Forty kilmoetres south of Uppsala is SIGTUNA, 40km south of Uppsala, a compact little town that dates all the way back to Viking times, with extensive ruined churches and rune stones right in the centre. Apart from its ruins, it looks like any other old Swedish town with cobbled streets and squares. Scratch the surface though, and you’ll understand what made Sigtuna so important. Founded in 980 by King Erik Segersäll, Sigtuna grew from a village to become Sweden’s first town. Fittingly, it contains Sweden’s oldest street, Storagatan; the original, laid out during the king’s reign, still lies under its modern-day counterpart. Sigtuna also boasts three intriguing ruined churches dating from the twelfth century. The Sigtuna district also contains more rune stones than any other area in Sweden – around 150 of them have been found to date – and several can be seen close to the ruins of the church of St Lars along Prästgatan.

St Per and St Olof

Two of Sigtuna’s most impressive ruins, the churches of St Per and St Olof, lie along Storagatan itself. Much of the west and central towers of St Per’s still remain from the early 1100s; experts believe it likely that the church functioned as a cathedral until the diocese was moved to nearby Uppsala. The unusual formation of the vault in the central tower was influenced by church design then current in England and Normandy. Further east along Storagatan, St Olof’s has impressively thick walls and a short nave, the latter suggesting that the church was never completed.

Mariakyrkan

Close to the church ruins on Olofsgatan is the very much functioning Mariakyrkan, constructed of red brick during the mid-thirteenth century to serve the local Dominican monastery. Inside, the walls and ceiling are richly adorned with restored paintings from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

Sigtuna museum

On the main road, Storagatan, the Sigtuna museum includes material on Sigtuna’s role as Sweden’s foremost trading centre. Coins bear witness to the fact that this was the first town in the land to mint coins, in 995, plus there’s booty from abroad: gold rings and even an eleventh-century clay egg, from Kiev.

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