Feeling Suitably (Low-Key) Regal in Copenhagen’s Christiansborg Palace

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Christiansborg Palace, Christiansborg Slot, Copenhagen, Denmark

Royal Palaces confuse me.  Sometimes, they are fun to visit, and sometimes they are incredibly dull, so they are not an automatic ‘must do’ for me.  Having enjoyed the Amalienborg, we decided to trot along to the Christiansborg, and I’m glad we did.

Actually, Christiansborg is not just used as a royal palace, but it’s also the seat of the Danish Parliament, housing the Prime Minister’s Office and the Supreme Court of Denmark, and as such holds the unique privilege of being the only building in the world that houses all three of of a country’s branches of government.  The name Christiansborg is therefore used to refer to the Danish political system, and is colloquially referred to as Borgen (at this point people who have seen the tv drama are going, ‘Aaaah’).

The first castle built on site was in 1167, but it was demolished in 1369, stone by stone, by 40 stonemasons sent to do the job by the Hanseatic League.  The Danes had been causing a nuisance with trade routes, and a conflict with Valdemar IV of Denmark led to the castle’s literal dismantling.  The castle was the property of the Bishop of Roskilde, and he just built a new castle.  Bigger.  With a moat.  In 1417, King Eric VII took over the castle and in the middle of the 15th century it became the principal residence of the Danish royals and the centre of government.

The old castle was physically unsound and when Christian VI ascended the throne in 1730, he immediately ordered its demolition.  By the time the complex was completed fifteen years later, it was the largest palace in Europe.  Sadly, in 1794, the palace was destroyed by fire, so again the builders came.  In 1884 there was another fire, but thankfully since rebuilding finished in 1928, the palace has been fine.  Yay!

Denmark became a constitutional monarchy in 1849, and a wing of the palace became the meeting place of the houses of Parliament.  When the third and final design for the palace was being drawn up, it was designed to accommodate the royal family (who weren’t to live there), the legislature and the judiciary, with the Parliament in the south wing, and the Royal reception rooms, the Supreme Court and the PM’s office in the north wing.  It’s funny, because although the place is quite imposing, it really doesn’t feel like it’s important.  Maybe it’s partly because there aren’t dozens of policemen patrolling every inch of it – but I’ve seen local council offices that look more pompous.

The first room you go into is the Throne Room.  This where Queen Margrethe II receives fellow monarchs, presidents and ambassadors during state visits.  Interestingly, she does not use the thrones – they are relics from the days of absolute monarchy (1660-1848) and are basically decoration.

The other remarkable feature of the room is that it leads onto the balcony upon which the new Danish monarchs are proclaimed.

The Fredensborg Room is fascinating for anyone interested in the royal families of Europe at the end of the 19th century.  The room is dominated by a fantastic family portrait of the Danish King Christian IX and his wife, Queen Louise, surrounded by their 6 children and 20 grandchildren.  It was painted in 1886 by Lauritz Tuxen, who was a highly regarded portraitist and made a career for himself painting the royals of Europe.

What is interesting about the painting is that it is an official portrait, showing the immensely good marriages the King’s daughters made, but there is an attempt to present everyone quite informally.  The way the figures are clustered together is quite cosy – and that’s before you take into consideration the way the toddlers are crawling on the ground, and squirming on the sofa.  The King and Queen were very close to their daughters, and so even when they were married they arranged get-togethers in Fredensborg Palace, where the spouses and growing progeny could meet in relaxed circumstances.  The painting does seem to capture some of that family atmosphere.

The main highlight of the visit is the Great Hall, a spectacular space and apparently the largest of the Royal Reception Rooms.  It is used for banquets, receptions and state dinners and it’s easy to imagine how super it must look when it’s all done up for an event.

The most dazzling (or baffling) feature of the Hall, is its 17 tapestries, which tell the history of Denmark in the most colourful way possible.  They were a 60th birthday gift to the Queen, designed by Bjørn Nørgaard, and made by a team of weavers from the Manufactures Nationales des Gobelins et de Beauvais.  They took ten years to make, which isn’t surprising considering the level of detail on each one.

I should say that these tapestries seem to split people.  I like them – I think they’re colourful and interesting and I enjoy playing ‘spot the portrait/relic/story’.  Mama-Chickpea, who likes order, and normality, hated them.  I admit there is some slightly disturbing imagery – I’m not one who understands why you would make eyes blank – but on the whole the tapestries are fun.

The Royal Kitchens

When you come out of the palace, and turn right, following the building round, you will get to the Royal Kitchens.  With the early darkness of December, and the bright lights of a glistening kitchen, a peer through the windows determined our resolve to visit – even through it was shortly before closing time.

As it happens, you don’t need much time to look around – there’s not much to it – but it’s genuinely lovely.  The kitchens have been recently refurbished, and the designers have done a grand job of making the rooms evocative.  The theme is the preparation for the gala dinner marking Christian X’s Silver Jubilee in 1937 – but it being so close to Christmas, we got some bonus decorations, too.

So In Summary

It says a lot about the Danes that the main palace where they receive dignitaries is impressive but still quite cosy.  When you ignore the red and the gold, there is a real down-to-earth quality to the building which makes it a pleasure to explore.  I think it’s partly the fact that there aren’t huge amounts of gaudy furniture or ornaments, and there’s only a small selection of big paintings.  But there’s something else that I can’t put a finger on.  Maybe it’s just humility – a reflection of the sensible, egalitarian principles of the Danish state.

Further information

Since the palace is a working building, it’s best to check the opening hours before your visit.  The website is basic but comprehensive and available in English: www.kongeligeslotte.dk

Also, be aware that you will have to put on plastic shoe coverings when you start your visit, so make sure you’re wearing practical shoes!

I’m sure children would have a fun time pottering round the palace, but I think that the recent introduction of a smartphone game will be more popular.  Children must stop the thief Heidenreich from stealing a priceless treasure from Christiansborg!  Exploring the palace will reveal clues to help put a stop to his dastardly plans.

How To Get There

The Palace is centrally located in Copenhagen but for specific to/from information, the Danish transport site is available in English and is easy to navigate: www.rejseplanen.dk




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