Located in Gamla Stan, the old town in the central Stockholm, the capital and the largest city of Sweden, Stortorget or the Big Square is the oldest square in the city, framed by rows of tall patrician houses, most of which are equipped with gift shops and cafés on their ground floors. Unlike many other squares found in the heart of the European cities, it was never a stylish showpiece and was created gradually, with the buildings and blocks surrounding the square occasionally added haphazardly. Stortorget was originally just a street intersection in which the tracks that criss-crossed the island converged. Initially, it was a market square, housing wooden stalls and was also the most important place in the city until the year 1523, when the city became the home of some 6,000 inhabitants and stone buildings started to be built around the square without any plan. While the stone houses were built in this quarter after a fire in the 15th century, Gamla Stan, the centre of social and commercial life, was formed by the 16th century.
However, today Stortorget is reckoned one of the attractions of Stockholm, frequented by lots of tourists and locals every day, while occasionally it turns into the venue of public demonstrations and artistic performances. In addition, it is traditionally renowned for its grand annual Christmas market, offering beautiful handicrafts and delicious local food.
Stortorget is the location of the infamous Stockholm Bloodbath in November 1520, when the Danish-Swedish King Christian II beheaded around 90 noblemen in three days. Historically, Sweden had a long and hostile relationship with Denmark that led to several bloody wars between the two neighbouring countries. In early 1520, King Christian II of Denmark invaded Sweden and besieged Stockholm by spring. The city finally surrendered after five months of siege, on the condition of the safety of the lives and property of the citizen. For the celebration of his crowning ceremony as the king of Sweden, Christian II invited the Swede nobles.
The celebration for three days began on 4 November, at the end of which the Swedish guests were herded into a big hall, where they were falsely accused of treachery and were sentenced to death. The cruel executions began on 8 November and lasted for three days, when the members of the Riksdag (Swede senators), magistrates, priests and other nobles were beheaded in Stortorget, symbolising a macabre warning to the opposition of the Danish King. After the incident, King Christian II came to be known as Kristian Tyrann or Christian the Tyrant, his treacherous cruelty enraged the Swedes, which led to an uprising pioneered by Gustav Vasa, the son of one of the executed members of the Swedish senate, which gave birth to an independent state. However, according to local legend, if it rains on the anniversary of this massacre, the old stones of the square turn red.
There stands on the Stortorget the House number 20, an unassuming red building, first built around 1479 and was originally known as Ribbinska Huset or the House of Ribbing, referring to the councillor Bo Ribbing. Later, he gave the property to Johan Eberhard Schantz, the secretary of Charles X Gustavus in 1627, who aesthetically decorated it with white stones throughout the red façade, which elevated the building to the status of a monument to the fallen.
It is said that each of the white stones in the red wall represents the head of a murdered Swedish noble during the Stockholm Bloodbath. Eberhard Schantz also merged the buildings on numbers 18 to 20, added the stepped gable and the grand portal on the left building and renamed it the Schantzka Huset.
Today, Stortorget Square is home to several restored historical buildings, which include the Stock Exchange Building, locally known as Börshuset, housing the Swedish Academy, one of the Royal Academies of Sweden, founded by King Gustav III in 1786; the Nobel Museum, showcasing information about the Nobel Prize and the prize winners; and the Nobel Library, founded with the primary task of acquiring the literary works and journals needed for the evaluation of the laureates. Designed by the Swedish architect Erik Palmstedt, the building was constructed during 1773-1776, replacing the former Town Hall, which occupied the site for several hundreds of years, before being relocated to the Bonde Palace, situated right next to the House of Knights, the current seat of the Supreme Court of Sweden. Subsequently, it was again shifted to the present Court House in 1915. Constructed in French Rococo style, complete with the central pediment and a cupola resembling a lantern, the Stock Exchange building is a trapezium with its rounded corners widening the flanking alleys.
The Stortorget Well, which dates back to 1778 and is located just outside the Stock Exchange Building, is also designed by Erik Palmstedt and made from sandstone and cast iron. The water of the well is exceptionally pure and a great thirst-quencher on the warm summer days. However, as the well dried up in 1856, due to land elevation, it was relocated to the Brunkebergstorg Square in the inner city of Stockholm. Nevertheless, it was shifted back to its original location in the 1950s and is today connected to the city water conduit.
The tall and mostly narrow buildings on the square are typically known by the numbers of their addresses. Building no 3, situated on the right side of Köpmangatan or the Merchant Street was constructed by the merchant Hans Bremer in the 1640s, featuring the original cross vault and a German inscription in the entrance hall. Today, the building is called Grillska Huset or the Grill House, after the goldsmith Antoni Grill, who immigrated to Sweden from Amsterdam in 1659 and bought the building in 1681. However, the clover-leaf-shaped gables were added to the building in 1718 together with the blue livid colour and the Rococo portal. Stortorget No. 22, the conspicuous green building on the left side of the square, was built in 1758 and was once occupied by the councillor Johan Berndes who developed the Swedish copper production in the 17th century, then by the Saxon Polycarpus Crumbügel, who was one of the closest friends of King Charles XI.
The block on numbers 14–16 is named after Aesculapius, the son of Apollo and god of medicine in Greek mythology, signifying the presence of the Apoteket Korpen, one of Stockholm's oldest operating pharmacies in Stockholm, at this address for more than 300 years.