Historical tourist attractions in Malmö, Sweden, and things to do for history buffs

Malmö, a city located in southern Sweden, has a rich history dating back centuries. Originally a small medieval trading town, Malmö flourished as an important harbor and trading hub in the Baltic Sea region. Today, visitors can explore the city’s historical attractions and museums, immersing themselves in its vibrant past.

One of the must-visit landmarks is Malmöhus Castle, a medieval fortress that now houses Malmö Museums. This impressive structure showcases various exhibitions, including art, history, and natural history, offering a fascinating glimpse into the city’s heritage.

For art enthusiasts, the Moderna Museet Malmö is a must-see. This contemporary art museum presents thought-provoking exhibitions and installations by renowned artists.

Malmö’s rich history and diverse range of museums make it a captivating destination for history buffs and culture enthusiasts alike, offering a unique opportunity to explore the city’s past and present.

If you want to read about the historical churches of Malmö, here is an article on this subject.

A brief history of the city of Malmö

Malmö, founded as a fortified quay for the Archbishop of Lund, is mentioned as a city since 1275. It was Denmark’s second-largest city for centuries. Originally called Malmhaug, meaning “Gravel pile” or “Ore Hill,” the town square is linked to a gruesome tale of a maiden being ground up in a mill.

Malmö’s rich history includes being one of Denmark’s largest cities during the 15th century, renowned for its herring fishery and bustling trade with the German Hanseatic League.

In the 16th century, Malmö embraced Lutheran teachings during the Protestant Reformation, becoming one of the first Scandinavian cities to do so. The city came under Swedish control in the 17th century following the Treaty of Roskilde with Denmark. Malmö successfully withstood a Danish siege in 1677.

Population fluctuations marked Malmö’s early years, with growth limited by wars and plague outbreaks. It wasn’t until the construction of a modern harbor in 1775 that the city started expanding, reaching 6,000 inhabitants by the early 19th century.

Malmö’s industrial prowess grew with the establishment of the Kockums shipyard in 1840, leading to a surge in population, making it Sweden’s third-most populous city by 1870.

Malmö faced challenges in the 20th century, including a recession and job losses in the 1970s and the Swedish financial crises of the early 1990s. However, under the leadership of Mayor Ilmar Reepalu, the city embarked on a revitalization journey, focusing on culture and knowledge.

The Öresund Bridge project, completed in 2000, connected Malmö to Copenhagen and brought new opportunities. Redevelopment efforts, such as the city architecture exposition in 2001 and the construction of Turning Torso, Scandinavia’s tallest skyscraper, transformed the cityscape.

Despite progress, Malmö has faced social challenges, with certain districts experiencing high crime rates. The city continues to grow rapidly, with plans for the Nyhamnen district near Malmö Central Station to provide new housing, offices, and courts.

Malmö’s history is a tale of resilience and adaptation, with the city evolving from a medieval stronghold to a thriving center of trade, culture, and innovation in the modern era.

Malmö’s old city hall (Malmö Rådhus)

The historical town hall in Malmö, constructed between 1544 and 1547, stands as a remarkable testament to the city’s prominence during the 16th century when it ranked among the largest cities in Scandinavia.

Located near the old center of Malmö in the main public square known as Stortorget, this two-story building is the largest town hall built in the 16th century.

The town hall’s construction came after the demolition of the grand Helgeand Monastery, which once occupied a quarter of the present-day Stortorget during the Middle Ages. Mayor Jörgen Kock played a key role in establishing the current Stortorget in connection with the Reformation in Denmark, marking the square as one of the largest in the Nordic region during the 16th century.

The town hall, initially mentioned in 1353, was originally situated just north of Saint Petri Church, adjacent to the city’s oldest market street, Adelgatan. The construction of the town hall likely coincided with a loan agreement in 1544, where the City of Malmö lent funds for brick production to Jörgen Brendere. During extensive restoration work in the 1860s, the town hall received its present Dutch Renaissance-style facade, intended to restore the original medieval appearance.

As the largest town hall constructed in the Nordic region during the 16th and 17th centuries, this two-story building with a basement features two parallel barrel vaults in the basement, maintaining their 16th-century style. The upper floor boasts a magnificent barrel vault and intricate stucco work from the 19th century.

The town hall also houses notable spaces such as the Knut Hall on the second floor, evoking the grandeur of the Hall of Mirrors, and the Bernadotte Salon adorned with portraits of kings from the Bernadotte dynasty.

Adjacent to the town hall is a modern extension housing the Municipal Council Chamber and the Malmö District Court, while the basement preserves medieval vaults from earlier structures on the site.

Apoteket Lejonet (Lion Pharmacy)

Apoteket Lejonet, also known as the Tesch Palace, is a prominent building in Malmö from the 19th-century historicist period. Constructed in 1896 in the Neo-Renaissance style, it stands on Stortorget. Following the deregulation of the pharmacy market in 2009, Lejonet became one of the four state-owned cultural pharmacies.

The owner, pharmacist Johan Tesch, initiated the construction of the new building on the eastern side of Stortorget. The pharmacy featured spacious display windows and an eye-catching upper floor. Lavish decorations adorned both the exterior and interior, including a depiction of Tesch himself. Notably, an elevator provided access to Tesch’s luxurious apartment—a rarity at the time.

The architects of Apoteket Lejonet were Lindvall & Boklund, a newly established architectural firm consisting of August Lindvall and Harald Boklund. Tesch introduced changes during construction, leading to a legal process between the architects and the builder.

Apoteket Lejonet was regarded as one of Europe’s largest pharmacies during its construction, rivaling Moscow’s Imperial Pharmacy in size. It held the highest tax assessment among Malmö’s properties at the turn of the 20th century.

After 16 years as a pharmacist, Tesch transitioned to the banking sector and played a significant role in the Hippodrome. One of the new owners was Tesch’s nephew, Hjalmar Andersson-Tesch.

The name “Lejonet,” meaning “lion” in Swedish, reflects the tradition of assigning animal symbols to differentiate pharmacies. In 2009, it became one of Sweden’s four “cultural and historical value” pharmacies. A visit to Apoteket Lejonet showcases its stunning interiors, transporting visitors to the 19th century.

The Malmö Castle (Malmöhus)

Malmö Castle (Swedish: Malmöhus, Danish: Malmøhus) is a fortress located in Malmö. Founded in 1434 by King Eric of Pomerania, the castle has a rich history and was a significant stronghold for Denmark.

The original castle was partially demolished in the early 16th century, and a new one was constructed in the 1530s by King Christian III of Denmark. The castle underwent further strengthening in the years 1537-1540 with the addition of a moat, ramparts, and four large brick corner towers.

Throughout its history, Malmöhus Castle served various purposes. From 1554 to 1559, it was the residence of the heir to the throne, later King Fredrik II. The castle also held Mary Stuart’s consort, the Earl of Bothwell, as a prisoner from 1567 to 1573.

In 1652, the last Danish king to reside in the castle briefly was King Fredrik III. After Sweden gained control of the region in 1658, the castle was used by castle commanders and as a storage place for political prisoners.

In 1828, Malmö Correctional Workhouse, Sweden’s largest and most modern prison at the time, was established in the castle buildings. Over the years, additional prison facilities were constructed, including a county jail with cell systems and a central prison building. However, by 1914, the facilities at Malmöhus were no longer in use, and the buildings began to be demolished.

In 1937, the Malmö Museum finally moved to the castle islet, utilizing the restored castle building and newly constructed museum buildings. The restoration work in 1928 aimed to recreate the appearance of the castle during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Today, Malmö Castle is part of Malmö Museums and is owned by the Swedish state, managed by the State Property Agency. The castle stands as a testament to the region’s history and offers visitors a glimpse into its past.

The Malmö Museum

Malmö Museum, previously known as Malmö Museer, is a municipal and regional museum located in Malmö. It showcases exhibits on technology, shipping, natural history, and history, including an aquarium. It incorporates Malmöhus Castle and the Malmö Art Museum within its premises.

