Yes, this place actually exists! Except the castle’s name is not Elsinore, it is Kronborg Slot (added to the UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites list in 2000). You can come and see for yourself, it is in the town of Helsingør, Denmark, on the northeastern tip of the island of Zealand at the narrowest point of the sound, (Øresund) between Denmark and Sweden. The sound is here only 4 kilometers (2.5 mi) wide, so a fortification here has always had an immense strategic and economic importance, and it has been repurposed several times throughout the years.
The castle dates back to a stronghold, Krogen, built in the 1420s by King Eric VIII (Eric of Pomerania*). King Frederick II** transformed the stronghold into a Renaissance Castle from 1574 to 1585. Much of the castle was destroyed in a fire in 1629, but King Christian IV subsequently had it rebuilt.
*Related reading: Roskilde Cathedral, King Pantsless, where Erik of Pomerania becomes King through adoption by King Pantsless (Margrete I)
**Related reading: Roskilde Cathedral – The Renaissance Ruler, about Frederick II and his young Queen.
Per a legend linked to Arthurian myth, a Danish king known as Holger the Dane, was taken to Avalon by Morgan le Fay. He returned to rescue France from danger, then traveled to Kronborg castle, where he sleeps until he is needed to save his homeland. He mst be knackered and overworked to sleep this long! His beard has grown to extend along the ground. A statue of the sleeping Holger has been placed in the castle.
The Ballroom was, when it was completed in 1582, the largest hall in Northern Europe. It measures a whopping 62 x 12 meters. The present floor and fireplaces are from the rebuilding 1924-38.
The chapel was inaugurated in 1582, but in 1785, as the castle was being fitted for use as army barracks, the chapel was fitted out as gymnasium and fencing hall, and the furniture was stored away. In 1838, the chapel was refurnished with the original furniture, and reinaugurated in 1843.
The Swedish army besieged and conquered the castle during the Dano-Swedish War of 1658-60, and the castle was deprived of many of its most precious art works. The Swedish conquest demonstrated that the castle was far from impregnable, so after the castle was back on Danish hands, the castle defenses were strengthened scientifically. After their completion, Kronborg was considered the strongest fortress in Europe.
From 1739 until the 1900s, Kronborg was used as a prison, and the inmates worked on the castles fortifications. From January 17, 1772 to April 30, 1772, Kronborg was the place of imprisonment of Queen Caroline Mathilde***, following the scandal of her affair with Johann Friedrich Struensee.
***Related reading: Royal Shenanigans, where I tell the story of the Royal infidelity that landed the young Queen in prison.
***Related reading: Roskilde Cathedral – Power struggles and insanity, the story of the mentally ill King, the imprisoned Queen’s hubby.
We do have to talk about Hamlet, William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, which is set here at Kronborg. In the play, it is called Elsinore, though that is actually the anglicized name of the surrounding town Helsingør. The play has been performed several times in the courtyard and at various locations on the fortifications. For those of you that are dire Hamlet-fans, here are some famous Hamlets:
The castle was opened to the public in 1938, and they host a fantastic Christmas Marked two weekends in December every year. I absolutely recommend visiting Helsingør and Kronborg Castle. And should you happen to be in the area in December, make sure you visit the Christmas Marked!