and the fashion at the time. A house originally built in the 16th century may very well stand on a medieval foundation and have an 18th century front and interior decorations from the 17th century. I find all these details interesting and I simply love strolling around and discover details and things.

    All my best,

    21/11/2009 at 12:36

  6. Thank you Staffan for the explanation. To think they would create storage space under the streets… Wow. Medieval is definitely a prevailing emotion these photos provoke. I will relay this info to my friend.

    22/11/2009 at 12:43

  7. Staffan H

    Preston: I’m glad I was able to help. 😀

    22/11/2009 at 23:15

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