A house front facing Stortorget (The Large Square) in Malmö, 1692

Malmö city life in 1692

- by Percy Hultberg -

The change of nations lead to a decrease in trade for the old mercantile city of Malmö, and it would take a long time to repair this damage. In the late 16th century, Malmö had seen the good days. It was Denmark's second city, with a population of 5000 people, which made it bigger than Stockholm. Commerce was at an all time high.

One hundred years later, the population had decreased to 3000 people, trade was at low-point and the city was severely damaged by the many wars, especially those taking place after 1658. On top of it all, the Swedish government for a short term had focused on expanding the city of Landskrona, with its better conditions for a harbour, as the main fortification by Öresund.

As many cities at this time, Malmö was a fortified city, with ramparts, a city wall and few gates. In the west, Malmöhus Castle with its high calibre cannons was keeping watch. Just south of Malmö, there were also two, occasionally water filled, marshes, Östra Ringsjön and Västra Ringsjön, that were working as natural obstacles to potential attacks.

The shoreline towards Öresund went somewhat north of Norra Vallgatan, along the old city wall from the 15th century. By the middle of the wall, as an extension of current Frans Suellsgatan, a 150 meters long landing-stage stretched out into the sea. The water outside Malmö was very shallow, and the big merchant vessels had to anchor further out in the water, often resulting in unnecessary reloading to barges.

The city gates were situated in the south, the west and in the north by the landing-stage. The eastern and the southern gates were newly built, impressive Tessin style buildings.

The expansion of the city was restrained by the ramparts. In 1692, they stretched from what is now Gustav Adolfs torg in the south, and Drottningtorget in the east.

The harbour area north of Norra Vallgatan was expanded in the 18th century, but Malmöhus Castle is left in the same place where it stood in 1692. However, the western rampart went south from Malmöhus. Consequently, the then city of Malmö was smaller than the city centre of today.

 

City life. Sketch by Einar Bager.

During the extension of the defence ramparts in the west, the blocks close to Malmöhus, by the present Kungsparken, were torn down to clear the field of fire for the cannons of Malmöhus. As a result of this, the city blocks of Malmö comes to a sudden end in the west by Slottsgatan. This can be seen even today.

The soon to be demolished houses in these blocks were rented out to the poorest citizens, and the area had not been densely built up. This area also held the city hospital, housed in the former Franciscan monastery. After the building was torn down, a new hospital was established at Rundelsgatan.

The huge St Petri Church, built in the 14th century, indicates Malmö's early connection to Lübeck and other cities in the Hanseatic League.

Apart from St Petri Church, the first Caroli Church was built in 1680, in the same place as the present one. The church was named after king Carl XI of Sweden, but it also went under the name of "The German Church", and service was held in the German language, hopefully to draw German merchants and craftsmen to Malmö.

What we now know as Residenset ("the residence"), did not exist in 1692, but was established in 1720. The two buildings, Kungshuset and Gyllenpalmska, that later on were united to form Residenset, were already built though, lighting up the north side of Stortorget with their renaissance facades.



Malmö, the commercial city

The herring fishery in the waters of Skåne was going well. The herring early on became an important commodity for the German cities by the Baltic Sea, and merchants from these cities found their way to the market places of Skåne. By the 15th century, Malmö had taken over the leading position on the market from Skanör/Falsterbo. Market booths and stalls on the seaside meadow gave place to permanent buildings.

In Malmö, the long street "Den Lange Athelgade" gradually emerged on an elevation in the ground between the shore and the marsh in the south. Houses were built on both sides of the street, and merchants and craftsmen gathered in the booths by the street to sell their goods.

North of the St Petri Church, the street had a wider section, two blocks long, which became the first concentrated market place in Malmö.

In the mid 16th century, the herring's importance as a commodity decreased, as a more varied commerce was established. However, Malmö was in need of larger mercantile spaces, and Stortorget was built, later to be supplemented by the smaller Lilla Torg.

