The History of Nyborg Castle
The significance of Nyborg Castle in the history of Denmark is indisputable. Here is a very brief history of Nyborg Castle.
The founding of the castle
The first mention of Nyborg Castle is in written sources from 1193. Thanks to new archaeological findings, we now know that the construction and moat were completed around 1209/1210. So, it is estimated that the castle was built around 1200 as a curtain wall castle. The core of the preserved palace building dates from the early 13th century. The huge Watchtower dates from around the year 1300, when it replaced a former tower in the north-eastern corner of the castle.
First constitution and last regicide
Nyborg was conveniently located in the middle of the country and near water, and in the 13th century King Eric Klipping began to use the castle as a venue for meetings with the most powerful men of the kingdom. Thus, Denmark’s very first constitution was signed by Eric Klipping in 1282 at Nyborg Castle. When Eric Klipping was later assassinated, it was at Nyborg Castle in 1287 that the alleged assassins were convicted as outlaws for the last regicide in Denmark.
The Christiansborg of the Middle Ages
Following the death of Eric Klipping, Nyborg Castle continued to be a permanent meeting place for what came to be known as the Danehof. The name of Danehof was apparently introduced in the mid-14th century. Until then, the assemblies of the king and the ‘best’ men in the realm were known as rigsforsamlinger (assemblies of the realm) or hof (courts). They made decisions on issues such as court hearings, foreign policy and disputes over the Crown’s rights. Throughout the 14th century, Nyborg Castle continued to be the meeting place for the Danehof. Thus, it was also at Nyborg Castle in 1377 that 139 bishops, government officials, councillors, knights and squires voiced their personal support for Oluf, the son of Queen Margrete I. This formed the foundation for the Kalmar Union. The last Danehof in Nyborg was held in 1413.
Royal Castle in the Capital
In 1525 Nyborg was designated Denmark’s first capital. This led to major renovations at Nyborg Castle. Large, Roman-arched windows were fitted in the West Wing, while inside, many of the rooms were adorned with geometric patterns on the walls and a special ceiling construction. In the 1550s, King Christian III added further extensions to Nyborg Castle and commissioned a number of modernisations. The castle was expanded and fortified to tackle the new range and strength of the artillery of the day. Whereas the outer walls of the medieval castle were about 1.25 metres thick, the reinforced walls were now an impressive 3 metres thick!
In addition, a rampart was constructed around the town and the castle. The rampart was further expanded during the centuries to come.
After the kings
During the Dano-Swedish wars in the 1650s, Nyborg Castle was occupied by the Swedes. Like the rest of the town and the entire country, the castle was ravaged by the occupying power, who left very little behind when they returned home. Anything of value was taken to Sweden as war booty, while the fixtures and fittings were used as firewood in the fireplaces. It is said that no one item of furniture remained. This may actually be true, since today we know of no item of furniture that was originally located in Nyborg Castle.
After the war, the king was no longer interested in staying at the ruined castle. Consequently, the castle was handed over to the army, which commanded it until 1913, when the garrison moved from Nyborg.
The castle in the garrison era
The castle was now used as a weapons and grain store. Many of the dividing walls disappeared and, in the cellar, large openings were made in both the outer and dividing walls to facilitate wagon and canon traffic. During this period, large parts of the castle were demolished. In the 1670s, the damaged southwest corner tower was also demolished, followed in the 18th century by most of the south, east and north wings. The watchtower was reduced to a low, empty shell and converted to a gunpowder store, while the remainder of the north wing disappeared in 1873. Strange’s Tower was demolished in 1789, and in 1868 the watchmen’s corridor in the Royal Wing was removed in order to simplify the structure of the roof. The building materials were recycled for use in the fortifications and for the restoration of Odense Castle. In the mid-19th century, two new buildings were constructed on Slotsholmen, serving as garrison workshops.
Nyborg Castle as cultural heritage
When the garrison departed from Nyborg in 1913, they left behind an ancient, dilapidated castle. In 1916-17 the castle was handed over to the National Museum of Denmark who hired the architect Mogens Clemmensen: first to investigate the castle and then to restore it.
Mogens Clemmensen was a skilled restoration architect who studied the castle carefully before embarking on the actual restoration. His method involved observing archaeological traces of the building, which could then be reconstructed. The restoration of Nyborg Castle was included in the National Budget. Unfortunately, though, the money ran out by 1922 before the restoration was complete. For example, the stairs intended to secure access to the castle never got built.
After the not-quite-complete restoration, the castle was opened to the public.
The entire Nyborg fortifications, including the castle islet, together with the buildings, the castle lake and the ramparts, were listed in 1918.
The Castle Project – new knowledge, conservation and restoration
Now, about 100 years later, Nyborg Castle is undergoing a much-needed restoration aimed at safeguarding this piece of cultural heritage for posterity and making its history accessible to everyone. In this context, between 2009 and 2018, archaeological investigations were conducted on the castle islet. These investigations yielded a wealth of new knowledge about the history and development of the castle.
The Castle Project is being realised under the aegis of the building’s owner, the Danish Agency for Culture and Palaces, but in close consultation with the A.P. Møller Foundation and Realdania, Nyborg Municipality and Museums of Eastern Funen.
The goal of the entire project is to create close dialogue between old and new, but with the old aspect as the predominant basis. The main focus is on:
- The Royal Wing, which is being carefully restored.
- The curtain wall will re-emerge as the backbone for the new north wing and in a more freely interpreted form to the east and south, so that the original curtain wall castle will be easily recognisable.
- New construction is centred on the site of the north wing, in a way that will retain the original main structure with the west and north wings as the key building plots.
- The Watchtower will be raised, thereby reinstating an actual lookout point over the Great Belt, thereby conveying the main strategic concept of the castle.
- The original access road to the castle courtyard will be reinstated to the south side of the Watchtower and designed with an allusion to the medieval ‘tvinger’ construction. The access bridge over the moat will be moved back there. This will result in the original connection between the castle and the town. The Watchtower and access road were located in direct connection with the tournament square.
- The connection between the castle and the town will be enhanced by an adaptation of King Christian III’s tournament square, which today constitutes the town square. So, the connection between the castle and the town will also be more evident.
On the basis of an international architectural competition, CUBO Architects and JAJA Architects were selected to design the new extension and the raising of the Watchtower.
The restoration of the Royal Wing and the Watchtower is in the hands of VMB Architects. In terms of interpretation/public engagement, the new exhibitions will be designed in close collaboration with the Moesgaard Museum. The castle is expected to reopen in 2023.