The museum traces its roots back to the natural history collection established by P. Ax. Hultman in 1841 at the New School. The collection was later transferred to the Scanian Museum of Natural History in 1851. In 1890, Malmö city council assumed ownership, and in 1901, a newly constructed museum was inaugurated. However, space constraints became an issue despite the large building.

In 1937, Malmö Museum relocated to modern facilities on Slottsholmen. It also serves as a science center, featuring exhibitions such as Planet of Ideas, Vehicles of the Future, Muscles and Motors, Heaven and Earth, City of Times, Smart, and Our Nature.

The museum is responsible for archaeological and marine archaeological findings on behalf of the county government and has a municipal role in cultural environmental protection. It received the Museum of the Year award in 2002 from the Confederation of Swedish Museums.

With a collection of approximately 500,000 objects, 4 million photographs, 3–4 million archaeological artifacts, and an archival collection, Malmö Museum’s main collection areas cover cultural history, nature, archaeology, technology, and maritime history.

The museum has several permanent exhibitions, including Malmöhus Castle, Power over People, Our Nature, The Aquarium, Welcome to Sweden, Color, Form and Function, and more. The museum also presents temporary exhibitions

The aquarium underwent a complete renovation in 2015, expanding to double its previous size. Divided into three sections, the aquarium showcases various environments and animals, ranging from coral reefs and tropical rainforests to Swedish lakes, with a total of 60 terrariums and aquariums.

Malmö Art Museum

Founded in 1841, the Malmö Art Museum is a prominent art institution in Scandinavia. Housed within the Malmö Castle complex, the museum building was constructed in 1937. The City of Malmö governs the museum, which boasts an impressive collection of Nordic 20th-century art.

Among its treasures are special collections featuring renowned artists such as Carl Fredrik Hill, Barbro Bäckström, Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd, Max Walter Svanberg, Torsten Andersson, and Gunnar Norrman.

Notably, the museum showcases a vast assemblage of Scanian painting, including the extensive Carl Fredrik Hill collection, which encompasses over 2,600 drawings and 25 paintings.

The museum also houses a distinctive assortment of Russian turn-of-the-century art, acquired during the Baltic Exhibition. This collection encompasses works by notable artists like Aleksandr Golovin, Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, Aleksandr Hausch, and Pavel Kutznetsov.

The foundation for the museum’s Nordic modernism collection was established through Herman Gotthardt’s donation of 700 artworks collected between 1914 and 1943. This valuable contribution includes paintings by Isaac Grünewald, Sigrid Hjertén, Hilding Linnqvist, Nils Nilsson, Vera Nilsson, Inge Schiöler, JF Willumsen, Oluf Høst, Vilhelm Lundstrøm, Per Krohg, Henrik Sørensen, and Tyko Sallinen.

Additionally, the Malmö Art Museum boasts an extensive collection of arts and crafts from southern Sweden, while also housing St. Petri’s organ from Malmö’s oldest church in Skovgaardalen.

With over 40,000 works today, including contemporary Nordic art acquired through donations and the museum’s active collection, the Malmö Art Museum continues to curate approximately ten exhibitions annually. These exhibitions often focus on Nordic art and feature new additions to the museum’s collection.

Visitors can explore the permanent exhibition “From 1500 until Now,” which chronicles the historical development and diverse range of painting, sculpture, and applied arts from the Renaissance to Art Nouveau and the present day. The exhibition showcases carefully selected masterpieces from different artistic periods and offers insights into various interior styles.

Castle Mill (Slottsmöllan)

Slottsmöllan, a Dutch windmill, is located southwest of Malmöhus Castle in Malmö. It was built in 1851 by Christian Sjöholm and stands on Mölleplatsen. Originally replacing a 17th-century stump mill that had burned down in 1849, Slottsmöllan is of the Dutch type and has undergone renovations over the years.

From 1879 to 1895, it was steam-powered, but later returned to wind power until the 1930s. The mill ceased operation in 1945 and became the property of the Museum Board. In the 1940s and again in 1989-1990, extensive renovations took place. Today, Slottsmöllan remains a popular attraction in Malmö and is part of the Malmö museums’ responsibility.

