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.References:
From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.
The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.
At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.
The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.
The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.
Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).
The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.
At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».
The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.