Kalmar: more than merely a Baltic gateway

Kalmar: more than merely a Baltic gateway
Nestled along the shores of Sweden’s southeastern coast, the historic town of Kalmar has plenty to offer travelers who dare to venture off the well-worn road which leads to the more-high profile Baltic island situated nearby, The Local’s Marge Thorell discovers.

For many in Sweden and surrounding countries, the town Kalmar in southern Sweden, is nothing more than an access route over the Ölandsbron, the bridge connecting Baltic island Öland to the mainland. This especially holds true during the busy summer tourist season.

The bridge, built in 1972 and measuring 6,072 metres, is among longest one in Europe. Driving across it is quite an experience, as is visiting Öland itself, with its splendid beaches, vacation homes, Viking ruins, and spectacular landscapes.

As summer approaches, Öland’s population swells as tourists and vacationers pour into Kalmar on their way to the island. But few will pause to savour the delights of this small Hanseatic city.

Founded in the 12th century, Kalmar has a rich heritage. It gave its name to the Kalmar Union, which united Scandinavia under one ruler from 1397 to 1523. The union was initiated by a powerful force—Margrethe, Queen of Denmark, who became regent of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark through many manipulations and machinations.

At one point, she was Queen of Norway and her son Olav inherited the crown of both Denmark and Norway. Upon his death at the young age of seventeen, his mother became Danish Council of the realm and then later regent of Norway.

Quite the political savant, Margrethe adopted a nephew and set him up as King of Norway—with herself as guardian. Through further maneuvering, she became regent of portions of Sweden. Thus, the ill-fated but significant unification of the three countries came about and was formalized on June 17, 1397, by the controversial yet memorable Treaty of Kalmar, signed in the Swedish castle of Kalmar on the southeast coast overlooking the Baltic.

While the treaty did not last past the early-16th century, Kalmar’s castle (Kalmar Slott) did. Originally constructed in the 12th century as a fortress on the site of the medieval harbour, the castle was expanded over the years. In the late 14th century, King Magnus added a fortified tower which he used to protect the area from pirates and foreign invaders.

Over the years, new sections were added to the castle. By the 16th century, under the direction of King Gustav Vasa, the fortress was expanded again and turned into a magnificent structure, outfitted with all the trappings of continental décor. It thus became a castle fit for renaissance kings. The last ruler to live at the castle and issue government actions was King Karl XI, who called the castle his home from 1673 to 1692.

Today, the castle continues to provide plenty to see to travelers who take time to visit: the courtyard houses a Renaissance fountain, and the restored chapel in the south wing, completed in 1592, is beautiful. The women’s prison which was in use up until the 19th century is also worth a visit.

The royal apartments of Eric IV, with intarsia paneling and 16th century hunting scenes, occupy the North Tower. Visitors can roam around a number of other fine rooms, such as the Lozenge Room and the Golden Room (Gyllene Salen), which date from the reign of Johan III.

Today the five-towered castle is open to tourists not only looking to experience an authentic medieval castle, but also interested in sampling the cuisine and ambiance of sixteenth century food.

The castle actually offers dinners and banquets and is one of Sweden’s most popular wedding venues. Couples can be married in the Slottskyrkan and then have their reception in the castle proper.

Kalmar Castle is also a cultural center for much of the surrounding area, hosting a variety of art shows and exhibits throughout the year.

Sculptor Eva Lange, for example, one of Sweden’s leading artists, will be exhibiting her works in the Maiden’s Chambers through September 27th

But the city’s famous castle isn’t the only delight waiting for visitors to Kalmar. In addition he Dom should not be missed. Toward the top of other attractions is the Kalmar Cathedral, which stands in the market square of the old town district of Kvarnholmen. It was designed by 1660 by Nicodemus Tessin, the Elder, in Italian Renaissance style. Today, it is one of the premier sights in southern Sweden and one of the most well-preserved Renaissance churches in northern Europe. Strangely enough, this is the only cathedral in Sweden without a bishop.

In addition, there are a number of interesting museums in this pleasant, walkable city. The Kalmar Art Museum (Konstmuseum) houses paintings by Swedish greats Carl Larsson and Anders Zorn, while the Kalmar County Museum (Läns Museum), set in an old mill, exhibits relics from the royal flagship, Kronan, which sank in the Baltic in 1676.

The County Museum also recreates the world of Jenny Nyström, a former resident of Kalmar, and a famous artist, known for her beloved depictions of elves and pixies.

Kalmar’s beautiful town park, situated near the castle and featuring many species of flowers, plants, and trees, is also a treat for both the budding botanist and road weary traveler.

So sit down for awhile before charging off to the beaches of Öland and enjoy the historic ambiance of this small Swedish city.

By Marge Thorell

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