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Photographer: Västergötlands museum

Welcome to historical Skara!

The area around Skara offers ancient monuments and historical signs galore. Artefacts in the oldest sites near lake Hornborgasjön prove a human presence dating back some 8 000 years. Cemeteries, cultural landscapes and churches provide tangible evidence of the area's importance through the years. For here, in the middle of Sweden where the roads crossed, it seemed natural to settle and build villages.

Farm country from the Iron, Viking and Middle Ages

The Brunnsbo Storäng a few kilometres from Skara is one of this country's largest medieval haying fields. Once there was a village here and the archaeologists have found traces of farming from the early Iron Age down through the Viking and Middle Ages.

The ground was farmed differently in different eras, making it possible to locate cattle trails and ancient monuments. Brunnsbo country estate was acquired by the Skara bishop in the 1400s and the village was moved to open land for haying creating the Brunnsbo field. It is a lovely meadow with large oak trees and hazel bushes surrounded by a dense growth of Primula veris, wild geranium and daisies. A walk in the Brunnsbo meadow is a glorious cultural and historic experience made even more interesting by the information signs throughout.

The Amundstorp stone ship at Lake Hornborga

The Amundstorp burial field comprises a well-preserved stone ship, stone circles and various other stone constructs. Thegraves are probably from the migration period in the older Iron Age (400-500 AD). It is a lovely natural site with a view of the lake from the western slope of the Billingen plateau.

Sweden's oldest book is in Skara

The Västergötland Museum in Skara is home to a host of interesting historical objects. One of them is the Skara Missal, probably the country's oldest book. It consists of texts and melodies describing the Catholic church service written between 1100 and 1150 by the Skara monks. There are 44 hand-written vellum sheets preserved.

The magnificent Cathedral

The Cathedral symbolises Skara. Its first incarnation was consecrated around 1150 AD, but new discoveries have shown that there was an edifice here as early as in the 11th century. War and fire have ravaged the church over the years, but in spite of it all it has stood fast, rising again from dust, ashes and humiliation. During the 1947-49 restoration a well-preserved crypt was discovered and during the 1999 renovation, stone remnants older than the 12th century church. This latest work made the Gothic architecture even more manifest and the crypt has become a lovely worship space now open to the public. The edifice contains episcopal graves and walls from the earliest period. The current Gothic design dates to the 1886-1894 restoration under the leadership of architect Helgo Zettervall. The furnishings are unique and include the Soop Mausoleum and Bo Beskow's handsome glass mosaic window. And yes, Skara's pants – the name comes from the flat towers built in 1809- 1810. People thought they looked like a pair of pants and the name stuck though the towers have clearly changed shape since!

The oldest burial artefact in Scandinavia is the lovely Adalvard chalice. The property of Bishop Adalvard(†1064), the chalice was found in the 1700s and before its significance was grasped, served as the executioner's communion vessel. A copy can be studied in the cathedral.

The Varnhem Monastery flourished in the Middle Ages

The Cistercian brothers came to Varnhem in 1150. The fertile site on the western slope of the Billingen plateau was ideal with its access to timber, rock and fresh water. The brothers built a small monastic town and excavations have revealed an advanced water and sewer system that probably included channels for heating and ventilation. At the end of the 1200s the monastery church was the largest sacred building in Sweden and the operations flourished for several centuries more. The reformation in the 1500s closed the monastery and the church was abandoned.

A hundred years later Count Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie paid for a restoration and it is thanks to him that the edifice is in good shape today. However, the monastery was left to decay until excavations began in the 1920s. The monastic life is well documented and the museum next to the church holds a number of interesting objects from the first excavations. The handsome Varnhem Church is the burial church for the Erik royal family (11/1200s). Stockholm's founder, regent Birger Jarl lies here, as do the church's 'saviour', Count Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie and his wife, the Princess Maria Eufrosyne.

Church, knowledge - and culture 

The name Skara is probably derived from the Swedish 'skåra, skarv' meaning roughly cut, seam or joint. Most probable is that the natural junction where the roads met and where the town grew lent its name. What is certain is that Skara was an important trade and meeting place more than one 1000 years ago. It grew quickly, shaped by the church, education and culture. Today's city is perhaps a bit calmer than the medieval one, but its living heritage is cared for and the Skara residents are proud to tread historic ground. Old and new, city and country meet in this place and the centrally located Cathedral still provides the city with a profile of its own.