July 21, 2016
If you are just tuning in, read this Great Scandinavian Adventure from the beginning here.
In comparison to Frederiksborg Castle, Kronborg could not be more different in every aspect. Where Frederiksborg was elegant, grandiose and magnificent, Kronborg was a formidable, stark and simple fortress. It was apparent which castle was for pleasure and which was for business.
Kronborg Castle (another UNESCO World Heritage site) was the fourth and final stop on our Danish countryside excursion. By the time we reached the castle at Helsingør, we had already visited the striking 12th century cathedral and paid homage to the Vikings in Roskilde, and fashioned ourselves Danish royalty while strolling the 16th century Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerød. We drove another 35 minutes northwest to experience another part of Denmark’s history.
In the northwestern most point of Zealand sits Helsingør, founded in the 1420s by Danish King Eric of Pomerania (reign 1389-1442). At Helsingør’s westernmost point is Kronborg (Crown Castle), a 15th century stronghold perched conveniently at the narrowest point of the Øresund, the sound between Denmark and Sweden. Sweden’s shore is just 4 kilometers away, which historically made Kronborg an important coastal fortification, commanding one of the only outlets of the Baltic Sea.
In the Middle Ages, Denmark’s kingdom stretched over both sides of the Sound, and it was Eric of Pomerania who built the fortress Krogen (“the hook”) on the western side of the strait. In 1429 he instituted Sound Dues, tolls imposed upon every ship sailing through the popular strait, and over the next 428 years brought Denmark a great deal of revenue. However, in the mid 1850s, the dues were abolished when an American captain refused payment.
As we learned, Kronborg was the scene of many a drama even greater than anything William Shakespeare could have imagined. In fact, Kronborg was so intimidating that Shakespeare used it as the setting for his 16th century tragedy Hamlet, one of his most famous plays.
In the late 1500s, Frederik II reconstructed the medieval Krogen into a Renaissance castle, unique in its appearance and size throughout Europe. However, the royal apartments, halls and chambers of Kronborg are still stark in comparison to the exquisite Frederiksborg, reconstructed by Frederik’s son Christian IV beginning in 1599 and located just 35 minutes west in Hillerød. In 1629, a disastrous fire destroyed much of Kronborg, sparing only the chapel, which was small, yet magnificent with its stunning detail and antiquity.
The cannons guarding the Sound, the four bastions fortifying the castle and the lower catacombs, which housed soldiers and prisoners, were eerie and intimidating. However, as we descended lower into the casemates we finally spotted Holger Danske (“Holger the Dane”), the mythical Danish defender who sleeps at Kronborg until the Danes need him, at which time he’ll rise up and defend the mother country. Thankfully, on this day he lay undisturbed. Another peaceful day in Denmark.
The Ballroom, again, stark in comparison to the lavish rooms of Frederiksborg, yet with much more of a reputation, was the scene of many a boisterous fête. As Søren revealed, there was once such a magnificent party where, after each toast made by King Christian II (and there were dozens), trumpets sounded, drums rumbled, cannons fired and guests shattered their glasses, as was customary. However, when the party ended and the smoke cleared – three days later- all windows were in need of replacement and over 3,000 glasses had been broken!
Kronborg may have been known as the castle where all the business happened, however, in true Danish fashion, gather a few hundred Danes and a great party can be had anywhere!
There is just so much more to tell, so please follow the links within this post if you are interested in learning more about this phenomenal castle, and my Denmark trip. Also, be sure to check out the Scandinavian Travel Pinterest board to see all of the photos and hear more of my behind-the-scenes history lesson at Kronborg Castle!
Stay tuned next week for more on this Great Scandinavian Adventure!