Posted in Travel

The Castle Behind Hamlet – Copenhagen Day 4

Shakespeare in Denmark? Yes, you read that right. Our first day trip outside of Copenhagen took us back in time to the setting inspiration for Shakespeare’s Hamlet: Kronborg Castle.

Looking for more castle tours? Check out our visit to Rosenborg.

Sometimes it’s nice to get out of the big city and go see something further afield. That’s what we decided to do on day 4 of our trip to Copenhagen. Hopping on an early morning train, we were soon on our way to Helsingør (Elsinore), the home of the infamous Kronborg Castle.

Not only is Kronborg the setting for good ol’ Billy Shakespeare’s Hamlet, it also reaped the wealth of the long-standing Sound dues, played host to a fierce siege, and holds Denmark’s great mythical figure Holger the Dane deep within its bowls.

The earliest iteration of a castle on these grounds came in the form of a medieval fortress called Krogen, built in 1420 by Eric of Pomerania. But by the 16th century, it was time for an upgrade. Enter Frederick II. Between 1574 and 1585, he turned the medieval fortress of Krogen into the renaissance powerhouse of Kronborg, funded in large part thanks to the Sound dues, which were a toll any ship wishing to pass through the Øresund (Sound) had to pay to the king. In this time, Kronborg gained such a reputation as a lavish court that Shakespeare went, yup, gonna have to use that somewhere.

Approaching Kronborg, I couldn’t help but be awed. It’s a massive fortress that juts out into the Sound and is visible even from the train station. It reminded me a lot of our visit to Stirling Castle in Scotland. As we approached the drawbridge entrance, I noticed a stone hand poking its fingers out of the water in the center of the moat. Every so often the hand would sway around. Nothing in the area explained what this was, so my brain immediately jumped to Ophelia drowning herself in Hamlet. This very well may have just been a random art installation that had nothing to do with that at all, but that’s the connection I made at least. Its true purpose shall forever remain one of life’s great mysteries.

When you enter the gates of Kronborg, you step into a large inner courtyard, with several different doors leading to the various places you can visit in the castle. When we first arrived, a man dressed as Hamlet was performing one of the play’s monologues, so we decided to be (get it?) good guests and watch. Every August, Kronborg puts on a Shakespeare festival with performances of Hamlet, and although that would have been cool to see (we were there in May), our private monologuer was fun too.

Our first stop was the castle’s chapel, one of the few places that survived the fire of 1629 that destroyed much of the rest of Kronborg, including many of its treasures (which explains why many rooms contain little stuff; most of the original items were lost either then or later to Sweden).

We then took the hike up the 145 spiraling steps leading to the top of the Canon Tower for a fabulous view of the Sound and surrounding town. Across the narrow Sound lies Sweden (specifically the city of Helsingborg), so close it’s easy to see and even easier to understand the many conflicts that arose between the two countries in the past. This conflict bubbled for many years until Sweden bombed Kronborg in 1658, holding the castle under siege for three weeks before Kronborg finally surrendered. Starting in 1688, with the castle back in Danish hands, many defensive improvements were made to ensure something like that could never happen again.

During the siege, Danish soldiers would have holed up down in the casemates, underground passages and storage rooms running beneath Kronborg — and our next stop. Winding our way through the dank and musty interweaving tunnels and rooms with only a penlight to guide us, we had a lot of fun exploring down below — and scaring each other. There are a few lights here and there, but it’s mostly pitch black, especially the farther in you go, so if you’re looking to explore the entirety of the casemates, you’ll want to make sure to bring a light!

Welcoming us to the casemates was the statue of Holger the Dane (Ogier the Dane, Holger Danske), a famous mythical legend in Denmark. Springing originally from French medieval literature, where he helped to save France, Holger eventually found his way over to Denmark to much fanfare and, tired from his many battles, later settled into the Kronborg underground to take a long, long nap. You can find him still sleeping there now, encased in stone but, ever the soldier, his sword remains at the ready in his hands. According to the legend, Holger will only awaken when Denmark is in danger and he must rise once again to save the day. Lucky for us, Mr. Holger stayed asleep while we we there.

Our time for being mole-people over, we stepped into the light of the upper world once again and moved into the rooms open to the public. We wandered through the Great Hall and ballroom, as well as the king and queen’s bedrooms and chambers. We also walked along the outside of Kronborg, enjoying the fresh sea air.

Overall, I enjoyed visiting Kronborg, especially our time spent down in the casemates, and I would definitely recommend it as a spot to check out. But was it my favourite castle of the trip? No. That spot is reserved for Frederiksborg Castle, so stay tuned for that upcoming post (psst, here’s the post now)! I typically prefer castles that are filled with a few more things and with more rooms to see, and, despite its size, there actually aren’t many rooms you can go into at Kronborg. But its historical significance is unquestionable, so I’m glad to have been able to add it to my growing list of castle visits, and still think it’s worth a visit for those interested in castles and the history.

Tune in next Friday for Day 5 of our 2019 Copenhagen adventure!

Or check out the rest of my travel blogs!


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