The History of Christiansborg
Christiansborg Palace as it stands today is only the most recent of a succession of five buildings that have occupied the islet of Slotsholmen in Copenhagen for more than 800 years. For centuries, one building has been succeeded by the next as a consequence of wars, modernisations and fires.
Today, the islet of Slotsholmen is surrounded by narrow canals, but in the Middle Ages it was a good distance from land. The Danish Bishop, Absalon, took an interest in the islet, and in 1167, he founded a fortress on Slotsholmen consisting of a courtyard with several buildings and surrounded by a wall to protect it from Vikings.
The castle was frequently under attack after Absalon died. The final blow came when the Danish King Valdemar Atterdag was defeated in 1370 by a coalition that included the Hanseatic League from Northern Germany. One of the conditions of the peace treaty was that the castle should be demolished.
The ruins of Absalon's Castle still lie beneath the present-day Christiansborg Palace.
A new castle was built on the ruins of Absalon's Castle at the end of the 14th century. It became known later as Copenhagen Castle and was circular, had a moat around it and a tall tower above the entrance.
Copenhagen Castle existed for several hundred years and became the permanent residence of the Danish kings from the middle of the 15th century. King after king rebuilt it and made additions.
In the 17th century, for instance, King Christian IV had a naval harbour constructed between the Royal Arsenal, where weapons were stored, and the Warehouse, where provisions were stored. Both buildings are still standing today.
Denmark became an absolute monarchy in 1660, and Copenhagen Castle was then considered too small to demonstrate the power and magnificence of kings.
In 1731, King Christian VI had the castle torn down to make room for the first Christiansborg Palace – a pompous, baroque palace built around a quadrangle with a riding ground, a theatre and a chapel.
With its 348 apartments and a court comprising about 1,000 people, the palace was the biggest in Northern Europe at the time.
A fire in 1794 reduced the palace and the chapel to ruins – only the buildings at the riding ground were saved.
While the second, more modest, Christiansborg Palace was being built in the neoclassical style common to the period, the Royal Family lived temporarily at Amalienborg Palace. By the time the palace was completed in 1828, King Frederik VI had decided to remain at Amalienborg Palace and only to use the new palace when he entertained prominent visitors.
With the transition to a constitutional monarchy in 1849, King Frederik VII decided to hand over part of the palace to the Parliament.
Christiansborg Palace burned down once again in 1884, but the buildings at the riding ground and the chapel were saved. However, due to political squabbles, the ruin stood for 23 years before the palace was rebuilt.
In 1907, Frederik VIII laid the foundation stone for the third and present-day Christiansborg Palace, which is in the neo-baroque style. The ponderous, robust expression was intended to emphasise the role of the building as the country’s political heart.