The Renaissance King’s Copenhagen

By Allan Mylius Thomsen

When Frederik II died in 1588, eight days were to pass before his son Crown Prince Christian turned 11 years of age. The reign of young Christian IV came to last 60 years. To this day, his architectural heritage is to be found throughout Copenhagen and the kingdom of his day.


Christian IV had an insatiable appetite for all things in life. He soon dragged Denmark into adventures of war, but a number of unsuccessful campaigns amputated the nation and rendered the state in ruin. He married twice, had three official mistresses and fathered numerous legitimate and illegitimate children. In fact, as many children were born outside as inside wedlock.


Christian IV was not only a very colourful person; he was also the most industrious of the Danish kings. He founded a great number of new towns and fortifications for military and mercantile purposes in the kingdom of his day. He founded Kristianstad in the province of Scania in southern Sweden. Norway was under the Danish crown too, and in 1624 he founded Kristiania, which was renamed Oslo as late as 1924. He also founded Kristiansand in Norway, and in northern Germany he founded Christianspris by the Kiel Inlet. The most prominent example of the founding of towns is Glückstadt – The Lucky Town – which was founded in 1616 on the north bank of the Elbe in the Duchy of Holstein in Germany. But it was Zealand and Copenhagen that benefited the most from the reign of this industrious monarch.


On the 28 February 1648, Christian IV died at his beloved Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen. Despite losing two wars and his fortune, ruining his nuptial and amorous relationships and being politically sidelined by his son-in-law Corfitz Ulfeldt, he became one of the most beloved kings in the history of the nation. Not least due to his magnificent architectural heritage.

The following buildings built by Christian IV are still to be found in Copenhagen:

The Royal Arsenal, Proviantgården and the Søren Kierkegaard Garden on Slotsholmen.

The Royal Arsenal (1598-1615) was constructed as a naval supply building and lies adjacent to the Royal Naval Harbour behind the then Copenhagen Castle where Christiansborg Palace stands today. The Royal Arsenal was inaugurated in 1604. The land was reclaimed in 1867-68 and currently serves as a public park, Søren Kierkegaard Haven. The Royal Library itself was completed in 1906 and was constructed on the remains of Christian IV’s Galley Building. The Royal Arsenal houses one of the finest armament collections in the world.


The King’s Brew House 

The King’s Brew House – Kongens Bryghus – was completed in 1618. It supplied the Royal Court, the army and the navy with beer. It was privatised in 1686. In 1632 and 1767, the Royal Brew House was damaged by fire. A new brew house was constructed, and the old brew house served as storage. In 1891, the Royal Brew House merged with 16 Copenhagen breweries under the name De forenede Bryggerier A/S, which in turn was purchased by Carlsberg in 1971. However, the name Kongens Bryghus is still to be found on the label of a dark, sweet household beer called hvidtøl along with a portrait of Christian IV. The old brew house is located behind Christiansborg Palace and currently serves as a storage facility for the Royal Arsenal. The tiled roof is the largest in northern Europe.



Construction of the Christianshavn neighbourhood started in 1618. Christianshavn held the privileges of an independent royal borough until 1674. The Knippelsbro Bridge was constructed to serve this new neighbourhood, which has since become considerably larger. The construction of the naval base Holmen in extension to Christianshavn began in 1681.



In 1619, construction began on Christian IV’s magnificent Renaissance Stock Exchange by the ramps of the Knippelsbro Bridge. It was established to promote mercantile trading in Copenhagen. At the time it resembled an exotic shopping centre with retail facilities for foreign and Danish merchants. Originally, the Stock Exchange was constructed using brick masonry in a warm shade of yellow. The firework pyrotechnist Ludvig Heideritter designed the spire with its four intertwined dragons. The Chamber of Commerce purchased the Stock Exchange in 1857, and in 1878 they restored the façade using veneered cement-brick cast masonry, which gives the impression of redbrick masonry.


The Holmen’s Church

The Holmen’s Church (1562-63) was originally a naval blacksmith’s forge that made anchors. Christian IV converted the building to serve as a naval church. Just as the Stock Exchange, Holmens Church was originally constructed using yellow-brick masonry in a warm shade of yellow. The south-wing and east-wing extensions were added in the 1640s, following a cruciform plan. The long wing facing the canal was constructed in 1707-08 and houses a two-storey sepulchral chapel. Among the notabilities buried there is the Norwegian-Danish naval hero Tordenskjold.



In 1631, construction began on a housing estate on the site of a Copenhagen brickyard. The estate was called De Nye Bådsmandsboder (The New Boatswain’s Stalls) and housed the naval rank and file. The original houses commissioned by Christian IV only had one storey. Today, the estate is known by the name Nyboder and is reserved for Danish naval officers. A large section of Nyboder was demolished in the mid 19th century. However, one of the original barns is still to be found on Sankt Pauls Gade. Today, it houses a neighbourhood heritage museum.



Rosenborg Castle

In 1606, construction began on what had been intended as an agricultural countryseat for Christian IV east of the peripheral rampart of Copenhagen. Following a succession of reconstructions, it was finally completed in 1624 by which time agriculture had given way to gardening. Originally, Rosenborg had a circumambient moat, which is now only partial. The city ramparts were extended to encompass the castle in 1647. Rosenborg and its beautiful park was the preferred Copenhagen residence of Christian IV. This is also where he died on 28February 1648. Today, Rosenborg is a museum, housing among other things the Crown Jewels.


The Round Tower and the Trinity Church

The 36-metre Round Tower – Rundetårn – was completed in 1642. Its characteristic spiral passage, which winds its way right to the top of the tower, leads to an astronomical observatory. Christian IV had a riddle inscribed on the façade in a mixture of Latin and Hebrew. It allegedly reads: ‘Lead Knowledge and Justice, Jehovah, to the Heart of the Crowned Christian 4’. The Trinity Church was erected to serve university students but also housed the university library in the attic. It was not completed before after the king’s death and was consecrated in 1656.