Magnificent Danish Castle is the Setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Kronborg Castle in Denmark has a fascinating history and is now a World Heritage site that is visited by thousands of tourists from around the globe each year.
Located in the city of Helsingør, about 30 miles north of Copenhagen, Kronborg Slot is a magnificent Renaissance castle that overlooks the Øresund strait that separates Denmark and Sweden.
Kronborg Castle is probably best known as the setting of Hamlet and this imposing and well fortified structure provides a fitting home for Shakepeare’s tragic hero. But while the character and story of Hamlet are fiction, the castle of Kronborg has an interesting history of its own.
The History of Kronborg Castle
Kronborg Slot is situated in the strategically important area of the Øresund, or Sound, the stretch of water that lies between Denmark and Sweden. The fortifications of the castle were already in place by the 1300s when the city of Helsingør was captured by the armies of the Hanseatic League.
The castle was then rebuilt by Henry VII of Pomerania in 1420 for the purpose of levying tax on ships sailing through the narrow strait between Denmark and the Scania region of Sweden, which was then part of Denmark. The cannons of the castle pointed ominously towards the sea as a warning to those who would try to escape paying their sound dues. The castle would continue to be used as a means of collecting revenue for the king in this manner until the mid-1800s.
King Frederick II of Denmark commissioned the Dutch architect Jan van Paeschen to rebuild the castle in the late 1570s and the work was finally completed in 1585 under the supervision of Anthonis van Opbergen. The result of this refurbishment was one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in Europe.
Tragedy struck 1629 when a terrible fire swept through the castle which destroyed much of the building, sparing only the chapel. King Christian IV rebuilt the exterior of the castle to its former glory in 1639, although the interior was never rebuilt to the same level of magnificence. The exterior castle, however, remains as impressive as ever, despite raids from the Swedes which took place in the 1600s depriving the castle of much of its furnishings and art collections. In answer to these continuing raids, the fortifications of the castle were strengthened with a new series of ramparts, making Kronborg one of the strongest fortresses in Europe.
Throughout the 1700s up until the 1900s, Kronborg also served as a prison, with its convicts sentenced to work on the castle’s fortifications. The castle is equipped with a series of cramped dungeons where the inmates were forced to stay while they were not engaged in hard physical labor.
Kronborg was most recently used as army barracks and in 1923, when the army finally moved out, the castle was restored and turned into a museum.
Visiting Kronborg Castle Today
Kronborg Castle today is a World Heritage Site that attracts thousands of visitors from around the globe. Surrounded by a double ring of walls and moats, the castle with its elegant towers and spires is an imposing sight perched above its ramparts against the backdrop of the sea. Visitors can stroll around the extensive grounds where the cannons still stand in position as if ready to fire on those ships who refuse to pay their sound dues. The castle grounds offer a wonderful view of Helsingør Harbor and of Sweden across the Sound.
The interior of the castle is open to the public and visitors can admire the Renaissance chapel, the elegant royal apartments and the grand marbled Knight’s Hall. The castle houses an impressive collection of antique furniture, original tapestries and paintings. For those interested in the more macabre history of the castle’s role as a prison, tours of the casements, or dungeons, are available. In these cold and dark dungeons stands a statue of the sleeping Holger Danske (or Holger the Dane), the legendary Viking hero who is said will wake at the moment Denmark is in danger in order to defend her. The name Holger Danske was appropriately used as a password for the Danish resistance during the Second World War.
In addition to the castle, the grounds of Kronborg also host a number of working artists’ studios and the Maritime Museum. There is a café on the grounds and a gift shop offering souvenirs and maps.
During the summer, Kronborg hosts a production of Hamlet which has starred a number of famous actors such as John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi and, most recently, Jude Law in the title role. With its fascinating history and wealth of things to see and do, a visit to Kronborg Castle is a must for visitors to Denmark.
Information on Visiting Kronborg Castle
Kronborg Castle is located around 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Copenhagen in the city of Helsingør. The castle is accessible by train from Copenhagen on the Kystbanen or Coast Train. Get off at Helsingør Station (the end of the line) and the castle is about a 15-20 minute walk from the station. If arriving by car, take the E47 to Helsingør or take the more scenic Strandvejen or Coast Road.
The castle is open from May to September from 10.30 to 5.00 pm and is closed on Mondays from October to April. The Maritime Museum is open the same hours as the castle.