Sweden // The southeast //

Örebro Castle

The town’s first defensive fort was built after a band of German merchants settled here in the thirteenth century, attracted by rich iron ore deposits. It was enlarged in the fourteenth century by King Magnus Eriksson, who lived here; Gustav Vasa’s son Karl IX added fortifications and then, following in the footsteps of Vasa’s other sons, turned it into a splendid Renaissance castle, raising all the walls to the height of the medieval towers and plastering them in cream-coloured stucco. When the Danes were no longer a threat, the town lost its importance, and Örebro Castle fell into disuse and subsequently became a storehouse and a jail. In the old prison on the fourth floor, you can see words scratched into the walls by Russian prisoners of war. Another room was used to hold suspected witches and was well furnished by King Karl as a torture chamber; at the time, fear of witchcraft was reaching fever pitch, and over four hundred women lost their heads here having survived attempts to drown them in the nearby river. Naturally, the castle is said to be riddled with ghosts, ranging from that of King Magnus Eriksson’s wife Blanche (also known as Blanka in Swedish and said to be in torment for having murdered her son) to Engelbrekt, who had his head lopped off two years after he stormed the castle in 1434 and led a riot on behalf of farmers oppressed by harsh taxes.

The fairytale exterior you see today is the result of renovation in the 1890s. Influenced by contemporary National Romanticism, the architects carefully restored the castle to reflect both medieval and Renaissance grandeur. The same cannot be said for the interior, where the valiant guides face a real challenge: there’s no original furniture left, and many of the rooms are used for conferences, hence the emphasis on the building being a “living castle”. Among the few features of interest are some fine doors and floors, dating from as recently as the 1920s, the inlays depicting historical events at Örebro; and, in the main state room, a large family portrait of Karl XI and his family, their eyes all popping out as a result of using arsenic to whiten their faces.