Before the arrival of Christianity in Sweden, Gamla Uppsala was the seat of Swedish kings and a ceremonial site known all over northern Europe. The settlement was home to royal palaces, a royal burial ground, and a great pagan temple.
The Swedish kings and their royal families were given elaborate funerals and rich burials in barrows near the temple. According to Norse pagan belief, burning the body in a great fire served to transfer the soul to Valhalla, the afterlife. As with many ancient burials found in northern Europe, rich grave goods were buried with the body for use in the afterlife.
The Uppsala temple, which was described in detail by Adam of Bremen in the 1070s, housed wooden statues of the Norse gods Odin, Thor and Freyr. A golden chain hung across its gables and the inside was richly decorated with gold. The temple had priests, who sacrificed to the gods according to the needs of the people. The great god Thor governed weather, Odin governed war and Freyr oversaw pleasure, peace and marriages.
Human sacrifice was a regular part of the rituals at Gamla Uppsala. During the festival of Fröblot, which occurred at the winter solstice every ninth year, nine people (one per day for nine days) were hanged from a tree until their corpses rotted. Because of these sacrifices, every tree in the grove was considered sacred.
Another rite involved immersing a living man in a well—if the man disappeared, the gods would answer prayers.
The pagan temple at Uppsala was probably destroyed by king Ingold I in 1087, during the last battle between the pagans and the Christians. A church was built on top of the temple ruins, and this was the cathedral of Sweden until the archbishopric moved to Uppsala in 1273.