Eksjö- the unique wooden town
“Sweden’s best-preserved wooden town” is a title claimed by many towns; however, only a few are chosen. Eksjö Old Town and its many listed buildings certainly supports our claim to this title! In 1997, Eksjö was awarded the Europa Nostra Diploma for “the remarkable renovation of this important ensemble of traditional buildings, which have given new life to the old town centre”.
In 2003, Eksjö celebrated the 600th anniversary of its original charter. During the centuries, disaster has struck in the form of plague, famine, wars and fires. However, the town and its people have also been the inspiration for many legendary stories, such as the political satirical ballad of “Mayor Munthe”. The medieval town of “Ekesiö” was originally situated some 500 m south-west of the present town centre. It was humble in size and most likely a country village of the then predominant Geatish type. In those days, there were only two towns within present-day Jönköping County: Jönköping and Eksjö, the latter being granted its town charter by Eric of Pomerania, probably in 1403.
The development of a new town
The First Northern War (or the Nordic Seven Years’ War), which lasted between 1563 and 1570, brought the first of several disasters upon Eksjö. During the campaign of Danish Commander Daniel Rantzaus, the town was burned down in 1568. The same year, King Erik XIV, in a letter to his Flemish master builder, Arendt de Roy in Vadstena, commanded him to immediately depart to Eksjö to commence his survey and stake out the projected new town. In 1569, by command of King Johan III, the town was re-developed on the ridge of elevated land, which had been the location of the town and parish church since the Middle Ages. However, another 20 years passed before the building and construction works could begin, due mainly to a number of land and property ownership disputes. De Roy´s town plan had a distinctly medieval character with its narrow grid of streets mapped out and aligned to the existing roads and surrounding terrain. The northern part of the town has since prospered and developed, which is one of the main reasons why some very fine examples of buildings and houses, representing most periods of our 400-year heritage, still remain intact today.
In 1856, disaster struck yet again. A part of the town, south of the church, was almost completely destroyed because of the carelessness of a journeyman apprentice, who was drying his clothes in front of an open fire. The northern parts of the town could be saved by the townsfolk, who were able to create a fire-break by tearing down one half of a dwelling house. From then on, this house was called “the other half ”. In 1857, a new town plan was drawn up. This was based on the predominant planning principles of the time, which envisioned the “ideal city”, emphasizing, for example, light, space, fire safety and hygienic living conditions. Therefore, the buildings around the central Market Square represent two entirely different architectural epochs: the late medieval period just north of the square, and neoclassicism on the south side of the square.
Commercial and military traditions
Eksjö has a long tradition as a provincial centre for trade and craftsmanship, its important businessmen and craftsmen exerting their influence and contributing to the town’s growth and structure, economically as well as politically.In the 17th century, almost all professions and trades were represented in Eksjö, and its skilled craftsmen were renowned throughout the country. However, in the 18th century the town experienced a decline, which made it necessary to find supplementary industries, such as growing and spinning tobacco. During the 17th century and until the beginning of the 19th century, oxen were widely traded and herded as far as Kopparberg, some 400 km north of Eksjö. In two months, in 1725, more than 1,000 head were driven north to Stockholm. Eksjö was established as a military garrison and a public administration centre, its first school founded in 1602. As early as 1543, the Smalandia Cavalry, which was later to become the Royal Smalandia Hussars, was garrisoned outside the town. During the centuries, a number of different military units have been stationed here. Not until the beginning of the 20th century did the town begin to expand beyond the original town plan from 1568. The northern parts of the town had by then become extremely densely populated and were mostly considered as slum dwellings. However, economic recovery, in combination with the installation of water and sewage mains, and street lighting, effectively ended the decline of this area.
Three wooden towns
Eksjö, Hjo and Nora have all received the Europa Nostra award for their well-preserved wooden building heritage. Take a virtual stroll through these towns and read more at: www.tretrastader.se