Sønderborg Castle

Sønderborg, Denmark

Sønderborg Castle history began probably as a fortified tower constructed by Valdemar the Great in 1158. The castle was built to provide protection against attacks by the Wends and was part of a larger system of fortifications. Over the centuries, the castle has gradually been enlarged and rebuilt. In the years following construction of Valdemar's fortified tower, an important struggle developed between the Danish king and the duke of Schloneswig over ownership of the island of Als and the town of Sønderborg. Ownership of the castle changed hands many times. A peak in the history of the castle was the wedding of Valdemar IV (Valdemar Atterdag) (ca. 1320-1375) to the duke's sister, Helvig of Schleswig.

Around 1350, the castle was expanded significantly by the addition of both the Blue Tower (Blåtårn) and huge outer walls. In 1490, the fortress became the property of the Danish crown. Both King Hans and his son Christian II extended Sønderborg Castle and made it into one of the country's strongest fortresses. In 1532, Christian II was lured into an ambush and taken to Sønderborg Castle, where he was held as a prisoner of state for seventeen years.

Christian III in the mid-16th century had the fortress modified and converted into a four-wing castle by architect Hercules von Oberberg between 1549-57. King Hans's west wing was preserved and a further three wings were added in the new Renaissance style. After Christian III's death in 1559, Hercules von Oberberg built the unique castle chapel in 1568-1570 for Queen Mother Dorothea. After Dorothea's death in 1571, the castle passed into the ownership of Hans II, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Plön (also known as Hans the Younger). Under his rule, the castle became the center of a tiny duchy, Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg. This, however, was divided after his death in 1622.

The castle remained in the hands of the dukes of Southern Jutland until 1667, when the ruined duchy of Sønderborg was attached to the Danish throne and the castle became a Danish estate. The duchy’s representative, the prefect (‘’Amtmanden’’), took up residence at the castle. It was otherwise more or less unused in the years 1667-1718.

In 1718-1726, Frederik IV had the castle rebuilt in Baroque style by contractor general Wilhelm von Platen. The Blue Tower was demolished in 1755, and in 1764 the castle passed into the hands of the Duke of Augustenborg; but, contrary to expectations, the castle did not become the duke's residence. Instead, it was rented out as a warehouse.

During both the first and the second Slesvig wars (1848-1850, 1864), Sønderborg Castle was used as a camp hospital and for quartering Danish troops. After the war of 1864, the province and the castle became Prussian property and served as barracks from 1867 until the area was reunified with Denmark in 1920. The last duke of Augustenborg, Ernst Günther, allowed Sønderborg County Museum to move into a part of the castle in 1920. The next year, the Danish state bought the castle from the Duke, taking over the castle in 1921 and allowing several institutions to use it as long as they paid heed to the expanding museum. In 1945 and 1946, the castle was used as an internment camp for persons charged with offenses to the state.

The Royal Inspectors of Listed State Buildings, Peter Koch and Jørgen Stærmose, conducted a thorough restoration of the castle from 1964 to 1973, returning it to the Baroque form it had been given by Frederik IV in the 1720s. The windows from the barracks era were even replaced with 'masks', windows with broad wooden frames made of planks like the ones in Platen's castle.

Since 1921 Sønderborg Castle has been the home for The Sønderborg Castle Museum. The museum houses local and regional history collections from the Middle Ages to the present day, but with especial focus on the Schleswig wars of 1848-50 and 1864, World War II, and the Reunification of 1920.

The museum also hosts exhibitions on navigation, textiles and handicrafts, and has a small art collection with works by prominent Southern Jutland painters over the years. The original ramparts around the castle became a visible part of the gardens in the 1970s.

The unique chapel of Sønderborg Castle, also known as Queen Dorothea's Chapel, was built 1568-70 by Hercules von Oberberg for Queen Mother Dorothea reflects the changing times in Denmark after the Reformation. It is almost untouched, and is considered to be one of Europe's oldest and best-preserved Lutheran royal chapels. Many of the items in the chapel were created in Antwerp at painter Frans Floris’ workshop. One of the royal couple’s sons, Duke Hans II, had a burial room built in the chapel with an imposing portal of marble and alabaster.

The chapel’s organ is attributed to organ builder Hermann Raphaëlis, and it is estimated to have been built ca. 1570. The paintwork on the organ case dates mainly from 1626. Hermann Raphaëlis (ca. 1515-July 8, 1583) was of Dutch descent and was the son of organ builder Gabriel Raphael Rottensteen. Raphaëlis was summoned to Denmark ca. 1550, supposedly to build an organ for Roskilde Cathedral. Apart from the instrument at Roskilde Cathedral, built in 1555, he also built an organ for the Chapel of Copenhagen Castle in 1557. Raphaëlis later settled in Saxony, where he among other things built organs in the chapels of castles belonging to Elector August of Saxony, the Queen Dorothea’s son-in-law. The chapel may be visited during the opening hours of the museum.

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Details

Founded: 1350
Category: Castles and fortifications in Denmark
Historical period: The First Kingdom (Denmark)

Rating

4.3/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Paul Tallon (20 months ago)
this is a really good museum, i wasn't expecting it to be as good as it is in the sleepy town of sønderborg but it is great and also has a lot of English translations in about 90% of the exhibits, it is also not that busy so you can take time to read the indepth descriptions
Tharnnie W.T. (2 years ago)
Nice scenic place for a good walk
Ralf Buthmann (2 years ago)
The Slot is a museum with an exibition about the 1864 Battle and the city of Sønderburg. Very polite and helpful staff!
Ingimar Eyfjörd (2 years ago)
Nice walking area, you can really fall in love with the serene spaces in Sønderborg.
Eric Wout van der Steen (2 years ago)
The Castle is mostly converted to a museum. They are working on translating the exhibitions into English to make it more accessible. The exhibits give a good overview of the times in which the castle existed. Our kids (5 and 3) were too impatient and the tour was a bit too long for the end of the day.
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