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General Information

About Sonderborg

Sonderborg (in Danish Sønderborg) is an old city with a population of 27,434 and is located in Southern Denmark close to the German border and it has been at the center of many important events in Denmark’s history.

It was founded in 1256 and is beautifully situated on both sides of Alssund (Als Sound) linked together with two bridges. The city has grown up around Sønderborg Castle, which was founded a few years before 1200. Sonderborg is well-known for the castle and the recurring “Tilting at the Ring” – a peerless summer feast that lasts for several days. To many visitors it is a green holiday island, with a coastline perfect for swimming, sailing and fishing.

Today the Sonderborg area houses a dynamic business environment within the field of high technology, machinery, food and textile industries and has many educational institutions including the University of Southern Denmark, Sonderborg Sports College, School of Fine Arts and the School of Nursing. The city is also home to the Southern Jutland Symphony Orchestra.

Sonderborg Marina. Photo: Visit Sønderborg
Historical Tilting at the Ring at Sonderborg Castle. Photo: Visit Sønderborg

Sønderborg Castle

Tuesday 22 September we will visit Sønderborg Castle which also houses the Museum of Southern Jutland. The castle covers the history and cultural history of the border region from the Middelages to the present day with a focus on the Schleswig wars of 1848-50 and 1864. The First World War, Danish and German conflicts and the meeting of cultures, and the history of Sonderborg. The museum also hosts exhibitions on navigation, textiles and handicrafts and holds a small art collection with works by prominent Southern Jutland painters.

Sønderborg Castle is said to be founded by Valdemar the Great in 1158 as a fortified tower to provide protection against attacks by the Wends (a historical name for Slavs living near Germanic settlement areas). The castle has been expanded gradually. Around 1350, the castle expanded significantly with an addition of a Blue Tower and huge outer walls. In 1490, the fortress became the property of the Crown. Both King Hans and his son Christian II extended Sønderborg Castle and made it into one of the country's strongest fortresses.

The castle was built in the 13th century and became one of the strongest fortresses of the kingdom in the Middle Ages. It was rebuilt 1550-1560 as a Renaissance complex. The castle chapel, Queen Dorothea’s Chapel – is today one of Europe’s few preserved princely chapels from the Reformation, and houses Denmark’s oldest pure Renaissance interior.

Sønderborg Castle is said to be founded by Valdemar the Great in 1158 as a fortified tower to provide protection against attacks by the Wends (a historical name for Slavs living near Germanic settlement areas). The castle has been expanded gradually. Around 1350, the castle expanded significantly with an addition of a Blue Tower and huge outer walls. In 1490, the fortress became the property of the Crown. Both King Hans and his son Christian II extended Sønderborg Castle and made it into one of the country's strongest fortresses.

Christian II (1 July 1481 – 25 January 1559) reigned as King of Denmark and Norway from 1513 until 1523 and of Sweden from 1520 until 1521. He belonged to the House of Oldenburg. Denmark was then an elective monarchy in which the nobility elected the new king, who had to share his power with them. His reign in Denmark and Norway was cut short when his uncle deposed him and took the thrones as Frederick I. Christian was then exiled to the Netherlands, then ruled by his brother-in-law, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. After attempting to reclaim the thrones in 1531, he was arrested or lured into an ambush and held in captivity for the rest of his life first in Sønderborg Castle, for 17 years, and afterwards at the castle of Kalundborg. Legend would have it that he was confined to the Blue Tower, but in reality he was probably allowed freedom of movement within the outer walls.

Under Christian III, in the mid-16th century, the castle was modified and converted into a four-wing castle. After the war of 1864, the province and the castle became German. On reunion in 1920, the Danish state acquired the castle, which came to house a museum of Southern Jutland history.

After Christian III's death in 1559, Hercules von Oberberg built the unique castle chapel in 1568-70 for Queen Mother Dorothea. After Dorothea's death the castle passed into the ownership of the Dukes of Southern Jutland until 1667, when it became a Danish estate and was more or less unused until 1718.

In 1718-26, Frederik IV had the castle rebuilt in baroque style by the contractor general Wilhelm von Platen. New roofs and windows were installed in straight, even rows. In 1755, Blue Tower was demolished and in 1764 the castle passed into the hands of the local dukes again and was rented out as a warehouse. After 1864, the castle became Prussian property and served as barracks until reunification in 1920.

The last Duke, Ernst Günther, allowed Sønderborg County Museum to move into a part of the castle in 1920. The Danish state took over the castle in 1921 and allowed several institutions to use it as long as they paid heed to the expanding museum.

The castle was in 1964-73 restored and returned to its Baroque form it was given by Frederik IV in the 1720s. Sønderborg Castle is today owned by the Danish state.

You can read more about the castle, the collections and the history of the region here.

Sonderborg Castle and the royal Danish ship "Dannebrog". Photo: Visit Sønderborg
Queen Dorothea's Chapel. Photo: Visit Sønderborg
Exhibition from the Schleswig Wars 1848-50 and 1864 and Southern Jutland during WW1. Photo Visit Sønderborg

A bit of war history

One of the most famous battles of Danish history is the Battle of Dybbøl, which took place in 1864 just outside Sonderborg. In the 1864 war, Sonderborg was heavily damaged by artillery in connection with the Prussian assault on Dybbøl and their subsequent occupation of Als. In the aftermath of the war, Denmark lost Southern Jutland to Germany, who occupied the area for 56 years.

The Second Schleswig War was the second military conflict as a result of the Schleswig-Holstein Question. It began on 1 February 1864 and was one of the biggest tragedies in the history of Denmark.

Denmark fought Prussia and Austria. Like the First Schleswig War (1848–51), it was fought for control of the duchies of Holstein and Lauenburg due to the succession disputes concerning them when the Danish king died without an heir acceptable to the German Confederation.

After the Prussians had occupied the Jutlandic fortifications, peace negotiations were started on 25 April in London, where all parts were represented. Unfortunately, the conference in London broke down after Denmark had rejected a proposal about partition by means of arbitration.

After the assembly breakdown, the war continued and thousands of Prussian troops conquered Als. By this the Danish resistance was broken. Prussia practically conquered the entire Jutland. The war ended on 30 October 1864 when the Treaty of Vienna caused Denmark's cession of the Duchies of Schleswig, Holstein and Saxe-Lauenburg to Prussia and Austria. During the negotiations between Germany and the Allied Powers in Versailles after the 1st World War it was decided that the occupied territory of Southern Jutland should be returned to the Danish Kingdom. This happened in June 1920. Since then Danes and Germans in the border land have lived together in harmony.

Read more about the war in 1864

In 2014 Denmark’s most expensive drama series of all time, the eight part historical drama, 1864, was aired by the Danish State Broadcaster, DR (Danmarks Radio).  And as an extra curiosity some of the treasures at Sandbjerg were used in the series.

Read more about the series here

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