Scania County, once home to over 1,400 windmills during the 1870s and 1880s, mainly of Dutch origin, now has around 100 Scanian Dutch windmills remaining as of the year 2000.

Slottsmöllan serves as a reminder of the region’s windmill heritage and is situated within the scenic surroundings of the Castle Garden, an expansive organic garden at the base of the Malmö Castle hill. This green space also serves as a popular venue for outdoor events.

Moderna Museet Malmö

Moderna Museet Malmö is a renowned museum of modern and contemporary art situated in Malmö, Sweden. While it is a part of the state-owned Moderna Museet, it maintains an independent exhibition program, captivating visitors since its inauguration in December 2009.

Strategically located within walking distance from Malmö’s old town center, Moderna Museet Malmö resides in a converted former power station. This industrial architecture gem, characterized by its brick construction, was complemented with a red-painted steel sheeting facade as part of modernization efforts.

The former turbine hall of the power station has been ingeniously transformed into a spacious exhibition room, spanning over 800 square meters. In 2009, the Moderna Museet found its new home within this historic power station, offering visitors a unique setting to explore the world of modern and contemporary art. Additionally, the museum encompasses an educational workshop spanning approximately 100 square meters, providing a dynamic space for creative exploration.

With a focus on Scandinavian and international art of the 20th and 21st centuries, the museum boasts a series of rotating exhibitions throughout the year, attracting art enthusiasts from around the globe. The Moderna Museet showcases iconic works by renowned artists such as Dali, Kandinsky, Matisse, and Picasso.

Since February 2016, visitors have enjoyed free admission to this exceptional museum, along with 17 other national museums in Sweden, further enhancing accessibility and encouraging cultural exploration.

Whether appreciating the masterpieces on display or immersing oneself in the vibrant atmosphere, a visit to Moderna Museet Malmö promises an enriching experience for art enthusiasts and curious minds alike.

The Malmö Synagogue

Malmö Synagogue, also known as Malmö synagoga, stands as the sole synagogue in Malmö, Sweden. This historic place of worship was constructed in 1903, designed by the architect John Smedberg.

Noteworthy for its Art Nouveau and Moorish Revival style, the synagogue holds a unique distinction, being one of the few remaining synagogues in Europe following the devastating events of Kristallnacht in 1938.

With its Orthodox services, Malmö Synagogue was a significant milestone for the city, serving as its first non-Christian place of worship upon its inauguration. The synagogue’s design and cultural significance attract approximately 5,000 visitors each year, drawn to its architectural beauty and historical importance.

The establishment of the Jewish community in Malmö dates back to 1871, making it the fifth Jewish community established in Sweden, following Stockholm, Gothenburg, Norrköping, and Karlskrona. Primarily composed of immigrants from Germany and Poland, the community began with an initial membership base of 251 individuals.

Over time, the community grew as more Jews sought refuge from poverty, antisemitism, and the threat of conscription into the Imperial Russian Army, particularly from Poland, Russia, Ukraine, and the Baltic states.

To support the growing community, Malmö hired its first rabbi, Joseph Wohlstein, in 1900, and the construction of the synagogue followed in 1903. During World War II, Danish Jews sought safety in Malmö, further expanding the community.

By the 1970s, the membership reached its peak, with over 2,000 members, accounting for almost 1% of Malmö’s population. The majority of these members were Jews from Poland, who sought refuge due to state-led anti-Semitic persecution.

However, beginning in the 1990s, many community members started experiencing a rise in anti-Semitic attitudes and sentiments within Malmö. As a result, the community has faced a decline in membership, now numbering approximately 500 individuals.

In response to the changing landscape, an Egalitarian community was established in parallel with the Orthodox community in 2011, providing alternative avenues for worship and engagement.

In addition to the synagogue, Malmö is home to two Jewish cemeteries. One section is located in the northern part of Sankt Pauli kyrkogård, while the other, newer section can be found in Östra kyrkogården. These cemeteries serve as sacred spaces for remembrance and reflection, preserving the memory of the Jewish community’s history in Malmö.

