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Gripsholm Castle

Address: Mariested , Lake Maaleren

Gripsholm Castle is located in the small town of Mariested on Lake Maaleren outside Stockholm. A stunning renaissance castle, it was first built in 1540. The castle contains exceptional Renaissance interiors as well as a theatre and the world's oldest and largest portrait collections.

Seen today along the shore of Lake Mälaren, with pleasure craft docked not too far away, Gripsholm Castle looks pleasant and peaceful. But it is actually a massively constructed brick and stone fortification, built by King Gustav Vasa (founder of the Vasa dynasty) in the 16th century as a refuge for his family in case Stockholm was attacked.

This is not the first castle on the site; an earlier castle was built in the 13th century, and even older Viking fortifications found a home here.
 
What would a traditional castle be without a drawbridge? This structure, complete with iron counterweights, was designed to raise the bridge in a hurry, forcing any attacking force to contend with either the moat or, on the opposite side of the castle, Lake Mälaren itself.


Real estate agents today might say the most important factor for any home is "Location, Location, Location." While this is true, to some extent, for castles, the most obvious "castlelike" characteristic is "Security, Security, Security." After crossing the drawbridge, you confront this massive set of doors, connecting to a tunnel, then another set of doors. And if an attacking force makes it through all of this --
   

-- they must then fight their way through a courtyard, with protected defenders on all sides, and then face this tunnel leading into an inner courtyard. Not really visible in this dark tunnel are openings allowing defenders to do unpleasant things to unwanted visitors.

The royal family apartments are off the inner courtyard, overlooking Lake Mälaren.



The view from the top of the turrents, looking out over Lake Mälaren, is definitely quite lovely. But it is also constrained: as a fortification, Gripsholm Castle doesn't really offer convenient windows for looking out on the lake, only narrow defense portals for firing weapons at attackers.

Residents of the castle, instead, got to look out windows and see -- the castle courtyard, and the massive brick walls. During the cold, damp winters, with the sun rising around 10:30 a.m. and setting around 2:30 p.m., this must have been a cheery place to stay.

The Swedish kings may have thought so, too: at various times, Gripsholm Castle has been used to imprison various members of the royal family, or other noblility.
   

Entrance to the royal apartments is by way of this staircase, tacked to the wall of the inner courtyard. It looks like an afterthought, and it was: as originally designed, Gripsholm Castle was supposed to be difficult to enter. Several hundred years later, in a more "civilized" age, these stairs were added to make life a bit easier.

The castle is now a museum, housing a massive collection of paintings of Swedish kings, dating back to the dawn of Swedish history.



Gripsholm Castle Map


Emerald Princess Baltic Cruise Guide
by Fafos & Grjava, 2009
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