kalmar castle or getting closer to erik
Some feelings for certain historical characters, more strictly: to Swedish kings, more strictly: to Swedish mad kings, I do not hide. Those feelings are not the healthiest, probably, but they help me in work, throwing me to different places, connected to histories that I am hooked on. I wanted to go to Kalmar for quite a while now, mostly because of the cathedral, but in the end it was the castle that made the greatest impression on me.
KALMAR CASTLE - THE TOUR
Kalmar Castle is one of the biggest and the best preserved buildings from Swedish early modern age. Because of its location it served as important strategic point and as one of the royal family’s residences it became a symbol of its power.
The beginning of the castle started with a defence tower from 12th century. Here tax and goods collected for trade were stored, here soldiers stationed, here meetings and tournaments were held. The city of Kalmar was established in 13th century. Swedish king Magnus I Birgersson ordered to build more towers and a defence wall. In July 1397 on the castle one of the most important of medieval Scandinavian history events took place – the signing of the union of Kalmar.
The castle was under reconstruction since 1540s. The changes began with Gustav Vasa. He ordered to tear down the medieval residential part of the castle and build the wing from scratch. His firstborn son, Erik, was focused mainly on castle’s interiors and smaller buildings, situated around the castle, designed for recreation and relaxed time. Johan III ordered to build three storey worehouse, castle dwell in 1579 and castle church in 1592. He was the one to give the castle renaissance style, which is seen until today.
The last king who resided on the castle, was Charles X. He was responsible, in 1658 by signing the treaty of Roskilde, to join to his country southern parts of nowadays’s Sweden, which previously belonged to Denmark. This event changed the position of Kalmar – the city was no longer situated by the border and lost its function as the most important Swedish military bastion in the south. Castle started to be used as prison, storage and even a distillery.
And from the prison we started our tour around the castle. The prison is located on the first floor, as well as the exhibition about history of the castle and all Vasa family members. On the second floor chambers and the church are situated, also open for visitors.
The prison is known today as women’s prison, although this term was mentioned for the first time in 1847. Already in 13th century prisoners, mainly for political reasons, were held in one of the tower’s dungeons. In 16th century prisoners were moved to cells located in the other part of the courtyard. This wing of the castle, in which women’s prison is situated, was built in 1654. Probably already from the beginning of 19th century it was designed for women. In 1852 the current Kalmar prison was built and the castle stopped being used as a county jail.
It’s well-known that you don’t go to prison to be well-fed, and as food is an important part of life (at least of my life), we moved on to the east wing, where the royal kitchen was located. Royal visits always caused extra work to the kitchen staff. Feeding the royal family, the court and the soldiers required proper and efficient organisation. Food, wood and water supplies needed to be taken care of. Mostly meals were cooked and food was preserved. Meat was smoked or dried. Bread was baked two times a week at the most, because of extra usage of the wood. Bread was baked from rye flour, oats or corn. Wheat bread was perceived as special and it was served only during holidays.
One of the chef’s speciality was a pate. Not only pate’s form were extraordinary, but even the type of meat that it was made from seemed pretty exotic. For example, pike pate was served to resemble wriggling fish. Pates were served with coats made from peacock’s feathers. Sometimes they were also served with living birds inside, so they could fly away with the moment of the first cut.
Next to the kitchen, dresses of princesses and boards telling the story of all Kalmar besieges, there is a room dedicated to heliocentric theory. The reason why to arrange a separate room for this theme is probably resonating with an interested in astrology, shared from Marthin Luther to Swedish kings. Gustav, Erik, Johan or Charles could announce certain prayer day if omens had been sighted. Those omens were especially bonded with Erik’s life, as they were seen on the sky since the day he was born and used as an explanation to his tragic life.
This is what I and Erik have in common – we are both cursed. Just my curse is about closing the churches I came to visit. It was like this also this time. Man at the reception desk said, that the castle church is closed for visitors due to the wedding. He asked us to understand the situation, as the castle church in Kalmar is one of the most popular in Sweden to receive sacraments. Nevertheless, he saw what a misfortune that message was for me, so as soon as the wedding ended, he came to tell us, that we have around an hour to check to church. So we rushed to the second floor and looked at the church, finished in 1592. Before that one was ready, there was another church, located under the Green Hall. Johan III ordered to build a new one. The first rows in pews, as well as “the Queen’s chair” and “the King’s chair” were installed in 1615.
Then it was time to look at the ceilings. I was never a big fan of ceilings, but those from this castle gained a place in my historian’s heart. The most famous Kalmar’s ceiling is the one from the Golden Hall. At the beginning this hall was used as the king’s reception hall. Today is nearly empty. On the wall portraits of Swedish royals are hanging, mostly they are copies of the paintings from Nationalmuseum in Stockholm. And there is the ceiling, of course. It was finished in 1576 for Johan III and it survived in its original condition until today – only one coffer needed to be replaced in 1872.
The Golden Hall is connected to Agda’s room. Agda Persdotter was Erik’s mistress and they lived in Kalmar between 1558-1560. Agda was the daughter of a court judge from Stockholm. Agda and Erik had two daughters, Virigina and Constantia, both born already in Kalmar. When Erik became a king, Agda was married to a nobleman and their daughters were raised by Erik’s half-sister.
As we are talking about Erik (surprise, surprise), there is also his chamber in the castle. When Agda’s room is mostly recreated, Erik’s chamber preserved its original interior from around 1560s. The coffered ceiling and the intarsia panelling were build by German masters. Around 1570 the stucco hunting scene was added above panelling. To the left of the fireplace there is a secret door leading to the king’s private toilet. The door is decorated with a picture of Kalmar castle as it looked like in the 1560s.
Erik’s brother and the next king of Sweden, Johan III resided at Kalmar castle only for just over a year. With him he had his newly wedded wife Gunilla Bielke and children from his previous marriage with Polish princess, Katarina Jagiellonica – Sigismund and Anna. They used the Grey Hall as their dining room. Johan ordered to decorate the hall with frescos, wooden panels with an intarsia-work and a coffered ceiling.
While the Golden Hall was king’s reception room, queen was seeing her guests in the Checkered Hall. In 1585 intarsia panelling was installed there. The panelling was created after a continental model, but it was constructed by Swedish carpenters. The intarsia contains 17 types of wood. The hall probably had a coffered ceiling, but today nothing of it remains.
From the Checkered Hall one can go to the Queens’s Suite. The room was built in the 1550s. In the 1580s it was divided into two rooms by a wall. There is no wall anymore, but the division can be seen thanks to different patterns on the ceiling. The part of the room towards the courtyard was the queen’s bedchamber and the northern part, towards the fireplace, was the queen’s waiting room.
In the queen’s bedchamber can be found the only surviving piece of furniture at Kalmar Castle. Although it was not made for the royal couple in the first place, just as a wedding gift for Anders Bielke and Sophie Rosencrantz in 1628. Their coat of arms can still be seen at the foot of the bed.
On our way there were many ceilings to see and many boards to read. The castle truly deserves to be visited. There is a lottery when it comes with accessibility to the church, but even without it the visit is worth it. Although the castle is a popular destination, during our visit it was almost empty and we could spend two hours in peace.
Practical information can be found on castle’s webstie:
-opening hours: http://www.kalmarslott.se/english/make-us-a-visit/opening-hours
-price of admission: http://www.kalmarslott.se/english/make-us-a-visit/admission
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