Kastellet / Citadellet Frederikshavn

One of the finest star fortresses in the world came as a surprise to me when I stepped out of CPH while waiting for a connecting flight. Naturally, I had to go and take a look — and I was not disappointed. It was a glorious summer’s day, and it was absolutely amazing to walk around the Kastellet’s perimeter. 

A look at the seaward flank, Count’s Bastion to Princess’s Bastion

The grass on the sides had been cut recently, and the fort looked perfect. Five bastions enclose a smaller area with numerous reduits and ravelins in between, and two gates grant access in and out. This whole design is the work of a Dutch engineer, Henrik Ryse, who began his career as a soldier but then wrote a book about various fortifications and was afterwards asked to devise ones of his own making.

Ryse seems to have been a very curious man, with his career throughout Europe and especially in the Netherlands and Denmark — not only did he oversee the fortification of Copenhagen but many other Danish and Norwegian cities, always pending an attack from the Swedish. His own attempts in the 1670’s to act as field general under the Danish flag were not particularly successful and the military organisation went as far as to try him though he wasn’t found guilty (lack of cooperation by other generals present was the determined cause for failures).

The gatehouses in the Kastellet are built in the Dutch style

Even so, Ryse’s work in fortifying Copenhagen seems to have been top notch and very modern at the time. Other than Copenhagen, the defenses of many other mainland Danish cities (Fredericia, Sonderborg) were improved by him — it is also worth noting that the soon-to-be-contentious (two centuries can be soon with the benefit of hindsight) areas of Schleswig and Holstein would have been fortified to a better degree if Ryse had got his wish.

But back to Copenhagen… It is amazing how well this place has survived the years. I guess wilful maintenance is part of it, but it cannot be the only answer. There are also several interesting examples of guns present as one walks about the perimeter. The near-perfect level of preservation also allows for thoughts that pass one by in places where these early modern bastions have been built into the cityscape. I was quite astounded by how steep some of the inward-facing flanks of the perimeter were.

In any case, this is a wonderful place and if one has a chance, definitely worth a visit.

The Zeeland Ravelin, the main entrance into the Kastellet leads through here.

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