Famous as a transit city among the tourists, Copenhagen is surprisingly a pleasant city to explore for a couple of days. Since most museums in Copenhagen are closed on Monday, I decided to visit Helsingør famed for its UNESCO World Heritage Site’s Kronborg Castle. From my hostel, the Steel House, I walked for 15 minutes to reach Copenhagen Central Station. From there, I took DSB Train No. 029 bound to Oresundstag, to stop at Helsingør St. To navigate and to know which train to take, I used the Visit Denmark apps.
Helsingør is a city located in the northern part of Copenhagen and can be reached by 45 minutes train ride from Copenhagen Central Station. It derives its name from the word “hals” referring to the “narrow strait of the Oresund, what is now Helsingør and Helsingborg, Sweden. Due to the narrow strait, there are atleast 70 departures in each direction every day. The port of Helsingør is the first thing you will see upon arrival.
Further up, I saw the Kronborg Castle across the waters which required me to pass by the marina. Plenty of locals were prepping their boats for a fishing outing.
Sitting on the King’s Quay at Helsingør, is a large, colourful fish sculpture made of garbage and miscellaneous floating objects that have drifted to shore or onto riverbanks, in an effort to raise public awareness of environmental issues. The sculpture was completed in 2014 by the Japanese artist Hideaki Shibata. The Oresund has not been trawled since 1930s making it thriving with underwater flora and fauna. The Oresund is vulnerable to development and non-perishable plastic thrown into the world’s ocean.
Coming back to Kronborg Castle, it is listed as World Heritage Site as an example of a Renaissance castle which played a highly significant role in the history of northern Europe between the 16th century to 18th century. The Kronborg Castle dates back to 1420s when King Eric III of Pomerania built the Krogen fortress to collect the dues from the ships wishing to enter or leave the Baltic Sea through the Oresund. To help enforce his demand, he built the Krogen at the narrowest point of the straits.
In 1972, King Frederik II married Sophie of Mecklenburg. After the wedding festivities, the royal couple visited Krogen with their friends. The King liked the fortress so much that he had master builders to remodel the old fortress to a castle as a gift to his beloved wife. Anyone who paid attention to reading the Kronborg castle’s exhibits and signs will be attracted to the heartwarming story of how King Frederik met Sophie of Mecklenberg. The story began when 38-year-old Frederik II shifted his attention from reigning stint of 11 years to finding a bride. His choice fell on Margrethe of Pomerania. Margaret of Pomerania travelled to Denmark with her entourage which included the Duke and Duchess of Mecklenburg and their 14-year-old daughter Sophie. He fell in love with Sophie and the unfortunate Margrethe had to return home empty-handed.
In 1574, King Frederik II constructed the outstanding Renaissance castle and the surrounding fortifications, which is now known as Kronborg Castle. After the fire of 1629, the castle was re-constructed almost exactly as it was before except for the Chapel which was not ravaged by the fire. As there were about 1.8 million ships paying toll at Kronborg Castle between 15th century to 18th century, the castle and its fortresses become the symbol of Denmark’s power.
After the Swedish conquest of Kronborg Castle in 1658, the power of the magnificent Renaissance castle diminished. From 1785 to 1922, the Royal Danish Army moved in to the castle. It was after the Royal Danish Army abandoning the Kronborg Castle that restoration process took place and the castle was then open to public.
400 years ago, William Shakespeare wrote Hamlet. The play became the most performed drama in the world. Hamlet is the story of the Danish prince Hamlet and his tragic fate. The playwright’s inspiration for the tragedy was the Danish legendary hero Amled and the magnificent castle of Kronborg.
Interestingly, Shakespeare had never stepped foot at the Kronborg Castle. He must have heard about the court life in Kronborg Castle from his actors who had performed at Kronborg Castle or noble friends who visited him in London. It is believed that the Hamlet bears remarkable semblance to the Danish chronicles of the Jutland chieftain son’s tales. Instead of choosing Jutland as the background setting, Hamlet chose the Kronborg Castle which has a reputable court life in the magnificent castle.
During the summer, all visitors to Kronborg Castle will be able to meet the famous characters from the play as they move around from chambers and rooms. The characters are not only acting from the playwright but interact with the visitors who will be welcome to experience the daily life of the characters.
After enjoying the show by the main casts of Hamlet, I explored the royal bedroom chambers. I stayed on at the Queen’s Gallery for the play by Queen Gertrude, who was Hamlet’s mother and also the Queen of Denmark. The Queen’s Gallery was where the queen and the ladies of the court passed through on their way to grand banquets in the castle’s Great Ballroom.
The magnificent Great Ballroom with black and white flooring. On the wall of the ballroom lie art pieces collected from glorious days. One of the exhibition areas has access to the rooftop where I got to view the aerial view of the Helsingor city.
The casemates consist of two storeys with the upper storey had a number of practical purposes such as a guard room, a smithery and the stables. Meanwhile, the lower storey was a safe shelter during times of wars. Imagine how the soldiers had to hold up in the damp and bad-lit casemates in case of seiges.
Inside the casemates, the legendary hero Holger the Dane is sound asleep. With arms crossed, the old giant rests after the glorious deeds that he performed in the past. According to the legend, if Denmark is threatened by foreign enemy, Holger the Dane will be awakened to protect Denmark. Although I only heard of the legend for the first time in Kronborg, there are many similar stories told all over Europe. It was until Hans Christian Andersen wrote a fairytale based on the legend that the connection with Kronborg was established. In 1907, the sculptor H.P. Pedersen made the famous status of Holger the Dane, which is now located in the casemates.
Once I finished touring the Kronborg Castle, I walked along the scenic route. It was here that I first experienced the infamous Arctic wind. I found a spot under the tree overlooking the sea to eat my sandwich for lunch. Next destination in Helsingor is the Maritime Museum of Denmark, which will be covered in next post!