Woke up this morning, way too early, in fact, early enough to see the early morning sunrise reflected off the building outside my hotel room window. We had asked the Forum for ideas on what to do today, and the consensus had come back… go to Kronborg Castle and make sure we add in a stop in Nyhavn to eat local food and drink local beer and watch the people go by. So that’s exactly what we had on our agenda for the day. We took the train to Helsingor, which took about 40 minutes from Copenhagen Central Station. The Copenhagen Pass has been great – covered all public transport costs and nearly all our musuem and attraction entry costs.
Today we had simply stunning weather to go out and visit, Kronborg Castle, also known as Hamlet’s Castle.
Kronborg is both a castle and a major stronghold in the town of Helsingor, it is considered one of the most important Renaissance castles in Northern Europe and has been UNESCO World Heritage listed since 2000. It was also immortalised as Elsinore in Shakespeare’s epic saga, Hamlet.
The castle is located at the north-easternmost tip of the island of Zealand, which is also the narrowest point of the Oresund Sound – the body of water between modern day Denmark and Sweden, just as it was at the time the castle was built. Here, it is barely 4 kilometers to Sweden. The coastal fortification was of major strategic importance as it commanded one of the few outlets to the Baltic Sea. The castle is surrounded by garrisons and barrack buildings. Main entrance to the castle keep. The central courtyard and the Canon Tower. Love the old Medieval spiral staircases with their worn stone staris. The King’s apartments. See that land over there? That’s Sweden. Much closer than you’d expect. We were headed into ‘the King’s Tapestry Rooms’, which I have to admit I was entering with some trepidation after seeing the very very frightening, Queen’s tapestries made for Queen Margarethe II on the occasion of her 50th birthday at Christiansborg Palace. Thankfully these were not so scary.
Tapestires, late period, possibly 17th-18th century. There was no information on these ones, they are not the “King’s Tapestries” that we were looking for. Small apartments with primarily 17th century furnishings. Another later period tapestry… …with a chick riding a goat. Gotta love it. The King’s bedchamber… which seems very modest compared to some of the grand bedchambers we have seen for monarchs in the last couple of weeks. Older tapestries in the Little Gallery, though these too, are still not the “King’s Tapestries” that we were looking for. Detail: Pelican or Pheonix?
Finally, we found “The Kings Tapestries” Teh walls of the Little Hall are furnished with seven tapestries that were originally from a series of some forty tapestries each depicting the one hundred Danish Kings.. The walls of the Little Hall are furnished with seven tapestries originally from a series of forty tapestries portraying one hundred Danish kings. These Medieval textile masterpieces include the Tapestry depicting Oluf (reigned 1376-1387 and Tapestry depicting King Knud VI (reigned 1182-1202) and they were all commissioned in 1580. There are another seven tapestries from this Medieval series hanging at the National Museum of Denmark, which we visited the other day – but at the time, we could not find any information on the tapestries we viewed there because the Medieval galleries were not so well labelled. So, mystery solved! Unfortunately, other than these fourteen surviving tapestries, the remainder have been lost.
Tapestry depicting Erik VII and Erick VIII – Erick VII was brutally murdered in a regicide at a barn at Finnerup, but his fate is scarcely mentioned in the verses at the top of the tapestry. His son, Erick VIII, is acknowledged for having avenged his father’s murder as is proper. Tapestry of Knud VI – the king wears richly ornamented body armour with sword and shield, emphasizing his royal regalia. He bears a breastplate with the imperial eagle referring to his opposition to the then GeEmperorperor. Tapestry depciting Abel – a quiet and pleasant scene with a group of hunters (both mounted and on foot). The setting sharply contrasts wit hthe ferocious acts spelled out in the verses: “For kingship I did crave, thus my brother I sent to the grave”. The symbolism of the falcon with its claws on a smaller bird, while a poisonous snake slips through the shrubbery is a classical theme of good fighting evil. In this case, the evil slips away leaving the brother in the grips of his king, err the smaller bird in the grips of the falcon. Eventually Abel was killed himself in an uprising only two years after this ruthless assassination. Tapestry of Oluf – son of Norwegian King Haakon VI and Margrete (daughter of Danish King Valdemar II), Oluf was considered a king by name but not by deed. Oluf died before he came of age and his mother Margrete was left to defend the kingdom from Sweden and eventually unite her three Kingdoms. Tapestry of Erick VI – wearing a crown and wearing an outlandish non-period costume, it is supposed to signify that he was king ‘in distant times’. He draws the viewer’s attention to the animal life to the left of the king, a wolf lurks (the incarnation of evil) sneaking up on its unsuspecting prey. All is reference to his ill-fated destiny, he was assassinated by the aforementioned Abel, who envied his crown. The wolf preying on