Kalmar Castle: Sweden’s Royal Hub

From medieval palace to prison, distillery and granary, this castle was finally restored to its original glory

In the mid-19th century, a newfound respect for history led to Kalmar Castle's renovation. (Pat O'Connor / Courtesy of Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door)

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The door with the sun above it leads to the King's Chamber. Notice the elaborate lock on the door, installed by King Erik XIV because of constant squabbles about succession. The hunting scenes inside have been restored a bit too colorfully, but the picture of Hercules over the window is original--likely painted by Erik himself. Examine more of those elaborate inlaid panels. Peek into the little room (to the left of the fireplace, with a fine castle illustration embedded in its hidden door) to see the king's toilet. Also in here was a secret escape hatch the king could use in case of trouble. Perhaps King Erik XIV was right to be so paranoid; he eventually died under mysterious circumstances, perhaps poisoned by his brother Johan III, who succeeded him as king.

Backtrack through the dining room and continue into the Golden Hall, with its gorgeously carved (and painstakingly restored) gilded ceiling. The entire ceiling is actually suspended from the true ceiling by chains. If you visually trace the ceiling, the room seems crooked--but it's actually an optical illusion to disguise the fact that it's not perfectly square. Find the portraits of the (dysfunctional) royal family whose tales enliven this place: Gustav Vasa, one of his wives, sons Erik XIV and Johan III, and Johan's son Sigismund.

Peek into Agda's Chamber, the bedroom of Erik's consort. The replica furniture re-creates how it looked when the king's kept woman lived here. Later, the same room was used for a different type of captivity: as a prison cell for female inmates.

Go to the top of the King's Staircase (also made of gravestones like the Queen’s Staircase, and topped by a pair of lions). The big door leads to the grand Green Hall, once used for banquets and now for concerts.

At the end of this hall, the chapel is one of Sweden's most popular wedding venues (up to four ceremonies each Saturday). As reflected by the language of the posted Bible quotations, the sexes sat separately: men, on the warmer right side, were more literate and could read Latin; women, on the cooler left side, read Swedish. The fancy pews at the front were reserved for the king and queen.

At the far end, near the altar, a door leads to a stairwell with a model ship, donated by a thankful sailor who survived a storm. In the next room is Anita, the stuffed body of the last horse who served with the Swedish military (until 1937); beyond that you might find some temporary exhibits.

The rest of the castle complex includes the vast Burned Hall, which--true to its name--feels stripped-down and is not as richly decorated.

For all the details on Kalmar Castle, please see Rick Steves’ Scandinavia.

Excerpted from Rick Steves’ Scandinavia.

Rick Steves (www.ricksteves.com) writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. E-mail him at rick@ricksteves.com, or write to him c/o P.O. Box 2009, Edmonds, WA 98020.

About Rick Steves
Rick Steves

Rick Steves is a travel writer and television personality. He coordinated with Smithsonian magazine to produce a special travel issue Travels with Rick Steves.

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