POSEIDEON: The Charming and Historical Landmark of Gothenburg


Gothenburg is a seaside city: lapped by the North Sea of the Atlantic Ocean. It is also a riparian city:  Göta Älv the river placidly passes through and peacefully empties into that ocean that fringes North America, South American, Africa and Europe.


For a habitation of a city founded in 1621, whose survival and sustenance depended on river water and sea water, it was obvious to venerate a god: a water god. In the Swedish myths, Norse rituals and Scandinavian paganism, there is neither a legend nor a god nor a goddess emphatically attributed to a natural element: water. Like many cultures and countries that asserted national sovereignty over the centuries, looked to Greek mythology (or religion?) and Greek literature, Gothenburg in Sweden was influenced by one Grecian legacy: Poseidon.

Seamen usually worshipped Poseidon for a successful voyage and for a safe passage to home. As a homage, the worshippers drowned a nickel or an animal — sacrificing something that was of value and utility. During the Battle of Issus (Issos), Alexander the Great stopped at the Syrian seashore and prayed to Poseidon; as a mark of tribute he also offered a chariot of four horses to this sea god.

Poseidon is a Greek god of sea. He was the seafarers God of Greece’s pre-Olympian Bronze Age. He was worshipped in Hellenic hinterlands, cities and colonies. He was also the earth-shaker or the creator of seismic shifts and tsunamis, and tamer of horses. Among the Olympian gods, Poseidon was prone to bad-temper, mood swings, lusty appetite and greed for dominance in his territory. He also had the virtue of genuine vengeance—when he was insulted he caused havoc by creating storms, shipwrecks, and floods, and all those troubles seafarers dreaded to experience. He also blessed his worshippers when they worshipped him: calmed the seas when the seamen ventured out into the seas, and created isles and islets for mortals to take refugee from stormy weather. His analogous figure in Roman or Latin mythology is Neptune, and Nethuns in Etruscan. Poseidon was worshipped as a fertility god, too, and he figured in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.


Almost a hundred years ago, the City of Gothenburg made preparations to celebrate its 300th anniversary in the twentieth century. After the delayed the tercentenary celebrations in 1921, the Gothenburg decided to have an artwork befitting its celebrations and an allusion to the city’s natural elements. The city administrators and its commissioners and the sculptor chose to have a figure of Poseidon: One of the 12 Olympian deities of Greek Mythology. Not only in Gothenburg, Poseidon in standing posture are also at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Presov in Slovakia, Bristol in England, Berlin in Germany, and Copenhagen in Denmark. Poseidon is also used as the name for a movie, video games and animated stories.

For Gothenburg’s tercentenary celebrations, Poseidon’s statue was inaugurated, at last, in September 1931. The name Poseidon and the statue grew in popularity since the statue of Poseidon rose in the empty square of the city called Götaplatsen. The statue of towering Poseidon was unveiled on the autumnal twilight of September 24, 1931 in front of 20,000 spectators.

In today’s Gothenburg a hotel, building company, diving-equipment company, restaurant, services, products, brewing company, and many more are named after Poseidon.

The bronze Poseidon of Gothenburg rises to a height of about 7 meters or 22 feet from the middle of the fountain. His countenance is subdued reflectively but virility amply manifests in his groin. It stands in the plaza of Götaplatsen looking down the city’s central street named Avenyn. In the place of a trident, Poseidon holds a big fish in his right hand, and in the left hand a seashell with his head towards the shell. On his head he has a stylized wreath. Around the rim of the fountain, one can see smaller figures (and depending the season, their spouts sprout water): fish, female dancers, couple, marvels, tritons, najads (yachcts), and mermaids. The rim of the fountain is divided into smaller compartments with reliefs of algae, lobsters, crab, fish, corals, shells and mussels.

The project leaders thought of calling the statues as Neptune for the Roman name of the god of the sea is Neptune but Poseidon stuck.

The moment Poseidon appeared in Gothenburg, the sculptor of the sculpture came under attack for offending residents’ sensibilities by sculpting an erect man in nude. The discerning women of art complained to the city authorities that the size of Poseidon’s phallus was disproportionate to his size, the bourgeoisie felt the original Poseidon was artistically too daring; and some thought the sculpture was ugly, too big and had wrong proportions. The reaction to the standing figure was so impactful that Carl Milles (1875-1955) the sculptor offered to make a newer version. His original intention was that Poseidon’s limbs should be long in order to elicit an interest rather than academic scrutiny from the audience but that was not the reaction.

The celebrated Swedish sculptor Carl Milles re-worked on it and tweaked the sculpture particularly Poseidon’s genitals: reduce the size. Milles re-designed, and positioned the fish that Poseidon holds in his hand. Since then there are many interpretations and many questions about the artist and art work: one version is that it looks like a large penis if the sculpture is viewed from the Concert Hall’s staircase (Milles revenge!). It is also a subject of speculation: who stood as a model for Poseidon – Professor Axel Romdahl or and Knut Ström or both?

On occasions, Poseidon had been decorated in different ways. He had, for example, been dressed up as a chalmerist by the students of the Chalmers University of Technology, in white lab coat. He was also dressed up to look like a Hulk, Joakim von Anka and in red flamenco skirt. In 1976, he was subjected to injury when someone painted red color. In 1981, someone placed an explosive charge around Poseidon in an attempt to destroy the sculpture. In 2010 and 2011, Poseidon went through restoration with the help of a special wax: rust, algae and moss.

According to one Gothenburger of German mother and Swedish father, if one sees Poseidon from entry staircase of the Concert Hall, he looks like he was masturbating. Another resident notes it as a spot for voyeurism. Whatever the speculations and observations regarding Poseidon, from its origins to current state, Poseidon is one of the striking landmarks of Gothenburg. It is also the meeting point, relaxing spot, backdrop for selfie-takers, venue for celebrations, starting point for a gathering of demonstration or protest or solidarity, and it serves as one of the top attractions for tourists in America and Azerbaijan to Chile and China.

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