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Kronborg Castle and Holger Danske

Shakespeare's play, "Hamlet" takes place in the Danish castle of Kronborg, which is located in Elsinore or Helsingør North of Copenhagen, on the place where Denmark is closest to Sweden - only 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) of water divides the two countries.

[Kronborg Castle]

Originally built in 1420, its purpose was to help collect the excise and other taxes and fees from ships wanting to sail through Øresund, which were introduced in 1429. Its present size and design replaced the old castle in 1574-85, when the Dutch architects Hans van Paeschen and Antonie van Opbergen built the renaissance style castle we know today.

[The canon battery of Kronborg]

In order to be effective in the collection of money from the passing ships, not to mention making sure that no invading forces from Sweden suddenly decided to drop in uninvited, Kronborg was equipped with state-of-the-art weaponry.

In typical Danish fashion, the taxes required to pass Kronborg were of course raised just after the bigger castle with its stronger weapons were finished.

[Sweden in the sight of the canons]

For centuries, Sweden was the prime enemy of Denmark, which accounts for the strength of Kronborg at the time of construction - it was in its time the most powerful fortress found in the Nordic countries, and housed a large garrison.

[The King's private chamber]

King Frederik the Second lived at Kronborg after its expansion, which helps illustrate the importance of Kronborg in both military and political terms. Above you see his personal daily living room. From the windows he could look into the courtyard in front of the final gates into Kronborg and see for himself who were arriving at the castle.

[The Kronborg Court Yard]

The yard of Kronborg gives a good impression of the size of the castle. Today, you can go on a tour of the castle, visit the Maritime and Trade Museum on the ground floor or take a tour of the catacombs, which are very extensive.

[Holger Danske - Danish national hero]

In the catacombs you find one of the major Danish heroes - Holger Danske, or Ogier the Dane, mentioned in chapter 24 of "Legends Of Charlemagne" or "Romance Of The Middle Ages" by Thomas Bulfinch. The statue was created by H. P. Pedersen-Dan in 1907. According to the legend, he was a mercenary at the court of the Franco-Roman emperor Charles, or Charlemagne, in the 8th. century. The legend has it that he never lost a battle in his life. However, he got increasingly homesick, and finally decided to walk from the South of France and Emperor Charles' court, back to Denmark - which he did.

[Holger Danske en face]

Upon arrival at Kronborg (or what was there before 1420) he sat down and immediately fell asleep, and still sleeps today. According to the legend, if Denmark at some point in time should have its sovereignty threatened, Holger will once more awake and do battle for Denmark! The fact that he sits in what was the stables during the period when the garrison of Kronborg was operative apparently didn't bother neither horses nor Holger Danske. On the lighter side, he's not many meters away from the brewery that supplied the 8 liters (app. 2 gallons) of beer per day, each soldier was entitled to.

[The trianglular prison hole]

On a more somber note, Kronborg has one of the most unpleasant prison cells around. It is wide up front, and narrows and narrows until it's basically not wide or tall enough for a man. Bars were available for a both physical and mental torture - smaller and smaller bars were fitted as time went, shrinking and shrinking the space available until the prisoner could do nothing but stand up at the back of the cell all the time. In addition, the temperature in the cell is a steady 6-7 degrees centigrade or 43 degrees fahrenheit all year around. Only one person ever survived that treatment.

[The main gate of Kronborg]

The main gate of Kronborg is kept till last for a reason. Guide tip: inside the gate (to the right on the picture, seen from inside the gate) is one of the most extensive souvenir shops seen in Denmark, which sells both the "common" souvenirs as well as souvenirs not seen anywhere else. Make sure your tour guests are allowed time here.


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Copyright © Hans-Henrik T. Ohlsen 1996-2009

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