The trade with the fruitful province of Skåne increased, and farmers came to the city to sell their crops of barley and oats, and also their cattle. Oxen, bred to be sold, were an important export to Germany and the Netherlands.

 

City life. Sketch by Einar Bager.


These large animals probably caused chaos and annoyance as well as mirth as they were driven from the market place to the landing-stage that worked as the harbour of Malmö.

Lilla Torg, on the other hand, was well organized: not one rowdy beast in sight. The butchers had their booths on the west side of the square, the fishmongers on the north side, the retail traders on the east side and the bakers on the south side. Eventually, these booths were turned into permanent buildings.



Increasing importance of the merchants

As the commerce increased, so did the riches of the merchants, and a new class emerged: the burghers. With the riches came power and an elevated social position among the citizens of Malmö. The burgers were in command of the present activity of the city, as well as the planning of the future development, including buildings, streets and squares.

The wealthy merchants formed a small, closed circle of related families. Out of this circle, mayors and city council were elected. Later on, the possessions of the merchant families reached the same levels as those of the nobility, and the burghers gained political importance also on the national level.

The rich and powerful burghers moved in to the properties at Adelgatan, and the street became the most distinguished street in the city, lined by luxuriously decorated buildings.

The burghers also owned the blocks of houses and yards in the city, and rented some of them out for the common people to live in. These houses were small and narrow and the heating came partly from a stove, partly from excess heat from the kitchen. Most houses consisted of one room, a small entrance hall and a kitchen. The lavatory was placed remotely in the yard.

In 1692, Malmö had about fifty blocks, mainly consisting of half-timbered houses with roofing tiles. The using of roofing tiles instead of straw for the roofs was based on experience from the big fires that had caused much damage to Copenhagen earlier.

The house owners at Adelgatan made effort to make the front facades look elegant, and had them decorated with carved works. The other houses, in the backyards, were not as fancy and were often more simply built.

Running water was supplied by a system of wooden channels from the small lake Pildammarna. From there, the water was transported to a big well at Stortorget, in front of the town hall. The channels then branched off to most of the blocks of Malmö. Pumps for fresh drinking water and brackish water were found in the yards.

The main part of the half-timbered houses of the city, were not newly built in 1692. Much of the construction of new buildings took place already in the 16th century. Thus, some houses were more than one hundred years old, and in various states of decay after several extensions and repairs.

 

City life. Sketch by Einar Bager.

The 17th century was marked by on-going wars, both at home and on the continent. In addition to the cost of human lives, war cost money, and the burgher's wealth decreased. By the end of the 17th century, newly built houses were made less expensive than before, and the decorations on the facades were often excluded.

After the Swedes took over the city in 1658, construction of new buildings was down for decades. All effort was put into building fortifications, which gave work to thousands of people. The rampart was finished in 1698.



Malmö after 1692

What the citizens of Malmö did not know in 1692, but many of them would live to experience, was that twenty years later, the city would be struck by the plague. The epidemic would take many lives in Malmö and reduce the population of the city to half.

Carl XI was followed on the throne by Carl XII and a yet again, a period of war began. The result of this period was the same as for the Danes half a century earlier: Sweden lost much of its new territory. Sweden's Great Power era ended only 25 years after 1692.

The long and unsatisfactory landing-stage would remain, being the cause of increasing annoyance, for many years. Not until 1775, Frans Suell commanded the building of a proper harbour in Malmö, a project that would take decades to finish.

It was not until well into the 18th century that Malmö would recover from the violent 17th century. By then, the city was being industrialized, and factories were being established. A whole new Malmö was taking shape.

The old ramparts were considered out of date and were torn down, as were the gate buildings and structures that were set up on bridges between the fortification's island-like ravelins. Hence, the approaches and exits to and from the city were straightened out.

 

Malmö seen from the south. By the end of the 17th century, the city was properly fortified with ramparts and moats.

Parts of the water filled moat was filled up and a new canal was made further out from the city centre to give space for the city to expand. Malmö grew to the size of the current city centre, surrounded by the canal.



Malmö in the year of 1692 - a historical reflection