Royal residences in Norway

By Tor Dagre

The Royal Palace in Oslo | The Skaugum estate in Asker | Bygdøy Royal Farm | The Royal Mountain Farm (Kongsseteren) | "Bloksberg" | Royal residences outside the Oslo area


The Royal Palace in Oslo

The Royal Palace in Oslo is situated on a hill at the end of Karl Johans gate, Oslo's main thoroughfare, which leads from the central railway station, past the Norwegian national assembly (the Storting), the Uni-versity of Oslo and the National Theatre.

The Palace was designed by Norwegian architect H. D. F. Linstow and constructed between 1825 and 1848. It was the Swedish-Norwegian King Carl Johan who in 1822 drew attention to the "need for a suitable residence for the country's Monarch" and initiated building plans. Linstow presented the design for the royal residence the following year and building commenced in 1825.

The designs for the new Palace were altered several times during the construc-tion period. The final result was a flat-roofed, three-storey building in brick and plaster. The most important reception rooms are on the first floor, which has a ceiling height of 5.56 metres. The Ball Room has a ceiling height of 10.7 metres.

Decoration of the interior started in 1838 with the assistance of architects H. E. Schirmer and J. H. Nebelong. C. F. Werg-mann was the chief decorative artist; he was, among other things, responsible for the beautiful decorations in the Banqueting Hall and the Private Dining Room. J. Flintoe painted the murals in the so-called "Bird Room". The Royal Chapel was designed by Linstow.

During the period of union with Sweden, 1814-1905, the Palace was used only during the King's visits to Oslo. It did not become a permanent residence for the royal family until 1905, when Danish Prince Carl, after the dissolution of the union and the national referendum, agreed to become King of Norway, assuming the name of Haakon VII.

King Haakon moved into the Palace with Queen Maud and their two-year-old son, Olav, in November 1905. Apart from the years between 1940 and 1945, when Norway was occupied by the Germans, the Palace has been the royal residence ever since. Olav V (1957-91) lived there from the time of his accession. At present Norway's new King, Harald V, lives at the Skaugum estate in Asker, just outside Oslo, but spends his working day at the Palace.

The Skaugum estate in Asker

The municipality of Asker lies to the south-west of Oslo. Before the Second World War it was a typically agricultural area. Prior to the Reformation, the Skaugum estate, lying under the charac-teristic Skaugum hill, belonged to the Church of Saint Mary in Oslo and the Nonneseter convent. It subsequently had many different owners, the last being Fritz Wedel Jarlsberg, a government minister and Norwegian ambassador to Paris, who bought the estate in 1909.

Wedel Jarlsberg gave the estate to Crown Prince Olav when he married the Swedish Princess Märtha in 1929. The couple immediately moved into the main building. Unfortunately, it burned to the ground on 20 May 1930. The new building was designed by architect Arnstein Arneberg and completed in 1932.

The building, in the functional style, now stands below the Skaugum hill, approximately 200 metres above sea level. Covering an area of about 1,000 square metres, it is surrounded by a wonderful 38-acre garden and has magnificent views of the Oslo fjord. The building has been furnished as a home rather than a place for entertaining official visitors, although it has also been used for this purpose many times. The Skaugum estate also comprises farm buildings for livestock and agricultural and forestry production.

Crown Prince Olav and Crown Princess Märtha lived at Skaugum both before and after the German occupation. During the war, the property was vandalised by German Reichskommissar J. Terboven, who resided there. After the death of Crown Princess Märtha in 1954, Crown Prince Olav continued to live at Skaugum with his children until he acceded to the throne in 1957. When King Olav's son, Crown Prince Harald, married Sonja Haraldsen in 1968, the King gave them Skaugum as a wedding present. The royal couple's two children, Crown Prince Haakon and Princess Märtha Louise, grew up there.

Bygdøy Royal Farm

Bygdøy Royal Farm has been called the most famous farm in Norway. Although it lies near the centre of the Norwegian capital, the farm is still in full production. Bygdøy, now a peninsula 3.6 square kilo-metres in area, was an island until quite recent times.

