Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, lies on the country's east coast on the estuary where Lake Malaren joins the Baltic Sea. The Baltic's largest port, with a population of 1.65 million, it is gorgeous city of lush parks and majestic buildings. It occupies 14 islands which are connected by over 50 bridges, because of which it is often called "the Venice of the North" or "Beauty on Water". Stockholm is the seat of Sweden's constitutional Monarch and its parliamentary Government, as well as being the home of the Philharmonic Orchestra, Ballet, the Royal Swedish Opera and the Royal Theater where such legends as Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergman and Ingmar Bergman were discovered.
The Gamla Stan is the oldest part of Stockholm and a popular tourist attraction. Its narrow cobblestone streets are lined with beautiful buildings dating from the 14th through to the 19th century, which today house boutiques, restaurants, cafes and clubs. Sweden is recognized throughout the world as an innovative pioneer in social policy and some of its most significant programs include: the old age pension, public housing and assistance for higher education. These comprehensive government programs have helped Sweden achieve a very high standard of living. On December 10th of each year, The Nobel Prize Banquet takes place in Stockholm City Hall.
Stockholm's harbor opens into an archipelago of 24,000 islands and islets. A popular area for holidays with some 50,000 summer homes and chalets that are reached by some of the 250,000 private boats registered in the City and its suburbs. It is through this expanse of natural beauty, created in the last Ice Age, that cruise ships enter and exit on their visit to Stockholm, a journey which takes more or less 3 hours and affords a visual feast of ever-changing scenery.
There is evidence of Stone Age to Ice Age settlements along the shores of Lake Malaren, Sweden's largest inland body of water. It is known that Vikings were in this area over 1,000 years ago, but the first mention of Stockholm was in 1252 when Birger Jarl granted the City a Charter, founding it as a Fort for protection against pirate raids from the sea. By the 14th century, Stockholm was a town of merchants and craftsmen, and Sweden was under the rule of Queen Margrete of Denmark.
In 1430 the Swedes rebelled against Danish Dominance and in 1435 the first Swedish Parliament was assembled. The next year the Council of Sweden granted privileges to the citizens of Stockholm. In 1523 Gustav Vas, the George Washington of Sweden, freed his country from the tyranny of Christian II of Denmark, and Stockholm became the capital of Sweden. During the Thirty Years War (1618 - 1648) Sweden became a major power with possesssions all around the Baltic, and the City grew as trade flourished. From the 17th century to the early 18th century, fire and plague ravaged the area and in the 19th century, at the conclusion of the Napoleonic wars, Sweden lost Finland to Russia, but took Norway away from the Danes.