Last Home of Descartes – Stockholm, Sweden - Atlas Obscura

Last Home of Descartes

A plaque marks the house in Stockholm where the French philosopher René Descartes lived up until his death. 


René Descartes is one of the most influential philosopher-mathematicians in history, famous for suggesting “Cogito ergo sum,” or “I think, therefore I am.” A French native, he traveled extensively throughout his career in the early 17th century, but untimely met his demise in Sweden—some say because of the Swedish Queen Christina.

Descartes was a brilliant mind but not quite a brilliant businessman; toward the end of his life he was poor and living in the Netherlands, having lost most of what he owned. Then in 1649, the young Queen Christina of Sweden invited him to move to her country to tutor her in the ways of the ancient Greek philosophers.

Unfortunately, the two did not click, as the queen felt unmoved by Descartes’s cold logic and found his lessons dull. On top of that, she insisted that the philosopher teach her in the early morning before 5 a.m., knowing very well that due to his fragile health he rarely got out of bed before noon. 

Descartes was often found complaining about the conditions he had to work under and how the cold and dark Scandinavian mornings would be the death of him. Technically, he was not wrong. In January 1650 he caught a bad case of pneumonia, a mere five months after he moved to Sweden and only four sessions into his lessons with the queen.

Unfortunately, Descartes did not recover from this disease and died the following month, to the great despair of the French, who are said to have never truly forgiven Sweden for this crime. The philosopher’s body was temporarily kept in Sweden but eventually smuggled back to France where it can be found today.

The house where Descartes lived during his time in Sweden can still be seen in Stockholm’s Gamla Stan, or Old Town. The façade of the red Baroque building is decorated with sculptures of the gods Mercury and Neptune, and marked with a small plaque.

Know Before You Go

The plaque is on the outside of the building and is visible 24/7. The nearby square is also a good place to see the Katarinahissen and the Stomatol sign.

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March 18, 2019

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