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Longstanding Relations between Sweden and Jerusalem

Celebrating 120 Years of Official Presence by Remembering the History of the First Swedes in Jerusalem

By Consulate General of Sweden Jerusalem

Since December 2022, the Consulate General of Sweden has displayed the exhibition The First Swedes of Jerusalem: An Exhibition on Dreamers and Devotees in various locations throughout Jerusalem. During the coming year, it will be showcased in cooperation with some of the consulate’s friends and partners and made accessible in various locations of the West Bank and Gaza.

The exhibition comprises eleven thematic posters that consist of photos and text and describe episodes in the history of the Swedish Colony that was established in Jerusalem at the end of the nineteenth century. It depicts the story of the Swedes who emigrated from the small village of Nås in the county of Dalarna to Jerusalem and became part of the already existing American Colony. They came in pursuit of spiritual fulfillment and to be part of the Second Coming of their Savior. The Swedes who joined the Colony in 1896 brought with them a new mix of language, culture, traditions, and organizational skills and contributed to new practical skills, providing essential experience that had been lacking in agriculture, carpentry, blacksmithing, weaving, and baking. With their added presence, the Colony was soon maintaining wheat fields; providing eggs, dairy products, and flour to their neighbors; and selling baked goods, especially European-style breads, to Jerusalem restaurants.

In the year 1900, the great Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf came to Jerusalem and stayed at the Imperial Hotel next to Jaffa Gate to engage in research and meet with the members of the Colony. She interviewed Swedish members who had made the difficult cultural and personal transition from rural life in Sweden to life in the Colony and Jerusalem. The following year, her novel Jerusalem was published, based on their story. It was among the works for which she was awarded, in 1909, the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first one to be granted to a woman.

Selma Lagerlöf was deeply touched by the lives, destinies, and hardships experienced by many Swedes in the Colony, to such a great extent that on her way back to Sweden, she contacted the Swedish Representative in Constantinople and urged that a diplomatic presence be established in Jerusalem to look after the interests of the Swedes living there. This intervention ultimately led to the establishment of the Swedish Consulate in Jerusalem in 1903.

Hulda Larsson and Ernest F. Beaumont, 1921. Attributed to Chalil Raad, photographer. American Colony Archive, Jerusalem.


In 1991 the Consulate General became a career consulate with diplomatic personnel from Sweden. Commemorating the establishment of the Swedish Consulate in 1903, Sweden celebrates 120 years of Swedish official presence in Jerusalem this year. And what better way to do so than by paying tribute to the first Swedes that inspired this presence and made it all possible.

The exhibition was inaugurated in December 2022 at the Swedish Residence and displayed at the American Colony Hotel in January 2023 to mark the beginning of the Swedish presidency of the Council of the European Union. The exhibition has since been showcased as well at the Educational Bookshop and America House in East Jerusalem.

The idea to produce the exhibition was initiated when Consul General of Sweden Julius Liljeström and the previous Deputy Consul David Karlsson visited Rachel Lev, who oversaw the archives at the American Colony Hotel. While going through some of the written material and looking at unique photographs taken in Jerusalem by Swedish members of the Colony during the early years of the last century, they decided to make this material more widely accessible.

Studio portrait of Selma Lagerlöf, circa 1900. Anton Blomberg Stockholm, photographer. Selma Lagerlöf’s Mårbacka. Östra Ämtervik, Sweden.

The exhibition aims not only to highlight the fascinating story of the first Swedes in Jerusalem, giving testimony to their hardships and successes, but also to remind us of the long historical relations between Sweden and the city of Jerusalem that are maintained and cultivated to this day.

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