U is for Uppsala

U is for Uppsala. That’s Sweden’s fourth largest city, population today around 130,000, located about an hour by car or train north of Stockholm.

But the current town is not the original Uppsala settlement. A little to the north lies Gamla Uppsala, Old Uppsala, which was a cult center dating back to the Vikings and before, way back to the Third Century. When you go there you see three huge burial mounds of ancient kings, from the 5th and 6th centuries. The mythical Beowulf would have been a king at Uppsala.

Besides the three large mounds there are many smaller, and originally Gamla Uppsala was the site of the ancient temple of the worship of Odin and Thor. Sacrifices, even human sacrifices, were made there. When Christianity arrived, the Christians put a church on the site of the old temple, baptising as it were, the sacred site.

The name is interesting. Upp means inland or upstream, and sala comes from an old word meaning farm or household. There’s actually a nearby town called just Sala.

Nowadays there’s an excellent museum in Gamla Uppsala, as well as a restaurant where you can drink mead, that’s honey wine, out of a Viking style drinking horn.

Modern Uppsala was originally the port of the older town, and really took over in the 13th century when the new cathedral was built there after the church in Gamla Uppsala burned down. Uppsala is the center of the Lutheran Church of Sweden, and the site of the oldest university in Scandinavia, founded in 1477.