Castle of the Week 87 – Rosenborg Castle

Rosenborg Castle (Rosenborg Slot), located in the heart of Copenhagen, Denmark, is a beautiful castle built by Christian IV in the Dutch Renaissance style, distinctive for its many towers and spires. Once a summerhouse and royal residence, the castle today houses the Royal Danish Chronological Collections (De Danske Kongers kronologiske Samlinger), which include the Crown Jewels and the Danish Crown Regalia. The castle and gardens occupy 12.1 hectares, providing a centrally located museum and park enjoyed by millions of visitors every year.

Castle Construction and History

Known as the ‘builder king’ for his many Renaissance style architectural projects, Christian IV, King of Denmark and Norway, is said to have designed all but one tower of Rosenborg Castle. It was his favorite residence and he lived there until his death in 1648.

Rosenborg began in 1606 as a two storey summerhouse and garden (“The King’s Garden” or “Kongens Have”) on land purchased by Christian IV outside the city’s northeast ramparts. It was constructed of red brick with sandstone ornaments and a copper roof.

Although it was to undergo many changes through the years, Rosenborg Castle was ready to be inhabited by 1607. The next few years saw just a few additions, such as a gate tower with a drawbridge in 1611. Access to the gardens on the south side was provided by the Green Bridge. A moat entirely encircled the castle.

From 1611 to 1613 Christian IV was busy with the Kalmar War against Sweden. After its resolution he turned his attention again to Rosenborg. The castle was expanded to the north and made twice as long. From 1616 to 1624 an extra storey was added, the Tall Tower was built on the southwest side, 2 of the oriels were turned into spired towers, and the Long Hall on the upper floor was built. The Long Hall was an audience chamber leading to the Unicorn Throne, made from gold and the horns of unicorns (which were actually narwhal tusks). Christian IV first called the castle “Rosenborg” in 1624.

In 1634, in preparation for his son Christian’s wedding to Magdalena Sibylla, Christian IV had the old stair turret replaced with a new one which led to the 1st and 2nd floors, and included an outer double staircase. It stayed this way until 1758, when the outer staircase was removed.

From 1781-1785 the north side of the moat was filled in and the parade and drill square were added to the southwest side of the castle. The grounds are still used today for drill practice by the Queen’s Guards.

The royal family’s personal art treasures had been stored at Rosenborg since 1658, and even when it ceased to be used as the royal residence in about 1710, it continued to be used for that purpose. In 1833 Frederik VI decided to turn it into a museum, which was then opened to the public in 1838.

The castle became state property in 1849 with the abolition of Absolutism, and the collections became a personal property settlement in 1854, meaning that it passed down from king to king.

Rosenborg was twice again used as a royal residence, first after Christiansborg Palace burned down in 1794, and again during the British attack on Copenhagen in 1801.

Features of the Castle

Rosenborg has many unique and charming features that were added throughout its history by different monarchs.

  • The wall panelling of the Winter Room is inlaid with 75 Dutch paintings purchased by Christian IV, which are still there today.
  • The Dark Room (so-called because of losing direct sunlight when the Great Tower was built in 1616) has a whimsical chair with devices in the arms for restraining a guest. The unsuspecting visitor then gets soaked with water from pipes in the seat, connected to a vessel in the chair back. When the visitor is released, a trumpet sounds.
  • Christian V replaced the paintings in the Long Hall with twelve tapestries depicting motifs of the Scanian War. These tapestries were taken to Christiansborg Palace in 1917, but returned to Rosenborg in 1999.
  • Frederik III had an ascending chair or lift installed in the North Tower, replacing the spiral staircase.
  • From 1705-07 Frederik IV replaced the Long Hall ceiling paintings with an arched stucco ceiling in the beautiful Baroque style.

Royal Danish Chronological Collections (De Danske Kongers kronologiske Samlinger)

One thing that distinguishes Rosenborg from many other castles is that the inside appears fully furnished, due to the wealth of its collections. The style progresses chronologically from room to room, starting with the Renaissance style of Christian IV and continuing through the style of Frederik VII (d. 1863). (More recent collections are kept at the Amalienborg Palace. As Frederik VII was the last king of the House of Oldenborg, it was decided that Rosenborg’s collection would stop with him, and Amalienborg’s would start with the House of Glücksborg which succeeded him.)


The Treasury, which opened to the public in 1975, is located in the basement and is made of concrete. It has three main sections, each with their own collections.

First Section

This first section contains Christian III’s State Sword, which was used at coronations up to Frederik III’s in 1648. The Oldenborg Horn can also be found here. According to legend the silver gilded horn was given to Count Otto of the House of Oldenborg in 989 by a mysterious young girl while he was out hunting in the woods of Bernefeuer. Rather than drinking the liquid inside, which she said would benefit his family and all of Denmark, he poured it out and ran off with the horn. Though the horn was not made until the 1400s, it still makes for a good story.

Second Section

Christian IV’s crown, which was made for his 1596 coronation, is found in the second section of the Treasury. Weighing 2895 grams, it is notable for being an open crown, against the fashion of the day. This was symbolic of his being heir to the united Nordic countries, as the Nordic kings wore open crowns.

Third Section

The third section of the Treasury houses the Crown Jewels, the Crown Regalia, the Crown of the Absolutist Kings, and the Queen’s Crown. The Crown Jewels began with Christian VI’s queen, Sophie Magdalene, who in her 1746 will stipulated that the jewelry would always be at the disposal of the queen.

Rosenborg Castle Gardens – Kongens Have

The King’s Gardens, the oldest royal gardens in Denmark, originally provided vegetables for the kitchen. As garden fashions changed from Renaissance to Baroque to Romantic, the gardens kept pace, with the addition of new features such as avenues lined with lime trees. Over the years they became more elaborate and are now quite extensive, offering something for everyone: a puppet theatre, restaurant, café, playground, playing field, rose garden, walking lanes, and many sculptures.

The park’s southern entrance features two plinths topped with gold domes that frame the Escort’s Lane
(Kavalergangen) which was originally used as a jousting lane. A bronze statue of Hans Christian Andersen, by artist August Saabye, was added to the gardens in 1880. The gardens were opened to the public in the early 1700s, and have received widespread use ever since.

Write-up & photos provided by Kester.
Figure 1 – from Denmark, an Official Handbook, c1970, p. 289. Used with the kind permission of the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Figure 2 – map is copyrighted by The Palaces and Properties Agency, Denmark, used with their kind permission.

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