the bird that is preying on the eel. Tapestry of Christoffer II – surrounded by noblemen’s pursuits of the hunt and the tournament, Christoffer is being mocked for his lack of jousting and warfare abilities.. “For the Kingdom’s dignity little cared, much land gave away with others shared, against the subjects I was also tough, so from my throne they pushed me off!” Tapestry depicting Valdemar II “the Victorious” – clad in shining armour, the king caries his crown as the symbol of his royalty and brandishing a sword ready for combat. The verses give a full account of his many successful war campaigns, and it seems at least one king has been remembered kindly by history! These tapestries are fascinating – I wish there had been decent information on the other seven that we saw at the National Museum.As I was saying earlier, Kronborg is also famous as “Elsinore,” the setting of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, Hamlet (though how a guy born in Stratford upon Avon with no formal/noble education knew anything about Danish history which is effectively the middle of nowhere to an Englishman from Stratford, is beyond me!?!) Anyway, Hamlet was performed to mark the 200th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 1816, complete with a cast of soldiers from the castle garrison. The stage was in the telegraph tower in the southwest corner of the castle. The play has been repeatedly performed in the courtyard by such famous actors as Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Christopher Plummer, Derek Jacobi, David Tennant, Jude Law, and of course my own personal hero, Sir Kenneth Branagh.
We went back down to the courtyard to find the chapel which is located on the ground floor in the south wing, having been consecrated in 1582. In 1785 the castle was fitted out as an army barracks, and the chapel was temporarily repurposed as a fencing hall and gymnasium with all the furniture thankfully stored away. In the mid-1800s, the chapel was restored and reinaugurated in 1843. The nave of the Kronborg Chapel. Just gorgeous medieval timberwork, and gilded leather walls.
Next, we ventured below the castle to the veritable rabbit warren that is the storage cellars of Krongborg. Here, according to Arthurian myth, a Danish King known as Holger the Dane was taken to Avalon by Morgan le Fay. Holger is said to have returned to rescue France from danger before traveling to Kronborg, where now he sleeps until he is needed to save his homeland.
Worn steps leading down the the dark cold cellars.
A statue of the sleeping Danish King, Holger, has been placed here, deep in the cellars of the castle… ever vigilant for his homeland. On a less lyrical note – this statue was the most difficult thing to photograph ever! They have him displayed in a pitch black cavern with lighting from several sides that slowly oscillates in brightness from very dim to overly bright. I can think of no other reason for doing so, other than to make him hard to photograph! Anyway, about twelve pics later and job done. The cellars penetrated even further under the castle than the chambers containing Holger’s sleeping statue to large storage areas.
We eventually popped back out into the bright sunlight to the battlements… with cannon pointing out over the Sound to… Sweden!
Interestingly, every ship that sailed through the Sound had to pay a toll. These tolls were effectively a tax paid to the King of Denmark, calculated based on the value of the ship’s cargo. The captain of any ship passing the sound had to estimate the value of his cargo and pay the taxes accordingly – to prevent captains from understating the value of their cargo and thereby reduce the toll payable, the King had the right to buy any cargo for the price stated by a ship’s captain… thus very cleverly dissuading the captains from undervaluing their cargo. The Sound toll was only abolished in 1857. ALL our canon are for you, Sweden! Back into the main courtyard to access the Cannon Tower for views over the castle. Another winding Medieval staircase. The views are amazing, you can see for miles, well at least 2.3 of them – to Sweden! And back to the town of Helsingor.
A quick turn around the castle’s gift shops and we were off to find some lunch at the nearby Maritime Museum. The Maritime Museum may be one of the most unique buildings that I have ever encountered – it is built underground in what was a disused dry dock. You could easily walk past it and not notice it at all, were it not for the signage.
Cafe in the base of the dry dock.
Lunch of fish cakes, seaweed salad, home made tartare and pumpernickel bread. The museum has mostly late period maritime exhibits. Cafe courtyard. Auditorium in the Maritime Museum. After a quick jaunt through the Maritime Musuem, we head back into the city to partake of some typical ‘postcard’ Copenhagen. The weather was so lovely I took several photos and could not pick my favourite – so I have included a bunch here. Ann Weiwei, famous Beijing artist who is usually heavily represented at the Asia Pacific Triennial, has done a large installation work at the moment consisting of 3,500 salvaged life jackets that were used by refugees. They have been placed in the window frames of the famous art museum, the Kunsthal Charlottenborg, for World Refugee Day.
Just beautiful! We stopped for a waffle, and then whiled away the afternoon over beers and ciders.