Southern City Hall, copper engraving by Willem Swidde from 1691, from Suecia Antiqua et Hodierna. But we see that it is before the fire — look at the lantern on the roof!

The building of the City Museum

The City Museum’s building at Slussen tells stories about prison cells, Russian merchants and playing card factories. Follow along on a tour through the building’s long and colorful history!

The City Museum is located in a building called Southern City Hall and it is Stockholm’s oldest public building. The history begins in 1680 when Southern City Hall is completed. Or maybe even a little earlier:

Tessin the Elder’s vision of a magnificent general factor office. National Museum’s archive.

It didn’t become a gigantic trading palace

In architect Tessin the Elder’s drawings from 1662, we see plans for a house twice as large, a gigantic baroque palace with four towers. It would become a general factory office, with the aim of promoting Swedish exports. But that doesn’t happen and the city steps in and has a smaller building erected: a main building facing Götgatan and two wings facing a Russian trading quarter — Ryssgården.

A fire hits the house immediately

Just as Södra stadshuset is completed in 1680, a fire breaks out at Ryssgården which spreads. Among other things, the lantern on the roof of Southern City Hall is destroyed. Under Tessin the Younger’s leadership, the house is renovated and gets a new look.

Witchcraft crimes and pub life

Meanwhile, Södra kämnärsrätten (roughly today’s district court) with its feared city prison has moved in. In court, eight women are sentenced to death for witchcraft crimes in 1675—76. In part of the prison on floor 2 we find today’s exhibition about Münchenbryggeriet. Adjacent and below is the popular pub Södra stadshuskällaren where Bellman and friends feel at home. It is also called Malmens källare. Today we can see it in the museum under the name Källarstugan on floor 1, as it looked in 1748.

On October 30, 1842, a large brawl broke out at Malmens källare between officers and guests. When the city guard arrives, the battle is in full swing and so violent that they dare not intervene. Contemporary illustration: Ferdinand Tollin.


On the wall in the prison cell, someone has written in Russian “Ugly in a stone house”. Can mean: It is bad to live in prison. The Russian prisoners are later exiled to Visingsborg in the middle of Lake Vättern.

The Russians take over

Ryssgården burns again in 1694 and 1759, after which the Russian merchants take over the wing warehouses and city courtyard. Until the 1870s they are considered Russian property. The Russians can also get into trouble. Like after the Battle of Narva in 1700, when they are locked up in the house’s prison cells. Today we can see their graffiti in the store’s warehouse, half a floor up from the courtyard.

Anatomical theater with a dissection table in the middle and an amphitheater along the walls. The picture is from the Anatomy Hall in Gustavianum in Uppsala.

Dissections and Freemasons

In the southern wing towards Peter Myndes backe, at the far end towards the square on the first floor which is now an office, an anatomical theater opens in 1685 where spectators for educational purposes can see dissections of executed people. It moves, when the Russian prisoners of war above are to be lodged, to what is now a room for temporary exhibitions on floor 3. A Russian church then moves into the premises. And what has been a Masonic, ball and concert hall becomes a Catholic church, in today’s auditorium on floor 2.

“Sausages” preserve order on the city’s streets. Or rather, they do the job a notch better than the guards called “paltar”. Illustration: Hjalmar Morner.

Traces of sausages

In 1730, the newly established fire brigade Corps de garde, “the sausages”, gets a room in the corner of Götgatan and Peter Myndes backe. Remnants of their stay can still be seen today in the staircase hall towards Götgatan, on the balustrade where swords were sharpened.

Dance party in Stadshussalongen which can be reached via a stone staircase from today’s Södermalmstorg. Advertisement in Stockholms Dagblad February 16, 1847.

Dance, schools and housing

In 1846, Södra Theatern opens in the former Catholic church and provides dance evenings and performances for 20 years. Another chapter is all the schools, one is a navigation school in today’s exhibition room about Kungstornets café; the last one moves out in 1935. There have been tenants in the house since 1711 but even they now have to move — like the Pihlqvist family who we can visit in the exhibition at the top of the house.

Wine shop on the corner of Götgatan 1 and Hornsgatan. Photo: Larssons Ateljé, year 1913—1914.

Silk and coffins

For others, the house is a workplace. A silk weaving mill starts already in 1687 in the southern wing’s attic where many children get to work. However, it all becomes a big loss for the city. Later there are workshops for card game and coffin manufacturing among other things. To this are added various kinds of shops, with entrance from Götgatan and Brunnsbacken (today’s Södermalmstorg). In the wing towards Södermalmstorg we find Dalheim & Engström’s well-known wine shop with its own punch production.

Seaside location: Southern City Hall and Brunnsbacken. Copy by Einar Uggla after Ince’s original from 1833.

Strict Control Authority

In the eyes of the public, however, Southern City Hall is primarily a government building. In 1739, the Hall and Manufacture Court was added, in the southern wing where we can try on hats in the exhibition today. The court governs and controls the city’s craft industry and remains until 1846. Upstairs in the attic, they have two arrest rooms for those who oppose the factory owners. A few years later, Södra kämnärsrätten is replaced by other courts, along with more efficient tax offices.

Southern City Hall is not doing so well. In front of the building we see the train tracks. Photo: Axel Malmström, 1918.

Trains, manure and decay

In 1871, the railway trains begin to chug past, the house is cut off from the sea side and deteriorates more and more. The open arcades on the lower floors are closed and vault arches on the ground floor are closed with boards and become toilets. The sewage treatment plant moves in and sells manure in a room where later hot lunch food is served at low prices, on the half-floor above today’s main entrance. The old Russian warehouses become a punch factory, food storage and municipal laundry.

Performance at Stadsmuseets gård. Photo: Lennart af Petersens, 1972.

The building is saved

In view of the impending Slussen reconstruction in the early 1900s, demolition of the building is discussed. To save Southern City Hall, one of the proposals is to turn it into a railway station. Fortunately, a committee is formed that would rather see a city museum. So it happens too. After a preparatory 1930s, the City Museum opens its doors to the public in 1942. In 1963, the main entrance was moved from Götgatan to the museum’s courtyard and the stairs down from Ryssgården were added.