Located on a strategically important site commanding the Sund, the stretch of water between Denmark and Sweden, the Royal castle of Kronborg at Helsingør (Elsinore) is of immense symbolic value to the Danish people and played a key role in the history of northern Europe in the 16th-18th centuries. Work began on the construction of this outstanding Renaissance castle in 1574, and its defences were reinforced according to the canons of the period's military architecture in the late 17th century. It has remained intact to the present day. It is world-renowned as Elsinore, the setting of Shakespeare's Hamlet.
Kronborg Castle is an outstanding example of the Renaissance castle, and one which played a highly significant role in the history of this region of northern Europe.
After he began to levy duty on ships passing through the Sound between Sjaelland and Skåne around 1425, King Erik of Pomerania built a castle known as Krogen on the site occupied today by Kronborg. It was in 1574 that King Frederik II of Denmark used this site for the construction of his palace, to the designs of the architect Hans van Paeschen. It was given the name of Kronborg three years later, when the Flemish architect, Anthonis van Opbergen from Malines, was instructed to carry out a thorough restoration and enlargement of the palace. One of the new elements added at this time was a capacious banqueting hall, which was used for balls and theatrical performances.
On September 1629 Kronborg was devastated by fire, only the walls being left standing. Christian IV immediately commissioned the Surveyor General, Hans van Steenwinckel the Younger, to carry out the restoration of the castle, which largely conformed to its original appearance. Under Frederik III and Christian V large fortifications were built, the outer defensive works were considerably enlarged under Frederik IV, and the castle itself underwent substantial restoration and alteration. In 1785 it passed to the military. It has remained intact to the present day. It is world-renowned as Elsinore, the setting of Shakespeare's Hamlet.
The oldest part of Kronborg Castle consists of the two lower floors on the eastern end of the north wing, which formed part of Erik of Pomerania's Kroge castle. The medieval brickwork here extends well into the present-day third storey. Frederik II's palace was based on this relatively modest structure. The north wing was extended and joined to the old banqueting hall on the west, which was divided up to become the kitchen, brewhouse and guest chambers. To the south a medieval brick house was converted into an imposing royal chapel. The result was a three-sided complex of two-storey buildings; there appear to have been no buildings on the east side, overlooking the Sound, which was closed only by the earlier curtain wall.
With the king's abrupt change of plan in 1577, a magnificent banqueting hall was built on the south, joined to the north wing by a new three-storey suite of rooms with a regular courtyard facade. The lofty Trumpeter's Tower was added on the south side. At the same time a third storey was added to the buildings on the other three sides. Following the disastrous fire of 1629, the castle was reconstructed almost exactly as it had been before. The result is a Renaissance palace that reflects the piecemeal nature of its construction, with only the west wing having a facade designed as an integrated whole. The interior of the castle presents the same heterogeneity of style and layout as the exterior.
The chapel, which was the only building not to have been ravaged by fire in 1629, preserves its original altar, gallery and pews, with fine carvings and painted panels. The north wing, now a three-storey building faced with sandstone, has the royal apartments on its second storey. Although the layout of rooms is much as it was at the time of Frederik II, the decoration dates mainly from the 17th and 18th centuries. The top floor of the east wing was arranged as a long gallery in 1583, to enable the queen to reach the Banqueting Hall in the south wing.
The latter appears originally to have been divided into two levels at its east end, presumably providing a gallery, which has been removed. In its original form the Banqueting Hall had a magnificently carved and gilded ceiling and its walls were hung with tapestries. After the fire of 1629 it was rebuilt, to a greater height but less lavishly decorated. Only 14 of the tapestries, prepared for the north wall and depicting Danish kings, have survived; of these seven are on display at Kronborg, the remainder being in the National Museum in Copenhagen. Other important components of the Kronborg complex are the Little Hall in the west wing, the so-called 'Scottish Suite' in the west wing, and Frederik V's apartments on the top floor of the north wing.