Welcome to the Royal Palace
A historic jewel in the middle of Oslo
CYNTHIA ELYCE RUBIN
The Norwegian American
Oslo offers stunning scenery, world-class museums, and activities right on the doorstep of urban culture. Take in the opera, shops, or enjoy a seafood meal. Before you set off for hiking or even island-hopping, discover Norwegian royalty.
England’s royal dynasty grabs all the headlines, but there is royalty in Oslo. The royal residence, home to King Harald V and Queen Sonja, sits at the top of the main thoroughfare, Karl Johans gate. A concrete symbol of the course of Norwegian history since 1814, it is where the daily work of the monarchy is conducted. Here the king presides over the Council of State, grants audiences, and holds official dinners. Foreign heads of state who visit Oslo stay at the palace and most of the members of the royal court have their workplaces there.
Norway is a constitutional monarchy; the king is formally the head of state, but his duties are mainly representative and ceremonial. The legislative and executive powers lie with the country’s elected bodies. When the constitution states that the “executive power is vested in the king,” this now means that it is vested in the government.
The palace building, completed in 1849 in neoclassical style, was designed by Danish architect Hans Ditlev Franciscus Linstow (1787-1851). Originally educated as a lawyer, he studied architecture at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen and came to Norway in 1812. When the union between Norway and Denmark was dissolved in 1814, he stayed.
When Harald V became king at the beginning of the 1990s, a survey of the building showed that it needed a complete renovation. The state of the electrical system was not up to code; the kitchens and sanitation had seen little improvement since 1906; the working conditions for the staff did not comply with the national working environment regulations. The fire-alarm system was not adequate, and the emergency exits were not secure. The façade had not been properly maintained, and the floor beams contained rot.
Thus began a rebuilding and rehabilitation that involved many complicated changes. On March 15, 1999, 150 years to the day after the Lord Chamberlain of the British royal household took possession of the original building, the Royal Palace was completely restored and renovated. However, the furnishing and decoration of the royal apartments (completed in spring 2001) was a separate project under the leadership of the royal court.
Inside the palace
The reception rooms at the Royal Palace reflect the various interior styles that were fashionable during its 25 years of construction. The palace is open to the public only for official guided tours from late June until the middle of August. The vestibule is a prime example of Norwegian Classicist architecture. It is the first room that visitors on the guided tour enter when they arrive at the palace. Visitors see various state rooms. Pompeian frescoes decorate the banquet hall where more than 200 people may dine. National Romanticism is the theme of the Bird Room that reflects the great interest in Norwegian nature and history. This is where all those seeking an audience with the king wait to be announced. Visitors also admire the most beautiful guest room in the palace, the King Haakon VII Suite where both kings and presidents have stayed, as well as the ballroom. A new exhibition is organized every year.
Unfortunately, the guided tours for 2021 were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, tours are set to resume in 2022.
The park around the palace is a popular recreational area, surrounded on all sides by well-kept lawns, mature trees, small ponds, and statues. The Palace Park is one of the capital’s first and largest parks. It was developed simultaneously with the construction of the new royal palace and is based on the ideal model of nature that prevailed in European horticulture in the mid-1800s. The park is a protected cultural monument managed by the palace gardeners. The main part is open to the public all year. In the southern area is the Queen’s Park, created in 1751 as a private rococo garden, but since 1840 it has been part of the Palace Park and is open from May 18 to Oct. 1.
The king’s guard is the military guard charged with ensuring the safety of the royal family in times of peace, crisis, and war. The Royal Norwegian Company of Marksmen was established in 1856 to enhance security around King Oscar I in Stockholm. The company was renamed His Majesty the King’s Guard in 1866 and was transferred to Oslo toward the end of the union between Sweden and Norway. Since 1888, the guard has been on duty at the palace and other royal residences 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It has permanent sentry duty at the palace.
A popular free attraction is the changing of the guard that takes place daily at 1:30 p.m. It is not clear as of this writing if there will be a daily ceremony in 2022 due to the covid situation. Erected in 1845-1849 the guardhouse is said to be the oldest building in Norway built in the Swiss style.
The guided tours office can be reached at (+47) 22 04 89 64 between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. during the summer season. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on the changing of the guard ceremony, contact the Norwegian tourist information office.
This article originally appeared in the April 15, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.