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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Kronborg Castle

Kronborg Castle is situated near the town of Helsingor on the great northeastern tip of Zealand at the narrowest point of the oresund, the sound between Denmark and Sweden. In this part, the sound is only 4 km wide, hence the strategic importance of maintaining a fortress at this location commanding one of the few outlets of the Baltic Sea. The castle has for centuries been one of the most important Renaissance castles in Northern Europe and was added to UNESCO's World Heritage Sites list on November 30, 2000. The castles story dates back to a fortress, Krogen, built in the 1420s by the Danish king, Eric of Pomerania. The king insisted on the payment of sound dues by all ships wishing to enter or leave the Baltic Sea to help enforce his demands, he built a powerful fortress controlling the sound. It then consisted of a number of buildings inside a surrounding wall.

Kronborg CastleKronborg acquired its current name in 1585 when it was rebuilt by Frederick II into a magnificent Renaissance castle, unique in its appearance and size throughout Europe. In 1629, a moment's carelessness by two workmen caused much of the castle to go up in flames. Only the Chapel was spared by the strength of its arches. Christian IV put great efforts into restoring the castle and by 1639 the exterior was once again magnificent, but the interior never fully regained its former glory.

The Swedish conquest of Kronborg in 1658 by Carl Gustaf Wrangel demonstrated that the castle was far from impregnable. Afterwards, the defences were strengthened significantly. From 1688-90, an advanced line of defence was added called the Crownwork. Shortly afterwards, a new series of ramparts were built around it. After their completion, Kronborg was considered the strongest fortress in Europe.

From 1739 until the 1900s, Kronborg was used as a prison. The inmates were guarded by the soldiers billeted in the castle. The convicts had been sentenced to work on the castle's fortifications. The convicts were divided into two categories: those with minor sentences were categorised as honest and were allowed to work outside the castle walls, those serving sentences for violence, murder, arson or the like were categorised as dishonest and had to serve the full sentence doing hard physical labour inside the castle ramparts. Otherwise, they served their time under the same conditions they all had to wear chains and spend nights in cold and damp dungeons.

From January 17, 1772 to April 30, 1772, Kronborg was the place of imprisonment of Queen Caroline Mathilde sister of George III. From 1785 to 1922, the castle was completely under military administration. During this period, a number of renovations were completed. The captain of every ship sailing through the channel had to state the value of ships cargo. Money that had to be paid to the King of Denmark was then calculated depending on the value of the cargo. The king had the right to buy the cargo for the price the ships captain stated. This policy prevented captains from stating prices that were too low.

Kronborg CastleKronborg Castle
Kronborg houses a statue of Ogier the Dane, who, according to legend, slumbers here until the day Denmark is in grave danger, at which time he will arise and save the nation. The castle formed the setting for the television Christmas calendar, Jul pa Kronborg which means Christmas at Kronborg, which featured both Hamlet and Ogier the Dane, as well as Christian IV. The faience manufacturer Royal Copenhagen created a 2010-series plaquette to honour the castle bearing the words "KRONBORG SLOT".

Kronborg is famous by "Elsinore," the setting of William Shakespeare's famous tragedy Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Hamlet was performed in the castle for the first time to mark the 200th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, with a cast consisting of soldiers from the castle garrison. The stage was in the telegraph tower in the southwest corner of the castle. The play has since been performed several times in the courtyard and at various locations on the fortifications. Later performers to play Hamlet at the castle included Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Christopher Plummer, Derek Jacobi, and in 2009 Jude Law.

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