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Kastellet - A Copenhagen Fortress

Copenhagen has not always been such a peaceful place to live. In 1801 (when Nelson put the binocular before his blind eye and said the famous words: "I see no white flag!"), and again in 1807, the English fleet came calling (this time without Nelson), and these visits resulted in bombardments and sieges of Copenhagen, and the abduction of the Danish fleet. Because Denmark had chosen to support Napoleon instead of the allieds, Nelson was sent to deal with Denmark, and as the incident with the binocular indicates, Nelson was and is known for radical solutions, of which one is to totally remove any threat whenever possible. The British lived up to that tradition by invading Kastelled and keping troops there for six weeks in 1807.

[The ground plan of Kastellet; the plaque is in bronze and from 1964]

As far back as in 1626, an entrenchment was built by King Christian the Fourth in the Northern part of the defense wall of Copenhagen, in order to strengthen that section of the defenses. His second-oldest son, who succeded him on the throne, King Frederik the Third, decided to improve the defences on that spot even more, and "Kastellet" (Citadellet Frederikshavn) came into being. Finished in 1663, and located right behind "Den Lille Havfrue" (The Little Mermaid) and Langelinie, Kastellet was in its active days an almost self supplying fortification.

[Armor and utility - the duality of Kastellet]

The walls and grassy areas around Kastellet not only provide protection from invading forces, they also participate in ensuring a large degree of self sufficiency, or in other words, durability in case of a siege. Thus the cannon and the windmill were both necessary parts of Kastellet. (The fact that some of the cannons actually point toward Copenhagen itself is due to King Kristian the Third.'s concept of how to rule a country.)


The windmill is the third one on that spot, and was built in 1847, after the previous one was blown down. The mill is still fully functional, and is tested every year on October 28th.

[The Cowshed]

The bridge that leads to the top floor of one of the buildings of Kastellet is not meant for the soldiers - it provided a means for the cows that were kept on that very top floor to get to their grazing grounds, which also happened to be the grassy areas and walls of Kastellet.

[The Commandant's quarters]

At the center of Kastellet you find the Commandant's quarters, and the Danish national flag, "Dannebrog", which, according to the legend, fell from the sky during King Valdemar 2nd's battle against the Estonians on June 15th. 1219, and helped encourage the Danish army, which eventually was victorious.

[The parade ground]

In front of the Commandant's quarters you find the parade grounds, lined by trees. Here not only the parades take place, but also just about all traffic inside Kastellet pass this space, making it the busiest place in the fortress. However, the soldiers tend to avoid the place just around sundown - if they are caught there when orders are given to lower the flag, they have to stand to attention and salute until the little ceremony is finally over, before they can proceed.

[The fortifications of Kastellet]

The walls around Kastelled were designed in such a fashion that all walls could be fired upon from at least one other wall. That way an attack on a wall could always be fought not only from the soldiers on top of that wall, but also through supporting fire from another wall.

[One of the two only entries into Kastellet]

There are only two roads into Kastellet, if you exclude trying to scale a wall - the gates facing North and South. This is the South gate, through which the characteristical buildings of Kastellet can be seen. Today, Kastellet houses both Army and Home Guard functions, but still have a contingent of soldiers guarding the fortress, and parading around it every evening before the flag is lowered.

[Kastellet also has other inhabitants]

Today Kastellet is a peaceful place to visit. Grass everywhere, and a number of water birds, including this (in Denmark) rather rare fellow who is known to prefer tranquility. So, of course a location, which today is within the center of Copenhagen, is just the place for him.


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Copyright © Hans-Henrik T. Ohlsen 1996-2009

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