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A castle with a chequered history

A chequered history over the course of some 800 years lies between its first written mention and the decision to make Schloss Gottorf the home of two large State museums. Under Duke Friedrich III. (1597 - 1659), Gottorf developed and became one of North Europe’s most significant royal courts and a cultural centre. The famous Giant Gottorf Globe and a stately Baroque garden originate from this period.

How it all started...

As the castle stands today on Schleswig’s museum island, it had several predecessor buildings which originally served guarding the narrow overland route. Burg Gottorf was first mentioned under Bischof Occo around 1160. It served as a residence and fortification for the bishops from nearby Schleswig.

Residence for Danish kings

The House of Oldenburg had reigned in Denmark since 1448 and, in the 1460 von Ripen election, the Danish King Christian was elected as the Duke of Schleswig and Count of Holstein. This also gave him Gottorf. His kingdom extended from Schleswig and Holstein via the Danish heartland and some southern Swedish provinces up to Norway.

Christian’s son Friedrich I. also resided in Gottorf as the Duke of Schleswig. After a fire destroyed the majority of the residence in 1492, Friedrich I. started reconstruction in several phases. The “Gothic Hall” originates from the 16th century and is now one of the castle’s oldest rooms.

When Friedrich I. became the King of Denmark in 1523, he retained Gottorf as his major place of residence. In 1530, be started to have the western wing of the castle built in early renaissance style, the first renaissance building north of the Elbe.

The Duchy of Schleswig-Holstein Gottorf is born

Under Friedrichs successor Christian III., his half-brother Adolf I. (1526 - 1586) was bequeathed regions in Schleswig and Holstein when he came of age in 1544 and thus founded the Duchy of Schleswig-Holstein Gottorf.  Schloss Gottorf became the major place of residence and was eponymous for the Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf line.

 On New Year’s Eve 1564/65, the castle was again subject to a fire catastrophe and was subsequently extended as a four-winged fortification during the course of various construction phases. The Gottorf east and north wings have remained from Duke Adolf’s brisk construction activity. Further buildings under his rule included the Husum and Reinbek secondary residences.

Only four years after Duke Adolf I.’s death, his son Johann Adolf (1575 - 1616), the first Prince-Archbishop of Lübeck and Bishop of Hamburg and Bremen, took over the Duchy of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf as a 15-year-old.

Gottorf is to become one of the most significant royal courts in North Europe

Under Duke Friedrich III. (1597 - 1656), Gottorf developed and became one the most significant royal courts of the era. The castle was viewed as one of the cultural centres in North Europe and the Giant Gottorf Globe, the Baroque garden and the art chamber’s and library’s rich collections remained renowned. Cultural exchange was supported and artists from far afield were summoned to the court, equally commercial travellers and expeditions were sent as far away as the Orient. Targeted wedding policy intertwined the Gottorf dynasty with other dynasties in North Europe as family. During the course of the 17th century, connections to the powerful Swedish Kingdom became closer and closer, whereas the relationship with Denmark deteriorated. The sovereignty of the Gottorf dynasty conceded in 1658 snubbed the Danish crown and culminated in several occupations of the duchy.

Momentous defeat

In its heyday, the Gottorf royal household consisted of more than 400 people. At the end of the 17th century, however, the old renaissance castle was no longer representative enough for a discerning duke. Friedrich IV. was closely associated with the powerful Swedish Kingdom and wanted to emphasize his own position and rank with a contemporary palace. Therefore, he commissioned a Baroque extension of the complex. From 1697 to 1703, the castle was redesigned and extended in accordance with drafts from the Swedish master builder Nicodemus Tessin d. J. However, the duke died on the battleground close to Klissow during the Great Nordic War and no longer bore witness to the conversion to a large Baroque residence. Up to the point in time of his death, only the gigantic south wing was ready, whilst the further plans came to a standstill because the states of Schleswig and Holstein were awarded to different rulers after Gottorf lost the war in 1713. The Danish king was given the Duchy of Schleswig with Gottorf and the title of the Duke of Schleswig. The southerly Duchy of Holstein has been governed from Kiel since then and Duke Karl Friedrich resided in Kiel Castle.

Although Schleswig remained one of the most important places in the separated duchies, the ruler of Schleswig was now the king in Copenhagen and Schloss Gottorf merely only one of the many castles in his kingdom. A large part of the mobile furnishings from Gottorf, the valuable arts chamber and the famous library were moved to Copenhagen and added to the royal collections there. Gottorf was inhabited by the Danish governors until 1848.

Gottorf as a barracks - the fight against rebels

After the war of 1848, the Danes established firstly a military hospital and then barracks in the castle in order to enable more effective measures against the rebels in Schleswig-Holstein from there. The building was adapted to the new requirements and the interiors lost a lot of their formerly significant equipment. The former State rooms and duke’s rooms were redesigned as bedrooms and dining rooms. The adjoining buildings were demolished and instead extensive stables built, the defence facilities sharpened. The castle also remained a barracks after 1867 and the end of the German-Danish war, however Prussian soldiers moved in there.

The period of the World Wars

Although the building survived the period of the World Wars with no war-caused destruction, nonetheless the south and west wings were severely damaged during the course of a fire accident in 1917. Within the course of the Kapp revolt, the castle was occupied by rebels in 1920, ten people lost their lives during the course of subsequent struggles. At the beginning of 1945, increasing numbers of refugees from the eastern areas of the German Reich arrived in Schleswig, whose number increased to almost 18,000 by the summer. As several residences in the State, Gottorf was used as a temporary reception camp and several hundred refugees were housed at Schloss Gottorf. 

Culture arrives

In 1948, the first state government after the end of World War 2 declares Schleswig as the location for both State museums – today’s Museum of Art and Cultural History Schloss Gottorf and the Archaeological Museum Schloss Gottorf.

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