At the end of the thirteenth century, Bygdøy was purchased from the Hovedøya monastery by King Haakon V as a gift for his wife, Queen Eufemia. Their daughter, Ingeborg, later returned the island to the monastery. After the Reformation, however, the island once again became the property of the crown, with the status of a farm under Akershus Castle.

Norway was in union with Denmark at that time. The Governors used the island, first for hunting and later for farming and entertaining visitors. King Christian IV started a zoological garden there and Governor Just Høegh designed the farm and garden which remain largely unaltered today.

The main building, which is beautifully situated with a view of Oslo city centre, has a total area of about 500 square metres. From this building there is a view of the fjord, where the royal yacht Norge lies at anchor. The yacht was a gift to King Haakon from the Norwegian people after the Second World War.

After Norway entered into union with Sweden in 1814 the Royal Farm was placed at the disposal of the royal family, the Bernadottes. It was not used very often, although King Carl Johan bought land on the mainland with the idea of creating a park all the way from Bygdøy to the Palace. Carl Johan's son, Oscar I, shelved these plans and concentrated instead on planning the park around the Royal Farm. He also built the hunting lodge, Oscarshall. Today Oscarshall is a museum which is open to the public in the summer season.

After Norway became independent in 1905, Bygdøy Royal Farm was used frequently by King Haakon and Queen Maud. They lived there every summer and the King continued this tradition right up to his death in 1957. His son, Olav V, also felt strong ties to the Royal Farm and used it as a summer residence.

The Royal Mountain Farm (Kongsseteren)

The royal family has another residence inside the Oslo city limits - the Royal Mountain Farm, Kongsseteren. This is a complex of log buildings on the Holmenkollen hill, just a stone's throw from the world-famous ski jump. Kongsseteren is built in the traditional Norwegian style and was a gift from the Norwegian people to the new royal family in 1906. It was designed by architect Kr. Biong. Kongsseteren is a wonderful starting-off point for skiing trips in the forests of Nordmarka, the unique recreational area that surrounds Oslo. The views over the capital and the Oslo fjord are breathtaking.


The island of Hankø, off the eastern coast of the Oslo fjord, not far from the Swedish border, has been known for generations as a centre of sailing activities and is the starting point of many regattas. It is here that Crown Prince Olav bought his summer house, "Bloksberg", a charming cabin, originally built by a shipowner. In his later years, King Olav continued to use Hankø as the base for his sailing activities but he usually lived on board the royal yacht.

After the death of King Olav, "Bloksberg" has been little used by King Harald and his family. Earlier, the royal family had preferred a holiday residence which stemmed from Queen Sonja's family. However, the site lacked sufficient privacyso the king had a new vacation residence built at Mågerø. The compound, at Tjøme in Vestfold county, consists of four buildings - a main house, a guest house, servants quarters and a boathouse.

The holiday residence is constructed in wood and stone and merges beautifully with the landscape. The site provides seclusion - it lies on restricted military property where no trespassing is allowed.

Royal residences outside the Oslo area

There are a number of other royal resi-dences in Norway. They are owned by the state but are used only by the royal family. The best known of these is "Gamlehaugen", a beautiful building in Fjøsanger, just outside Bergen. "Gamlehaugen" was originally the private residence of ship-owner Christian Michelsen, Norway's first Prime Minister after the country became independent in 1905. The property was purchased by the state in 1925 and placed at the disposal of the King.

The royal family also has the use of "Stiftsgården" in Trondheim, a unique example of wooden architecture. "Stifts-gården" is the largest wooden building in Scandinavia, a total of 1,150 square metres in area, built in 1774-78 by Cecilia Christine de Schøller, wife of a Privy Councillor. The property was purchased by the state in 1800.

The beautiful patrician house "Ledaal" in Stavanger is also at the disposal of the King. The building, which was originally the summer residence of shipowner Gabriel Schanche Kielland, was completed in 1803 but was later converted to a year-round residence. It is assumed that several of the people and events in Alexander Kielland's novels are based on the Kielland family at Ledaal. The property was purchased by the Stavanger Museum in 1936.

The writer of this article, Tor Dagre, is former editor in chief of Nytt fra Norge.

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