Eighty kilometres northeast of Ystad, quiet KRISTIANSTAD (pronounced “cri-SHAN-sta”) is eastern Skåne’s most substantial historic centre and a convenient gateway to Sweden’s southern coast. With an elegant cathedral, a beautiful little park containing a fine Art Nouveau theatre, and boat trips into the local bird-rich wetlands, Kristianstad can easily detain you for a relaxed day-long visit.
Kristianstad dates from 1614, when it was created by Christian IV, Denmark’s seventeenth-century “builder-king”, during Denmark’s 44-year rule here. The earliest and most evocative of the king’s Renaissance towns, it was a shining example of Christian’s architectural preoccupations, with beautifully proportioned central squares and broad, gridded streets flanking the wide river. Christian nurtured plans to make the fortified town one of Denmark’s most important, and it wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century that the fortifications were finally levelled, allowing the town to spill beyond the original perimeter. The late-nineteenth century saw the creation of Parisian-style boulevards, pleasant to wander through today, though the many bland buildings erected during the 1960s and 1970s have left the town with a rather dull appearance.
The most obvious starting point for a visit to town is the 1618 Heliga Trefaldighetskyrkan, right opposite the train station. The church symbolizes all that was glorious about Christian IV’s Renaissance ideas: the grandiose exterior has seven magnificent spiralled gables, and the building’s high windows allow light to flood the white interior. Inside, the most striking features are the elaborately carved pew ends: each is over 2m tall, and no two are the same. The gilded Baroque magnificence of the 1630 organ facade is also worth a look.
Diagonally across from the Heliga Trefaldighetskyrkan, the main square, Stora torg, contains the late nineteenth-century Rådhus, built in imitation of Christian’s Renaissance design. Inside the entrance, a bronze copy of the king’s 1643 bust is something of a revelation: Christian sports a goatee beard, one earring and a single dreadlock, and exposes a nipple decorated with a flower motif, itself a source of interest for a baby elephant round the royal neck. Opposite the town hall, and in marked contrast to it, the 1920s post office and the old Riksbank have an identical 1920s brick design; while the adjacent 1640s Mayor’s House is different again, with a Neoclassical yellow-stuccoed facade. The square also boasts Palle Pernevi’s splintered Icarus fountain, which depicts the unfortunate Greek soul falling from heaven into what looks like a scaffolded building site. The town’s streets are peppered with modern sculptures; one of the best is Axel Olsson’s bronze Romeo & Julia at Östra Storgatan 3, close to Stora torg, depicting an accordion player serenading a woman emerging from an open window.
Wander down any of the roads heading south and you’ll reach Tivoliparken, known locally as the “English Park”, with avenues of horse-chestnut and copper beech trees. In its centre is a fine Art Nouveau theatre, a stylish white building whose designer, Axel Anderberg, also designed the Stockholm Opera.