Ebba Hus (Ebba’s House)

Ebbas Hus, situated on Snapperupsgatan 10 in central Malmö, is a small museum affiliated with Malmö Museums.

The museum represents a typical dwelling that exemplifies the lifestyle of common people in historical Malmö. Dating back to the 18th century, Ebbas Hus is a street house. It retains its original 1910s interior, including a wood-burning stove and an outdoor toilet.

Ebba Olsson, a seamstress, resided in this house for the majority of her life. In 1873, her grandfather, city surveyor Jöns Olsson, purchased the property. Her father, Olof, also a city surveyor, took ownership in 1911. The Olsson family, comprising Olof, Anna, Ebba, and Thure, shared their home with two pets: a canary and a dog named Jutta.

At the age of fifteen, Ebba Olsson temporarily left her family home to pursue millinery training. However, she returned when her father fell ill, becoming his caretaker until his passing. Both Ebba and her mother worked as cordwainers from the comfort of their home. Following her mother’s death in 1961, Ebba continued living alone in the house.

While the surrounding neighborhood underwent significant changes, with many structures demolished in the 1960s, Ebba Olsson adamantly refused to sell her property. She persisted in residing in the same house, where an outdoor toilet and cold water were still in use.

In 1984, she eventually moved to a modern apartment. At that time, she and her sister-in-law generously donated the house to Malmö Museums with the intention of utilizing it for educational purposes, offering insights into past ways of life. When Ebba Olsson passed away in 1989, the museum acquired the furniture and reinstated it in its original positions. Subsequently, Ebbas Hus opened its doors to visitors in 1991.

Faxeska huset (Faxeska House)

The Faxeska House was constructed in the 1760s by the merchant Hans Schiuberg. It is situated next to the southern side of Lilla Torg in Malmö. Part of the Faxeska House stands above the former Hiulhaffnen.

During the Middle Ages, Malmö was a relatively small city in terms of its size, with its southern boundary reaching the present-day Lilla Torg. The area where Gustav Adolfs torg is now located was submerged underwater. Alluvial lands formed bays extending from the south into the city, with one such bay known as “Hiulhaffnen.” Over time, this bay was transformed into a large open sewage ditch, lending its name to Hjulhamnsgatan.

In 1910, the house underwent restoration work under the guidance of architect August Stoltz, marking it as the first in a series of older houses to be restored in Malmö. At that time, a mistake was made, and it was erroneously believed that the house was built in 1580, leading to the inclusion of this year on the newly crafted gate beam.

Above the entrance door of the Faxeska House hangs a lamp designed in the shape of a bunch of grapes. This lamp serves as a reminder of the wine company Ad. Faxe & Söner, which once owned the property. The company was particularly renowned for its punch called “Faxes gamla,” which was bottled in black bottles. At one point, the wine company operated a spirits shop within the old house.

Adolf Faxe acquired the Faxeska House in 1842, and it has remained in the family’s possession ever since.

The Residence in Malmö (Residenset)

The Residenset, situated at Stortorget in Malmö, serves as the residence and official premises for the governor of Skåne County. Comprising two interconnected houses dating back to the late 16th century, the western portion is known as the “Kungshuset”, while the eastern part is referred to as the “Gyllenpalmska huset”.

In the 17th century, the “Kungshuset” was owned by Fadder Loch, a councilman. Following the conquest of Skåne in 1658, it was successively occupied by General Governor Gustaf Otto Stenbock and later by Field Marshal Gustaf Banér, who forcibly expelled Fadder Loch from the premises. Fadder Loch eventually joined the Danish invasion army in 1676 but tragically perished in the Battle of Lund that same year.

Between 1728 and 1730, the two houses were merged into a single building, designated as the official residence for the county’s highest-ranking official, the governor. In 1849, the structure underwent renovations under the architectural guidance of Fredrik Wilhelm Scholander, resulting in the current facade.

Today, only the western volute gable and a small cherub head on the eastern gable remain as vestiges of the original 16th and 17th-century architecture.

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