Västerås, Sweden’s Medieval City
The history of Västerås stretches back more than a thousand years. This interesting little city is less than an hour away from Stockholm by SJ Intercity train yet worlds away in atmosphere. The appealing old town centre of Västerås, located in the county of Västmanland, is surrounded by as thoroughly a modern city as any in Sweden but it is the unique attractions of its historic past that grab one’s attention immediately upon arrival. The main railway station is located right across the street from a big park called Vasaparken which serves as an ersatz time machine. The first step through, though, is only to 1963, the year when the imposing Town Hall was completed. Today, the golden sculptures adorning its western façade complement the 65m tower, which houses 47 bells, the largest peal in Sweden. Sharing the same square, Fiskartorget, is the genteel home of the Västerås Art Museum.
It is further north that the city shows its age―in a good way. The Church, as was so often the case in Europe in medieval times, was the centre of life in the town. Today, past the seemingly whimsical statue of Bishop Johannes Rudbeckius to the left of its entrance, the very imposing Västerås Cathedral remains one of the city’s principal attractions and houses one of Sweden’s largest organs, dating from the 17th century. On what used to be grounds of the cathedral, across the street among several former service buildings, sits the small structure known as the Proba, a prison for priests, government officials, and other offenders of the time. The Proba was used in this capacity right up until 1801. Probas were not uncommon in the past, but they certainly are today; the one in Västerås is the last of its kind.
A bit further north again is the humble yet charming Kyrkbacken. Here in the Church Green, amid the small cabins that housed the city’s poor and derelict during the 16th century, new life springs forth from the quaint homes, art galleries, and assorted creative businesses revitalising this atmospheric quarter. If Kyrkbacken were in a larger city in another country, the fast-food outlets and T-shirt shops would have taken over long ago; there is none of that here. Indeed, it is the complete integrity of the place that adds to its charm. Also dating from the 16th century is the nearby Botaniska Trädgården, site of the oldest horticultural school in Sweden; today, several modern sculptures complement the plants and peacefulness.
Not all the attractions in the Old Town of Västerås are old. This being Sweden, there are numerous cafés with outdoor seating to breathe in the atmosphere along with the aroma of fresh coffee, and the city’s many parks and gardens make for pleasant strolling. On Stora Torg is a modern sculpture called The Asea Stream portraying several men on their bicycles on their way to work at the General Swedish Electic Company, whose Swedish initials ASEA are better known these days as part of the now huge transnational corporation ASEA Brown Boveri. The statue was created by Västerås artist B.G. Broström and may also be considered a tribute to the city’s cycling paths; there are more than 300km of paths for two-wheeled enthusiasts. ASEA is not the only company known around the world today to have its beginnings in Västerås; a small clothing shop which grew to become global fashion giant is called Hennes & Mauritz, another Swedish company better known by its initials.
The Visit Västerås website has helpful information for visitors to this place where relatively few international travellers venture. This kind of daytrip from Stockholm is a favourite for Eurail Pass holders who have the freedom to explore countries visited without a second thought. Sweden’s trains are among the best in Europe and are themselves a cultural experience, especially First Class on the impressive X 2000 high-speed trains where wifi and a hot meal are included with a fast ride using Sweden’s advanced tilting-train technology on major routes from Stockholm to Gothenburg, Malmö, and Oslo. Various types of Eurail Passes valid in Sweden are available in Australia through Rail Plus.