Two landmarks — one old, the other new; one yin, the other yang — mark the entrance to the Scandinavian waterway known simply as “The Sound” — or Oresund.
At the north end of this strait that separates Denmark from Sweden looms one of the world’s most formidable symbols of dominance. Kronborg Castle, built by the Danes at the strait’s narrowest point as a medieval fort and toll booth, screams masculinity.
At the strait’s south end, an equally imposing structure of unbridled femininity has taken shape. Designed by superstar architect Santiago Calatrava, a190-metre tower called the Turning Torso appears delicate and draped in architectural finery. Above all, she turns her torso a full 90 degrees.
If this apparition looks eastward from her seaside perch near the city of Malmo, Sweden, she sees the Swedish province of Skane — rolling farmland dotted with castles, villages with 500-year-old churches and half-timbered houses, and a long coastline.
Looking west, the Torso eyes, at sea level, the 15.4-kilometre stayed-cable Oresund Bridge, appearing as finely wrought as a pen-and-ink Rembrandt drawing. On the strait’s far shore sits the Danish island of Zealand and the capital city of Copenhagen.
Long viewed as the “jugular vein” of Europe for its strategic importance as the only navigable route between the North and Baltic seas, the Oresund now unites eastern Denmark and southern Sweden into one region. The Oresund is doable in a few days.
From Copenhagen’s Central Station it’s a 45-minute train ride north to Helsingor. Blessed with a large harbour and massive brick buildings in the fanciful northern Renaissance style, this port city is inviting. But its glory, on a promontory where the Oresund is only 4.5 kilometres wide, looms Kronborg Castle.
In the 1420s, King Eric of Pomerania built a fort here and began collecting dues from boats negotiating the narrows. And although King Frederick II constructed a Renaissance castle over top of the fort in 1585, Kronborg never lost a threatening aspect. From here, Danish rulers lorded it over the Swedes and Prussians for five centuries.
Enter through an arch and you’re confronted with formidable walls and looming towers. Beyond ramparts and another set of gates is a large courtyard and a chapel with a dramatic tile floor and fine carved fixtures. The castle has few furnishings. An exception are seven glorious Flemish tapestries designed in the late 1500s for the great hall, and recently cleaned and returned to their rightful place.
Shakespeare set Hamlet in this castle he called Elsinore.