Off the Beaten Path in Denmark: History and Nature in the Ertholmene Archipelago

Far out in the Baltic, 171 kilometers (106 miles) from Copenhagen, lies the Ertholmene Archipelago, Denmark’s most remote islands. More commonly called Christiansø, after the largest island, the archipelago has been administered by the Danish Ministry of Defense since 1684, when King Christian V had a naval fortress built here during a period of conflict between Denmark and Sweden. The original fortress consisted of the two towers and four batteries that can still be seen today.

During the English War from 1807 to 1814, Danish privateers used Christiansø as a base for privateers who preyed on British merchant ships transporting important materials from the Baltic countries. Determined to stop the privateers and gain control of the strategic harbor, the British attacked Christiansø in October of 1808, pounding the fortress with more than 300 bombs and 300 cannonballs in four hours. Initially the British ships were too far away for the Danish defenders to return fire, but eventually the wind changed, blowing the British fleet closer to shore, within reach of Christiansø’s cannons. After a 30-minute exchange of cannon fire, the defenders succeeded in driving the British fleet away from the fortress.

After this attack Christiansø’s fortifications were expanded with bastions and stone walls that remain to this day. Nowadays the two inhabited islands, Christiansø and Frederiksø are home to just 83 people (according to official data from 2018) but draw artists and other visitors with their natural beauty and historic significance.

Overlooking the harbor, the Great Tower crowns the highest point on Christiansø, which is connected to Frederiksø by a footbridge.

On Frederiksø, the Small Tower was constructed to protect the channel to the west.

The church on Christiansø was originally built as an armory. There is no resident priest on the islands, but a priest from Bornholm comes about twice a month to hold services.

Brightly painted buildings and boats are part of the islands’ charm.

Ruths Kryddersild on Frederiksø sells herring marinated in various spices according to a traditional recipe.

In the interior of Christiansø are houses with gardens that burst into bloom in spring.

The archipelago is home to a diverse array of birds, including large breeding colonies of seabirds. Thousands of herring gulls nest on Græsholm, which is a protected nature reserve and off-limits to human visitors. Græsholm also has Denmark’s only populations of guillemots and razorbills. With a good pair of binoculars it’s possible to see the birds from Frederiksø.

More than a thousand eider ducks nest throughout the archipelago, including on the two inhabited islands. They are easily spotted in the waters around Frederiksø and Christiansø. Eiders build their nests all over the place, including on beaches and near busy paths, so during the nesting season (April 1 to June 15) it’s important to keep your eyes open to avoid accidentally disturbing the birds.

Christiansø is just a one-hour ferry ride from Gudhjem on Bornholm, making it a good destination for a day trip. You can walk all the way around Christiansø and Frederiksø in an hour, but it’s worth taking your time to explore the fortress walls and bastions, visit the small museums inside the old fortifications, and enjoy the panoramic views from the ramparts and the Great Tower.

If you want to stay overnight on the island, there are six guestrooms available at Christiansø Gæstgiveri, which also serves food. The old jail, Ballonen, has five cells available as self-catering hostel facilities.

For more information, visit the Bornholm tourism website.

Published on 6 May 2019

Related article:

The Round Churches of Bornholm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *