Nestled among the blooming rapeseed fields and softly rolling hills in the southern Swedish county of Skåne, lies the Medieval castle Glimmingehus. Currently administered by the Swedish National Heritage Board, Glimmingehus has been open to the public as a museum in one shape or form since 1924. From medieval castle to museum, its history is rich and stretches back more than 500 years.
When noble knight Jens Holgersen Ulfstand ordered the castle to be built in 1499, the area still belonged to Denmark. Holgersen Ulfstand was a Danish knight and Council of the Realm, and his castle was built to reflect his high status in society. Ulfstand commissioned the German mason Adam van Düren to head up the construction project. Van Düren, who also worked on the cathedral in nearby Lund, was very much the star architect of the 1400s and well-suited for this kind of job.
The castle was built with what can be considered many spectacular mod-cons for the time, including a primitive form of an indoor toilet. A striking fact when you consider that the author’s grandmother, who grew up on a farm nearby in the 1930s, still had an outdoor loo. The design of Glimmingehus was not only ahead of its time, but it was also incredibly luxurious.
150 years later, Skåne became part of southern Sweden along with the castle. Once the area had fallen into Swedish hands after the Scanian War in 1676 there were plans to demolish the castle. Luckily, this was avoided, and for centuries the castle was used to store grain. From 1935 to 1938 the castle was carefully renovated and restored.
Glimmingehus is often given the honour of being “the best-preserved medieval castle in Scandinavia”. Whilst this is perhaps a slightly subjective depiction, entering Glimmingehus is like stepping back in time. Most of the castle’s defence systems, including the moat that surrounds, it is still left intact, just like much of the artwork and other architectural features.
Today it is run and maintained by the Swedish National Heritage Board. The National Heritage Board does an excellent job maintaining the castle and keeping it accessible to visitors.
Glimmingehus is well worth a visit for several reasons. First of all, it is rare to see a site from the Nordic middle ages that are so well preserved. The fact that the whole castle is so well-kept means that you can walk around the place for hours, without ever “stepping out of the Medieval period”, so-to-speak.
Moreover, the museum, which is situated in an adjacent building, and therefore not disturbing or cluttering the actual castle, is very informative but without overloading the visitor with information. For the younger visitors, the museum also has a children’s section with interactive and tactile objects, including clothes to dress up in. This ensures the castle’s history is accessible to different audiences. There are several smaller reconstructed “living history” buildings, where activities take place for children and adults alike to see re-enactors portraying life in the middle ages.
However, what to us makes Glimmingehus stand out as an amazing museum is the guided tours that run several times a day (check the website for exact times and themes of the tours: https://www.raa.se/in-english/events-seminars-and-cultural-experiences/experience-the-cultural-heritage/glimmingehus_eng/)
The tour guides are incredibly knowledgeable. Most of them are archaeology or history students and researchers from the nearby University of Lund, specialised in this particular period of history. Yet, whilst they are extremely erudite, they never fall into “lecturer mode”, making sure to avoid technical language and jargon. On the contrary, the tour guides deliver their in-depth knowledge entertainingly and engagingly and are always ready to answer questions from the group.
When we last visited in the summer of 2018 we opted for the tour in English (tours are available in English and Swedish, with further information in the brochures etc also published in German and French). Our tour guide spoke perfect English, to the level that he was comfortable making the odd joke and interacting with the rest of the group.
Finally, the last fact that makes Glimmingehus one of our favourite museums is its beautiful location. The castle sits on a slight hill and on a clear day you can see the sea. A gentle breeze often stokes the fields and the silence is a balm for a stressed soul. Even on a busy day, the site is big enough to swallow many visitors without making it crowded, and the cold stone walls of the castle keep it nice and fresh even on warm summer days.
Alongside the castle itself, there is, as mentioned, a museum with a permanent exhibition about the history and life in the area in the Medieval period. There is also a café and a museum shop.
The castle is open for visitors each year from Easter until the 30th of September. The entrance price is 60 SEK for adults (roughly £5 or $6 US) with children up to 18 entering for free. Do check their website or Facebook page before going for the most up-to-date details, including timings for the guided tours.
It should be noted that, probably due to the lack of building regulations in the 15th century, the castle itself has got pretty poor disabled access. There is no other option but climbing the many steep stone steps if you want to get to the top. The museum, shop and café however are all located on a ground floor level in adjacent buildings.
Glimmingehus is located on the south coast of Sweden; 30 minutes by car from the town of Ystad and 15 minutes from the town of Simrishamn, along route 9 and near the village of Hammenhög. If you have access to a car, there is free onsite parking just outside the moat that circles the castle. The same goes for bikes and motorcycles. Public transport is operated by regional Skånetrafiken with bus route 576 from Simrishamn to Hannas stopping on the main road a short walk from the castle.
If you are visiting the area, do not forget that there are many other historical sites to see. Both the towns of Ystad and Simrishamn boast many well-preserved half-timbered houses and Ale Stenar, a 25 minutes’ drive from Glimmingehus, is Scandinavia’s largest Stonehenge, dating back to the Bronze age.
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Åsa Svensson and Chris Hayward produce and host the podcast A Flatpack History of Sweden, which takes listeners on a chronological journey through Swedish history from the residing of the last ice age to the opening of the first IKEA. Keen history fans, they make an effort to visit at least one history museum in any town they come to. Åsa grew up not far from Glimmingehus and took Chris there on their first trip to Sweden together.