Discover the history of the castle

Since the first stones were laid 800 years ago, it has survived to this day. Sieges, royal weddings, court intrigues, knight tourneys and cannonballs. The castle has seen it all. Take part of its great story.

The origins

Around 1180 a defense tower was built on the site where Kalmar Castle now stands. The intention was to protect the area, a bustling trading hub, from attacks by pirates and other enemies. By the early 1200s Kalmar was established as a city.

In the latter half of the 1200’s, during the reign of King Magnus III, additional towers and a ring wall were built. The large square Guard Tower contained the original main entrance. At the time the fortress was the most advanced of its kind in Sweden.
For a long period it was a powerful defensive compound, primarily due to its strategically important location. The Swedish-Danish border was not far to the south. The regions of Scania, Blekinge and Halland were Danish territories until 1658.

The Kalmar Union

Arguably, the most significant political event in Kalmar during the Middle Ages was the formation of the Kalmar Union in 1397 in which Sweden, Norway and Denmark were members. Queen Margaret was the mastermind behind the union which unified the countries, through a common monarch and common foreign policy. The union also worked as a counterweight to the German Hanseatic League. When Gustav I became king of Sweden in 1523, the union was formally dissolved.

The Vasa kings

This period might be considered the golden age of Kalmar Castle. During the time of the Vasa kings Gustav I and his oldest sons Erik XIV and John III, it was redesigned into the structure we see to this day. The medieval fortress transformed into a renaissance palace according to continental European fashions. Both Erik XIV and John III commissioned artists and carpenters from Europe to modernize and adorn the building befitting a 16th century monarch. In the King’s Chamber you’ll find one of the oldest depictions of the castle, in marquetry, from the 1560’s. In the Golden Hall you’ll be met with a magnificent coffered ceiling, one of the best-preserved examples from the 16th century in the Nordic countries, largely retaining its original colors and paintwork. 

The Kalmar War

During the Kalmar War, the governor Krister Some surrendered the castle to Danish forces on 3 August 1611. He was branded a traitor. Legend tells us it’s his face engraved on one of the staircases in the inner courtyard. The Danes held the castle until 1613 when it was returned to Sweden. After the peace treaty of Roskilde in 1658 the Danish border was moved south to its current location. The castle lost its strategical location, no longer having a national border to guard. As such it was no longer needed for military defense. Royal visits became increasingly rare, and the grand halls were used for other purposes, such as for storing grain and distilling alcohol in the 18th and 19th centuries.

A national treasure

In the mid-19th century great restoration works started at the castle. After more than a century of decline, its historical significance was realized. The winds of national romanticism gave rise to several restoration projects regarding Vasa castles in Sweden. Kalmar was one of them. This continued in intervals until the mid-20th century. Today, large portions of what was once damaged or gone have been restored. 

A vibrant castle

Kalmar Castle is a symbol for Kalmar. Its history features international politics, court intrigues, fiery sieges and fierce battles. Today the castle is a vibrant and lively place, welcoming guests from near and far. Now it’s your turn to visit. Come write the latest chapter in its 800 years of history.

The history of Kalmar Castle