Icons of Danish Heritage (pt. 1) – Kronborg Castle

Right, I know, I have gone down the rabbit hole, I’m never getting out of Wonderland now, but…Denmark was truly excellent and full of amazing things to see and visit!! Therefore, I have decided to do this blog post about two of the most emblematic places in Zealand that I visited. I think both of them hold great historical value, because both sites are internationally renown, but also because they represent the importance of this country within Europe. In addition, I believe they also symbolise important moments in the history of the area. Kronborg and Trelleborg reflect strong places of power for Denmark. Therefore, let me give you a quick tour of these amazing locations.

Kronborg Castle: Royal Palace, Hamlet’s Home and Site of Legend:

Kronborg Castle is around 50 minutes by train from Copenhagen. The town where it is located, Helsingør, is small but cosy. Right by the coast, this is an important stop for many ferries, and the spot has always been important for shipping but also for international relations – from here you can easily get to the Swedish post of Helsingborg…The names are not that similar as a coincidence…There seems to have been a strong connection between the inhabitants of both places, and in fact toponymy science suggests that the Danish port became a way for the to control the strait between the two countries. Anyway, Helsingør is lovely, but the castle is even better.

Covering an area of 16000 squared metres (including attics and basements), the bastion appears like an arrow piercing the sea. The fortress has been dated back to the 1420s, when Eric of Pomerania ordered for it to be erected. Back then, Denmark owned portions of the south of Sweden. So it was very important to keep these key locations secure. Ever since, the Danish kings took care of the castle: King Christian III supplemented the wall with bastions in 1558-1559. However, the castle could have not become the astonishing site that it is nowadays without the imput of Frederick II (1574-1585). He was the one who rebuilt the medieval fortress, and got it to evolve into the diamond-shaped bastion that it is nowadays (I’ll tell you all about these fortresses some other time…got an upcoming blog post about this soon!). But in essence, you may be aware of the military revolution taking place in Europe during this period and the prowess of the Swedish army back then…Frederick knew he had to step up his game if he wanted to keep his coastal assets safe. So he hired Hans Hendrik van Paesschen for this pursuit. And it is due to this shape developed in the Renaissance that the castle took the name of Kronborg, meaning Crown Castle. Now you know a bit more of the history, let’s get to know the building.

The tour of the castle takes you through ten different areas of the castle that are open to visit. I’ll talk you through them.  You go in through the Dark Gate: from here you can see a long dark tunnel that used to lead to the original entrance of the castle located at the Four-Gate Courtyard. Then, you enter the courtyard, where the statues of Neptune and Mercury guard the entrance. This is an allegory to the nature of the edification of the palace, as these were regarded as the gods of the sea and trade respectively.

The Four-Gate Courtyard Entrance
The Four-Gate Courtyard Entrance

Finally we get to the Castle Courtyard, where the work of Frederick shines, and where one can admire the fantastic architectonic features of the Northern European Renaissance, which is fairly different from the examples in mainland Europe  and the Mediterranean.Charming, nonetheless. In the middle of the courtyard there is a modern fountain that was put there to replace the original one from 1583. Unfortunately the 16th century creation was spoiled in 1658 when the Swedes seized the castle. From the courtyard you get access to the inside of the palace. Ahead await now the Telegraph Tower, the Chapel, the Royal Apartments, the Ballroom, the Little Hall and the Trumpeter’s Tower.

The Telegraph Tower is a flat-roofed, squared building on the side of the castle that used to serve as a cannon tower. It seems once it had a dome and a spire, much more fitting of the style and taste of Frederick II, however this seems to have been destroyed and then reconstructed during the siege of Kronborg (1658). Kronborg has been victim of many incidents – not only war, but also fire. In 1629 a fire damaged the vast majority of the interior of the castle. One of the few survivors was the Chapel, consecrated just a few years earlier in 1582. The Royal Apartments suffered greatly. They were first built by Frederick II, but the fire ruined them. However king Christian IV has them recreated for the inhabitation fo the palace as a royal residence.

Royal Appartments
Royal Apartments

The Ballroom, is now decorated with paintings made originally for the Great Hall of Rosenborg Castle (Copenhagen 1618-1831). Yet I think they suit well what used to be the largest royal hall in all northern Europe! Its dimensions are 62 x 12 meters.

The Ballroom
The Ballroom

Then we move on to the Little Hall, were the 7 surviving tapestries with the portraits of a hundred of the Danish kings survive. These were commission in 1580, and only handful more remain our of the original 40 commended by the king, currently exposed at the Nationalmuseet. And finally, we reach the highest point at Kronborg – the Trumpeter’s Tower. The name is pretty self-explanatory, but in case there was any doubt, the 62 meter tall tower was used for the announcement or warning of fanfares by trumpeters. Impressively enough, the spire has been destroyed by fire and rebuilt twice.

Telegraph and Trumpeter's Tower
Telegraph and Trumpeter’s Tower

Of course, one can then understand that such an impressive building would have captivated the imagination of any artist, and this is in fact what inspired Shakespeare to set Hamlet in Denmark, at Kronborg, or better known to the English folk as Elsinore. Currently, the castle holds a couple of spare rooms with small exhibitions of Hamlet and its performance at the castle, as well as holding a portrait of the British author. But, hold that broody moment of to be or not to be… just until we get outside, and start wandering the Casemates…These used to be the soldiers’ quarters while at war. The dark and damp vaults could hold up to 1000 men, capable of holding a siege for 6 weeks. But if you thought this could not get more atmospheric…You were wrong. As you walk through the gloomy corridors, full of spiderwebs, dust and barely illuminated by oil lamps (yes, still functioning), we find the statue of the legendary Holger Danske. The epic statue in commemoration of the mythical hero, is located in the very same spot where legend has it he rested after walking all the way from France, where he had aided the French to keep the country safe by might only known to Arthurian knights.  According to legend, Holger is taken to Avalon by Morgan le Fay herself, and after his return from the mist, he rests at Kronborg, awaiting the day when his country will desperately need a hero of old. Holger, king under the mountain – almost in the same fashion custom to the dwarves of Erebor in Tolkien’s mythology…See a theme of English literature involving Kronborg? Interesting fact is that, during the Second World War, the largest resistance group in Denmark against the Nazis took their name after this legendary figure.

Holger Dansk
Holger Dansk

So if after this quick tour of the place the might and glory of Kronborg is not apparent to yourselves, then, I can only say, Go And See It For Yourself. Nevertheless, and in case you thought I went up to Kronborg just to see the castle…As it happens, during my visit a Renaissance fair was taking place in the ground of the palace. And of course, I took pictures. So with my photographs, I say farewell for now, but nor forever…Our next stop is Trelleborg where we will visit the roots of the power capable of erecting Kronborg, the Crown of the Baltic Sea.

Renaissance Fair Cavalry
Renaissance Fair Cavalry

 

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3 thoughts on “Icons of Danish Heritage (pt. 1) – Kronborg Castle

    1. Thank you! It was a very pleasant visit. Shame I didn’t have time to visit a few more castles/palaces. Just on Copenhagen alone there are like 20! Or in what they call greater Copenhagen anyway 🙂

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