What the Bear and the Virgin revealed

05. August 2015 | Nyborg Castle

The Museums of Eastern Funen have just completed a minor archaeological investigation of the Bear and the White Virgin in Nyborg. The investigation showed that the Bear’s original facade of stone blocks is unfortunately gone, so the facade cannot be uncovered and restored as hoped. The hand-hewn stone blocks were valuable and must have been taken for re-use elsewhere. The excavation showed, on the positive side, that the inner skeleton of the Bear is intact. It was formed out of big boulders, and laid in almost pyramid-shaped levels. On the surface of this, great amounts of clay were laid, and the stone blocks formed the final layer or facade. There was, therefore, no direct connection between the inner boulder construction and the stone blocks.

The leaky Bear
We know from written sources that the Bear was leaky, and that it was hard to keep the moats filled with water. It must have been difficult, not to say impossible, to get mortar to dry and harden between the inner skeleton and the outer facade, which was placed into mortar, right onto clay. After the facade stone blocks were removed, more clay was added to the surface, and great amounts of clay were filled into the dam “pyramid” to make it less leaky. All this clay meant that a palisade had to be built to protect the top of the dam, or the crest. 

New knowledge
In Nyborg photographer Pöckel’s photos from the second half of the 1800’s, the crest of the dam, the White Virgin and the pond behind the dam can be seen. Open water is clearly visible right up to the base of the White Virgin. It was therefore quite a surprise for the archaeologists to find the subsoil (which is 60 cm or 24” above sea level) just a few meters to the south of the crest of the dam. This must mean that a large part of the dam pond must have been artificially created, requiring huge amounts of earth to be removed. It probably also means that there was a large beach area stretching right up to the town before King Christian III’s expansions of the town towards the south, and before the establishment of the new harbour facility in the mid-1500’s.

Even though the dam’s facade is not preserved, the investigation has contributed much new knowledge about the Nyborg fortifications and their building history. The archaeological excavation adds another puzzle piece to our understanding of Nyborg Castle and town as a strategic fortress and a transportation crossroads in Denmark. 

The Bear, which in fact is a big stone dam, was built between 1660-65 as part of the comprehensive fortification of Nyborg Castle and town.The water in the moats had been at 4 m. over sea level ever since the castle was built around 1200. The medieval dam was replaced when the fortifications were greatly expanded by a long, narrow dam built of stone blocks on the outer side of King’s Bastion Street. Its purpose was to make sure the water in the moats didn’t flow out into the fjord. On top of the Bear, a tiled, gable roof was built, in the middle of which the so-called White Virgin was built. The Virgin is a conical, tower-like construction that prevented traffic over the Bear. The name refers to a legend about a young girl who was imprisoned in the tower, bricked in.





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