Castle of the Week 91 – Kalmar

This legendary castle’s history goes as far back as the 9th century. For a long time Kalmar castle was an important defensive fort and was called “the key to the kingdom” because of its strategic position. At that time the border to Denmark was only a few miles south of the city.

Kalmar castle got its present appearance during the 16th century when the Wasa kings, Gustav, Erik XIV and Johan III, rebuilt the medieval caste into a grand palace. Even earlier the castle had played an important role in scandinavian politics, including being the meeting place for the signing of the Kalmarunion.

The Castle

Already by the 12th century a round defence tower and a harbor had been built in Kalmar, and a city grew up around the harbor. At the end of the 13th century the Swedish king, Magnus Ladulås, had a new castle built, with a concentric wall, round towers in the corners and two square gatehouses. The new castle was built in limestone. The city was expanded at the same time and got a ring wall with towers; now the castle and the city were one connected defensive unit. The city with its ring wall became a concentric part of the castle because if an attacker was to have any chance of taking the castle he would have take the city first, because only from the city could the castle be attacked effectively; the exception is in the winter when the moat froze.

The Kalmarunion

The most important political event in Kalmar had a woman as its driving force. On the 17th of June 1397 Queen Margareta, widow of King Håkon of Norway, saw her sister’s daughter’s son, Erik of Pommern, crowned as king over Sweden, Norway and Denmark. At the meeting in Kalmar, a coronation letter was issued where king Erik was honoured, and a union letter where the conditons of the union where listed was much discussed. The Kalmar union meant that the three countries would have the same monarch and the same foreign policy. If someone was judged an outlaw in one country, he was an outlaw in the other countries as well. Besides each country would be governed by its own law. Even though Erik of Pommern was crowned king, the union was, in practice, governed by his grandmother’s sister Margareta until her death in 1412. During the 15th century Kalmar castle would be the place of many other union meetings.

Extra taxes and disbanded soldiers were some of the reasons for general dissatisfaction with the Kalmar union which, during the 15th century, became stronger and stronger in Sweden. The second half of the 15th century was characterized by political anarchy and many union fights between Sweden and Denmark. The man who in the end would make the union stop and give Sweden self-government was king Gustav Eriksson Wasa.

The Wasa Time

When Gustav Wasa became the Swedish king in 1523, he found Kalmar castle decayed and badly damaged by war; among other things the fortifications were out of date. Building contractors who knew what was needed to withstand the new fire weapons were engaged, but lack of money and materials meant that in the first twenty years of Gustav Wasa’s reign only small progress was made. In 1540 a period of great rebuilding was started and, by the end of the 16th century, Kalmar castle had become a grand palace.

In 1542 the so called “Dacke feud” began. In 1543 Nils Dacke and his supporters besieged Kalmar castle and blocked the castle and the town from land and sea, but king Gustav Wasa succeeded in striking down the revolt.Gustav Wasa learned something from the Dacke feud and planned and started extensive fortification works for both the city and the castle.

The castle was provided with a new more powerful sand bank at the western part of the castle and a cannon tower; these fortifications were mainly finished in the year of 1553. During the reign of Erik XIV and Johan III these fortifications were expanded with sand banks to the north and south of the castle. The castle’s new fortifications were finished in 1610 with a sand bank and two cannon towers at the east of the castle.

Kalmar castle is from many angles a symbolic monument of the late 15th century in Sweden.

The Time of Great Power

At the end of the 16th century there was war again. During the Kalmar war 1611-1613 the castle was repeatedly besieged and in August 1611 the inhabitants surrendered and the castle fell into the hands of the Danes.

The city was at the same time burned to the ground. The city and castle were rebuilt during the reign of Gustav II Adolf. There were plans to move the city away from the castle, and when the city was destroyed by fire the plans were carried out. The new city grew up on an island some km away from the castle, and had a strict ruled street net behind strong fortifications. The movement of the city took a very long time and the fortifications of the old city were still there at the end of 1670.

The Time of Decay

After Sweden’s border with Denmark had been moved further south, Kalmar castle’s time as a border outpost, “the key to the kingdom” was over and with that the castle’s time of greatness. The medieval times’ greatest fortress and the Wasas’ grand palace during the 18th century was used as a grain storehouse and a prison. The decaying continued through the 19th century; the cannon towers were mainly collapsed and on the sand banks there were cattle grazing. In 1852 a new prison was built in Kalmar and the castle’s time as a prison was over as well. At this time they started to realize the castle’s great historical value and the first restoration was started during the 1850s.

During the 20th century several sweeping restorations, combined with several investigations into the history of the building of the castle, have been carried out restore the castle to its former brilliance.

A historical monument of highest rank like Kalmar castle needs continual maintenance work to survive.

Write-up courtesy of Arn_de_Gothia
Special thanks to Terry Anderson of Global Perspectives and Patrik Elmqvist of the Kalmar site for the use of their pictures. Also to for the best Kalmar Castle info on the net.