Historically, graveyards in cities were often inadequate. The problem was exacerbated by devastating pandemics such as the Black Death in the Middle Ages and 18th century, cholera in the 19th century, influenza and other outbreaks. The problem was especially acute in Stockholm; graveyards were more than full, leading to extreme discomfort for city dwellers.
In an attempt to alleviate the misery, a ruling in 1783 banned the sale of second-hand graves. New cemeteries were situated outside urban centres, the first near Karlstad in 1800. A cemetery outside Stockholm’s centre was opened at Skanstull in 1809 (vacated in 1901) and used for the many cholera victims.
In 1805 King Gustav IV Adolf called on the Church to provide decent burial grounds. Cemeteries became the business of the state. In 1815 the Riksdag (parliament) stopped burials inside towns and villages. This was the first official regulation.
The Northern Cemetery
The 1815 ban caused an acute shortage of burial grounds. The solution was a new cemetery north of Solna Church. It opened in 1827 but was little used until the turn of the 20th century when it became a popular outing for Stockholmers.
The Stockholm Cemeteries Administration
In 1886 a decree by King Oscar II gave the City of Stockholm responsibility for burials. That meant that with the town of Tranås in the province of Småland, two civil (non-religious) municipalities now had principal responsibility. For the rest of the country, the Church of Sweden retained overall responsibility for burials. In 1887 a Cemeteries Committee was founded in Stockholm, consisting until 1975 of civic members and Church of Sweden appointees.
In the 1880s, the need for burial space became pressing in the growing southern parts of the city; and the northern cemetery (Norra begravningsplatsen) was distant. The parishes of Katarina and Maria proposed a new cemetery, to be located outside Södermalm island. In 1890, the Cemeteries Committee bought a plot of about 15 hectares from Enskede Gård and in 1895, a southern cemetery (Södra begravningsplatsen) opened with a chapel designed by architect Valfrid Karlsson.
Stockholm was growing rapidly. At around the turn of the 20th century, the Cemeteries Committee realised the need to enlarge the southern cemetery. There was suitable land directly to the south and communications to the area could be arranged. In 1912, approximately 85 hectares were acquired, sufficient for many years in advance.
The Cemeteries Committee began planning — with a fresh vision. An international prize competition was announced in 1914. There was strong interest from foreign experts but the world war made the competition a more domestic affair than originally planned.