The Stadsmuseum is Gothenburg’s biggest museum. It is located in the Ostindiska Huset, which housed the offices, goods store and auction house of the enormously influential Swedish East India Company. Envious of the major maritime nations, two Gothenburg-based industrialists, Colin Campbell and Niklas Sahlgren, set up the firm in the early eighteenth century. Granted the sole Swedish rights to trade with China in 1731, the company monopolized all Swedish trade with the Far East for over eighty years, on condition that the bounty – tea, silk, porcelain, spices and arrack (an East Indian schnapps used to make Swedish punch) – had to be sold and auctioned in Gothenburg. As a result, Chinese influence pervaded Gothenburg society, and wealthy financiers adorned their homes and gardens with Chinese motifs. By 1813, unrest caused by the French Revolution and competition from British and Dutch tea traders meant that profits slid, and the company lost its monopoly. The headquarters, however, remain an imposing reminder of the power and prestige the company – and Gothenburg – once had.
Elsewhere in the museum, other main exhibits focus on Gothenburg’s Viking past and include the impressive remains of the Äskekärr longboat, a trading vessel dating from around 900 which was found 30km up the Göta River from present-day Gothenburg. There’s also a breathtaking collection of medieval triptychs from churches across western Sweden, as well as a thorough account of the founding of Gothenburg in 1621 and its development through the centuries.