The City with Three Hearts

Campaign picture of Halmstad. © Patrik Leonardsson

Halmstad: The City with Three Hearts

By Lara Andersson

Walk around the port city of Halmstad and you’ll be struck by the crowned hearts adorning everything from bus stops and trash cans to garden gates and grocery stores. Pay close attention to the architectural influences in the old town square, near Saint Nikolai Cathedral, and you’ll catch sight of some of the northernmost timber frame houses in all of Europe. These small details – potentially insignificant to the undiscerning eye – are subtle remnants from a time when Denmark ruled Halmstad and the surrounding Halland province.

Halmstad, situated in the southwestern part of Sweden midway between Gothenburg and Malmö, and bordered by the 186 km long Nissan river, was first mentioned in a Danish book published in 1231. Many believe the city’s name derives from the Danish “Halmstaede,” meaning something akin to “Strawtown.” Another, less believable theory discussed in the city’s own travel brochure, is that “Halmstad’s inhabitants defended the town against the Danish by putting tar onto sheaves and then throwing them from the town wall onto their rivals.”

Engraving made between 1690-1710 of the City of Halmstad by Johannes van den Aveelen for Suecia Antiqua et Hodierna. Scanned by Erik Dahlberg /Wikepedia

Originally located slightly more inland in an area now known as Övraby, Halmstad moved five kilometers south in 1320, most likely to gain easier access to the Nissan and ensure a more robust coastal defense. The city received its first official charter in 1307 (marking 2007 as its 700th anniversary). From the 1300’s up until the 1600’s the Danes developed the region, building – amongst other important architectural sites – Saint Nikolai Church in the 1400’s. In its new location, Halmstad served as an important fortified border town and, for a brief period, acted as one of the most important meeting points for Norway, Sweden and Finland, as delegates of the Kalmar Union – a union uniting the Scandinavian territories under a single monarch between 1397 and 1523 – held important negotiations there. It was such a crucial point in Scandinavian history that the Kalmar Union elected its King in Halmstad.

Perhaps one of the region’s most notable historical figures is the Danish King Christian IV. He granted the city its coat of arms with its signature motif of three crowns and three hearts. Many believe he took inspiration from a previous Danish monarch, Valedmar Sejr. Sejr reigned from 1202 until1241, and his children and grandchildren had the distinctive crowned hearts in their signets, making Christian IV’s choice three hundred years later a respectful nod to his forefathers.

After years of development and expansion, a devastating fire in August of 1619 burned down most of Halmstad, save for a few key structures: Saint Nikolai Church, Norre Port (the only town gate left of the original ones that Christian IV inaugurated in 1601), and the Danish Castle built at the beginning of the 17th century in a particular style known as Christian IV’s renaissance. The King swiftly conceived of a new city plan and set construction in motion. Much of what you see in today’s Halmstad is due to his vision.

Halmstad Castle. Photo: Jörgen Hagman

It is important to note that, though the Kalmar Union had long been in existence at this point, many attempts had already been made to overtake Halmstad from the time of its inauguration. Amongst others, the Swedish insurgent Engelbrekt and his troops marched on Halmstad in the 1430’s. In 1534, during Denmark’s largest civil war known as the Grevefejden or “Count’s Feud,” Swedes overtook the city. However, it wasn’t until 1645 that Swedes officially conquered the Halland territory, when the Second Treaty of Brömsebro declared Halland Swedish for the next thirty years. The Treaty of Roskilde in 1658 made this settlement permanent, and the final battle between Denmark and Sweden, called the Battle at Fyllebro, took place just outside of Halmstad in 1676.

Once Halmstad fell into Swedish hands, the city continued to flourish. In 1678 Swedish King Karl XI held his Riksdag (parliament) meeting in Halmstad, inviting 279 Swedes to discuss the state of the country. Shortly thereafter, in 1686, Halmstad’s first factory, a tobacco production site, was constructed and opened for business. By 1737 the city’s fortifications were demolished and tobacco crops were planted in their place to keep up with the high-paced demands of the newly industrialized city.

In the following decades, Halmstad saw massive increases in its population growth. In 1800 the city had 1,317 inhabitants. By 1850 the number had doubled to 2,761, and by 1900 the population reached an unprecedented 15,387 inhabitants. During the 20th century the city opened libraries, sports halls, museums and concert halls. Appreciating and creating art became a driving impulse for a select few of the city’s inhabitants, when fraternities such as Halmstadgruppen (see page 18)thrived on artistic synergies.

Fast forward to 2010 when Halmstad’s population had grown from 48,800 in 1990 to 58,577. Today, the city focuses on being forward-thinking and multicultural. The municipality's webpage elaborates on a vision for Halmstad in 2020 that emphasizes three key goals: (1) ensuring that the city is a place where “people can meet in safety, with respect and love;” (2) where people can “grow through education, enterprise and new thinking”; and (3) all while enjoying an atmosphere that “gives a desire to prosper through activities, a community spirit and a quality of life.”

Carl Milles’ Europa och Tjuren. Photo: Helene Karlsson/Halmstad.se

 With these noble ambitions, combined with the fact that the region is known as a popular travel destination, it comes as no surprise that Halmstad won the accolade as “Super Municipality of the Year” from lifestyle magazine Dagens Samhälle in 2018. “We look at how the municipalities have performed historically in important areas and also measure their strength through a number of forward-looking factors,” said Anna Sönne at Dagens Samhälle. “The ambition is to identify exciting examples of how to successfully run a municipality.” Halmstad has secured its title as a coveted area to live in and will continue to evolve in years to come.

Lifeguards keep watch at the Tylösand beach. Photo: Lisa Andersson/Destination Halmstad