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Section of Scholeus’ engraving, from approx. 1580

Section of Scholeus’ engraving (H. Scholeus, approx. 1580, photo: Svein Skare, owner: Universitetsmuseet i Bergen (B 1332)).

In the Scholeus engraving (section on the right) from the 1850s the fortified king’s estate at the entrance to Vågen has become a modern Renaissance palace – Bergenhus palace. The church edifices have disappeared. The picture is now dominated by the tower “the small castle by the sea”, which had recently gone through a considerable enlargement.

It was the medieval tower from the 1200s that the castle commander Erik Rosenkrantz reconstructed in the 1560s, partly with stone from the demolished monastery at Lyse. The king, Fredrik II, had ordered Erik Rosenkrantz to pull down the old ramshackle tower and build a new one. Rich, gothic building details show that Mr. Erik must have viewed the medieval tower as a good model on which to continue building. The research made by Gerard Fischer following the war destruction in 1944 have confirmed that this must be “the little castle by the sea” which Magnus Håkonsson (Lagabøte) had constructed.

What Rosenkrantz did was to combine the little castle with castle officer Jørgen Hanssøn’s circular wall and ante-castle from the beginning of 1500, make it higher, and construct a new an contemporary façade facing south – facing Bryggen (the harbour) and the town. While the little castle and the hall had as their models English constructions, now they were Scottish. It has been documented that Rosenkrantz used Scottish bricklayers.

  • From the king’s chapel in the Rosenkrantz tower.

The apostolic crurch and the king's chapel

On the 1st floor of the Rosenkrantz tower; a Gothic chapel with an altar has been discovered in the window recess. For this we have an accurate, written date. Icelandic annals tell us that Magnus sat in Bergen in the winter of 1273-74, “and at the time the king’s chapel was completed in the small tower by the sea”. The king’s private rooms were on the floor above.


In 1275 king Magnus started building the third Apostolic church, south of the surrounding wall. It was built like a shrine surrounding a precious relic the king had received from the king of France Filip III – a bit of Christ’s crown of thorns. The Apostolic church was inaugurated in 1302.


The old Apostolic church and the rest of the wooden buildings were pulled down and replaced by still another stone building. Thus the king’s estate was completed in accordance with the intentions of Håkon Håkonsson, marked out as the political and administrative centre of the nation - completed as the political centre was about to be moved southeast – all of it dominated by the powerful Romanesque cathedral Kristkirken furthest out on the brink.

  • Rosenkrantztårnet, Bergen

The tower today

After the Rosenkrantz tower for centuries had had various roof designs, it was restored to its original Scottish style after the last war - much like the Scholeus’ engraving shows. (Svein Nord).

  • Nielsen, R. R. (1972) Bergenhus og dets festningsverker: en oversikt fra de eldste tider.