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Kalmar Castle

The Small Swedish Town of Kalmar Has a Massive History

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The city of Kalmar is one of the most historic, not only in Sweden, but in all Scandinavia.  It is located in south-east Sweden near the Baltic coast. The town is one that is much loved by Scandinavians as well as the increasing number of tourists from further afield who go to visit the many fascinating buildings in a town that is an important religious and royal center.

Kalmar Castle

Because it was a town of great standing in the past, this picturesque area, with a population of only 30,000, has many inspiring examples of medieval and Renaissance architecture. One of the finest surviving fortresses in modern Scandinavia is Kalmar Castle which covers several acres. 

A large ring wall, complete with battlements, encloses the site that overlooks a bay. The ramparts and the towers of the fortress are truly impressive, despite the many onslaughts the castle endured. In total there have been 22 sieges of Kalmar Castle, but it has never been taken by the enemy.

Ancient Square in the city of Kalmar (Mediagram/Adobe stock)

Ancient Square in the city of Kalmar (Mediagram/Adobe stock)

The interior of the castle, with its halls and private rooms, have all been restored in the Renaissance style. However, only the structure of the castle is original and much of the interior were reconstructed in the 19 th century.

The other important historic building in Kalmar is the cathedral which is still a house of worship and located in a major square in the new town. The new town was built in the 17 th century. Kalmar Cathedral faces the baroque town hall, which is another notable building.

Kalmar was associated with the Vasa dynasty who rebuilt the medieval castle. It was designed by one of the most famous Swedish architects, Nicodemus Tessin the Elder. He was a proponent of Baroque and especially the severe version of that style known as baroque classicism. The cathedral is notable for the ornate style so typical of Baroque as well as the use of severe classical motifs. There are also discernible Gothic motifs in the exterior which is very much a Lutheran Cathedral, and much simpler in ornamentation than a Catholic cathedral.

Kalmar Cathedral (Antony McAulay / Adobe Stock)

Kalmar Cathedral (Antony McAulay / Adobe Stock)

The interior of Kalmar Cathedral is even more impressive and where the influence of Baroque is most obvious. There is a magnificent organ in the building and a series of catacombs still exist beneath the floor of the house of worship.

The Kalmar Museum is located in a renovated steel mill and it most famous exhibit is a recreation of ‘Kronan’ a Swedish warship that sank in 1676.

The Long History of Kalmar

The area of Kalmar has been inhabited since at least the Stone Age. Reputedly, the town was founded by the Norwegian king and saint, Olaf. The city was a busy trading center by the 13 th century. It was regularly used as royal residence and became an ecclesiastical see, with the bishop of Kalmar being one of the most important in Scandinavia.

In 1337 the so-called Kalmar Union was signed here, which united the monarchies of Denmark, Sweden and Norway. The town flourished because of its strategic location. However, its prominence was also a curse as it was the frontline of several conflicts between Sweden and Denmark and the town gave its name to a conflict between these two nations, the so-called Kalmar War. The town was badly damaged by the Danes which prompted the Vasa kings to rebuild Kalmar.

Many of its inhabitants were killed when the town was again besieged in the Scania War. Ironically, by the 18 th century Kalmar suffered because of the success of the Swedish army. The Swedes occupied all of Scania and this reduced the Danish threat: In 1689 the Swedish monarch, Charles XI, moved the naval base to another location which led to the decline of the town. Kalmar became a provincial industrial center and is today the capital of the County of Kalmar.

The Many Activities in Kalmar

There is a great deal of accommodation in and around Kalmar. The town has many museums, including one dedicated to modern art and dinosaurs.

Oland’s Bridge at sunset (davidhjort / Adobe Stock)

Oland’s Bridge at sunset (davidhjort / Adobe Stock)

Walking trails are plentiful and during the summer, water sports such as canoeing are available. Kalmar is connected to the island of Oland by Oland’s Bridge, one the longest bridges in Europe.

Top image: Kalmar Castle                                             Source: gorerl/ Adobe Stock

By Ed Whelan


Brown, M.A., 1887. Sweden no longer a Terra. Time. 16(29), pp.585-593

Available at:

Linden, M., Simonsen, D., Solberg, A.Å., Melve, I. and Tveter, W.M., 2009, June. Kalmar union, a confederation of Nordic identity federations. In TERENA Networking Conference

Available at:

Scott, F.D., 1988. Sweden, the nation's history. SIU Press

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Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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