Kastelholm Castle is a well-preserved castle ruin with many exciting stories hidden within its walls. One Swedish family of nobility, the House of Vasa, showed a particular interest in the castle. Both Gustav Vasa and Duke Johan have stayed here and Erik XIV was imprisoned here for some months with his wife Karin Månsdotter.
Kastelholm Castle has a long and colourful history. Originally the castle was a fortress—Åland’s only medieval fortress. Construction on it began at the end of the 14th century. The precise year is unknown, but the castle is first mentioned in historical sources in 1388. At that time the castle site was a small islet, but today the castle only has water on two sides, as the land has continued to rise from the last ice age. At that time, Åland was an independent administrative region with Kastelholm as its centre.
This has been the site for dramatic events – both sieges and fires. Due to its strategic location, the castle has been involved in different political conflicts, such as the Engelbrekt Rebellion in 1434. On another occasion, in 1507, the dreaded Captain Sören Norby took the castle by surprise with his fleet.
The castle became the seat for the royal fief-holders and bailiffs. During the reign of Gustav Vasa, the castle became a royal hunting castle. The King, who took a personal interest in Åland, had the castle and the adjacent royal estate extended. King Gustav and his family stayed some months in the castle during early spring of 1556.
Erik XIV imprisoned
That same year, King Gustav’s son Johan was appointed Duke of Finland and Åland. Duke Johan stayed at the castle during the years 1557, 1559 and 1561. He also had his brother Erik XIV and Erik’s wife Karin Månsdotter imprisoned in the castle in the fall of 1571. A small room on the third floor of the tower Kuretornet has traditionally been said to be the room in which King Erik was held prisoner. Overall, the 16th century proved to be the castle’s most eventful century.
Kastelholm continued to be Åland’s administrative centre until 1634. During this time, the castle was rebuilt and extended many times. In the years 1616 and 1622, the Swedish King Gustav II Adolf visited the castle. Stellan Otto Mörner, the last royal governor of the castle, attempted to rebuild the castle into a more representative building after a fire in 1619, but in time the castle completely lost its significance.
From ruin to museum
Another fire in 1745 almost destroyed the entire castle, which was then left to fall slowly to ruin. The north wing of the castle sustained the least damage during the fire and came to be used as a granary. Since the end of the 19th century, the castle has undergone extensive renovations on many occasions, most recently in the 1990’s. Today the castle is a museum.