Richard Murray, Sweden, Large Urban Parks Executive Committee Co-Chair
The Royal National City Park is situated partly in the communities of Stockholm, Solna and Lidingö. The park was founded in 1995, and offers a unique mixture of nature and culture.
Because it is located right in the middle of the metropolitan area of Stockholm it is extremely valuable for the recreation opportunities it offers to thousands of city residents. This item offers some facts about this fascinating park, as well as a brief history.
Some facts about the Royal National City Park:
* 27 square kilometres in total - 19 square kilometres of land and eight square kilometres of water.
* Rich in biodiversity, this park houses 75 per cent of the species found in middle Sweden.
* Many rare species - this is the only place in Sweden that some plants and insects on the “red list” (on the verge of extinction) are found.
* Probably the largest population of giant oak trees in northern Europe – a remnant from the bronze age.
* Hundreds of protected and architecturally unique buildings.
* The most frequented urban park area in Sweden, with 15 million visits per year.
* The most frequented tourist destination in Sweden.
* Four Royal Palaces (in Sweden there is a total of 11).
* A series of gardens dating from different periods, a baroque garden, an English landscape garden, sports arenas, museums, amusement park and an open air museum (the first in the world, named Skansen).
History of the park
During the early Middle Ages, Stockholm and its environs was an agricultural area with a royal palace at its centre, surrounded by fields and meadows which supplied its needs. The countryside around the palace therefore consisted of open pasture and fields. Livestock grazed the pasture, hay was harvested for the winters and fresh produce was transported into the palace every day.
Eventually the palace needed more land to supply its wants and by the end of the 13th century King Magnus Ladulås had acquired the major part of Djurgården, which in those days was known as Valdemar Island and belonged to the Catholic Church.
Nobody knows how old this name is. Iron Age burial sites have been found on the island and they may have been close to a village of the same name. King Valdemar may have given his name to the island.
The Church had admittedly been able to retain some of its rights on Valdemar Island, but the seizure of Church property at the beginning of the 16th century enabled Gustav Vasa to assume administration of the entire island. He also acquired parts of what is now Northern Djurgården, previously the property of the Klara Abbey and the Friary on Helgeandsholmen.
Gustav Vasa had three royal barns on Djurgården, North and South, and he managed his considerable holdings with an iron hand to secure that they were fully supplied to provide for his own needs, for his kinfolk and for his dependents.
On the other hand, his sons, Erik XIV and, above all, Johan III adopted the fashion of continental rulers by creating hunting parks close to the towns in which their palaces were sited, and this brings us to a new era in which the concept of Royal Djurgården (Royal Deer Park) was established.
The 17th Century
A long fence – over 20 kilometres - had been erected to close in deer and other animals that were being hunted, and also protect the land from intrusion by common people. The park served more than ever as a hunting ground. Bears, elk, wolves and fowl were hunted. King Charles XI and his son, eventually Charles XII, at one time slayed 12 wolves on one occasion. The oldest remaining building in the park dates from that time; a fishing lodge from the 1680s.
In the 18th century fashions from abroad again permeated this northern outpost of Europe. King Gustaf III wanted to create an English landscape park and chose for this purpose an area just north of the city, a pastoral land around a fairly large lake, Brunnsviken.
He engaged landscape architects, artists and architects to design the area, now called Haga. He also had some of his “favourites” build villas in the area. This development ended when the king was assassinated in 1792. Due to that the large palace that had been started remains as an unfinished basement and the park is instead characterized by small scale buildings, temples and kiosks.
In line with the royal interest in pure, beautiful landscape, the park was opened up to the public. Djurgården became a much cherished goal for excursions and picnics, giving inhabitants of a filthy city the possibility to breathe fresh air.
Sweden chose one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s marshals in 1810 to become king, Jean Baptiste Bernadotte. His descendants still ‘rule’ Sweden. The king had a summer residence built in the park, Rosendal, and promoted a conscious design of the park, among other things a beautiful, curved canal. He used park venues both to oversee military exercises and to greet spring 1st of May together with is subjects.
His sons, especially Oscar II, promoted villas being built for his favourites, to the extent that popular protests reached the parliament and produced propositions to protect the land, mainly the southern part of Djurgården. A series of government commissions looked into the matter in the early 20th century. No real conclusion was reached, but in fact great building plans of extending the city eastward over most of what is now the park was halted.
Proposals to protect the area, like the ones launched in the early 1900s, were prompted again in late 1980s by extensive building and exploitation plans. In the 1990s an idea was presented about connecting the separate parks Djurgården, Haga and Ulriksdal and including surroundings into one large park, called 'Ekoparken' by the Ekoparken Association.
This idea came out of a project of World Wide Fund for Nature in Sweden and became the starting point for Ekoparken Association in 1992. The idea was turned into a proposal to the parliament.
The park was founded in 1995 by national law. Encroachment on nature and park areas is forbidden and harm must not be done to the heritage landscape and its natural and cultural values. Despite this, the Ekoparken Association have had to fight for the preservation of the park since then.
Developers and municipalities are keen to exploit estates right in the middle of the metropolitan area. Until recently we have been fairly successful in defending the park, but now a large building complex (150,000 square metres of floor space) of the university is going to be built on the shores of the 18th century English landscape park. We have fought this up to the Supreme Court but have had no success.
Other threats are highways and more residential areas. Stockholm is a fast growing city, at present, which causes pressures on all “vacant” land. A motorway in a tunnel (Österleden/Östlig förbindelse) is projected in the eastern parts of the park. It will have adjoining roads cutting the park into two halves. If realized it will create pressures to exploit the meadows of Ladugårdsgärde. The construction will affect the park for a long time
The majority of the park is owned by the national government, some parts are owned by the municipalities and private landowners or housing cooperatives. The Royal National City Park is managed mainly by the Royal Djurgården Administration. NGOs (Ekoparken Association and WWF) play a great role in the protection and development of the park. The national county administrative board has a coordinating role.