Thursday, 4 June 2009

Lost treasures: The second Christiansborg Palace, Copenhagen

The second Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen was built by the architect Christian Frederik Hansen (1756-1845) in the years 1803-1828. It replaced the first Christiansborg, which had burned down in 1794. The following year much of Copenhagen was destroyed in a city fire and in 1807 the British terror bombardment caused much damage to the Danish capital, meaning that large parts of Copenhagen were rebuilt in the neoclassical style. Christiansborg Palace, the Cathedral and the City Hall were the most prestigious commissions and all of them were given to Hansen, who was called to Copenhagen from the Duchies of Schleswig-Holstein.
His was a heavy and monumental neoclassicism of the Roman brand and in his work on the palace he was restricted by the fact that it should be built literally on the ruins of the first Christiansborg. War, financial difficulties and lack of materials meant that work on the new palace proceeded slowly. Hansen’s drawings were approved by King Frederik VI in May 1803, but the work on the exterior was only completed in 1822. Work on the interiors continued for another ten years, while the King’s and Queen’s apartments could be inaugurated in 1828.
Hansen’s closest collaborator was the architect Gustav Friedrich Hetsch, who was twice his son-in-law and who deserves credit for much of the palace’s interiors. The King’s apartment was on the second floor, facing the Palace Square, while the Queen’s apartment was in the west wing on the same floor. The Crown Prince’s apartment was planned one level further up, but the fact that Denmark had no crown prince at the time meant that these rooms were never furnished. On the ground floor the Supreme Court Hall was the only room of significance to be completed.
After the 1794 fire the royal family had moved to the four mansions at Amalienborg and when the new Christiansborg was completed, they chose to remain there. Frederik VI and his family only stayed at Christiansborg for a few days in 1828, when the palace was inaugurated in connection with the wedding of the King’s daughter Princess Vilhelmine Marie and her second cousin Prince Frederik Carl Christian, later King Frederik VII.
Festivities and official ceremonies were those occasions when Christiansborg came to be used. Only Frederik VII made Christiansborg his official residence, but because of the hostility shown by the capital’s upper class towards his morganatic wife, Countess Louise Danner, he preferred to stay at palaces outside Copenhagen, such as Frederiksborg and Jægerspris. Christiansborg was also where the Constituent Assembly which gave Denmark its first constitution met in 1849 and thereafter the Supreme Court Hall became the plenary hall of the new Parliament. Even today Parliament is housed at the third Christiansborg Palace.
The second Christiansborg Palace was lost in a fire which erupted during the night of 3-4 October 1884. The next morning only ruins were left of the once magnificent palace. Only the Palace Church was saved and having been restored after a fire in 1992 it is now the only preserved interior from the second Christiansborg.
It was only in 1907 that work started on the third and present Christiansborg, which has little in common with the second. It was however built on its ruins and many things which had survived the fire were recycled for the third Christiansborg. The King’s Gate in the third photo is partly preserved from the second Christiansborg and what is now the entrance to the Supreme Court (fourth photo) was originally the second palace’s entrance towards the courtyard. Facing Prince Jørgen’s Courtyard the lower parts of the walls (picture 5) are from the second Christiansborg and the four statues by Bertel Thorvaldsen were those placed in niches on either side of the main entrance to the second palace.
The second picture shows a model of what the second Christiansborg looked like. Its façade can be seen in the first photo, which shows a detail of a painting of the old palace which hangs in the City Hall in Copenhagen. A similar painting, done by Heinrich Hansen, can be found at Buckingham Palace.

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