Eidsvoll House (Eidsvollsbygningen) is a house full of exciting history! For Norwegians it is one of the most important national symbols, inextricably tied to the constitution, independence and the dramatic events of 1814, which are celebrated on the 17th of May every year.
This is why Eidsvoll House became Norway’s first national monument in 1837. Numerous extensive restoration operations have all been directed towards recreating the historic site of the birth of the modern Norwegian state.
However, Eidsvoll House is more than just a monument to politics. An ironworks was situated here since the early 1600s, and a works owner residence dating from approximately 1770 constitutes part of the main building. When Carsten Anker created his luxurious residence around the turn of the 19th century, it became one of the country’s most modern private residences and was modelled on French and Danish ideals. Anker’s passionate attention to detail and sure sense of style is reflected in everything from the neo-classicist architectural main features down to the details of the interior.
1814 – The Year of Miracles
At the start of 1814 Norway was part of the absolute monarchy Denmark-Norway. By the end of the year the country had entered into a personal union with Sweden. In between, Norwegians had mobilised, drawn up the world’s most democratic constitution and elected their own king. It was hailed as ‘the year of miracles’ and the year of the Norwegian constitution.
The union between Denmark and Norway had begun 434 years before. In the years up to 1814 Denmark-Norway had allied itself with Napoleon Bonaparte in the French emperor’s wars with the other major European powers. Following Bonaparte’s defeat at a crucial battle near Leipzig in the autumn of 1813 , peace negotiations were opened in the port city of Kiel. Here, as punishment for Denmark-Norway’s support for France, Denmark’s King Frederik VI was forced to cede his Norwegian territories to Sweden, which had long wished to take control over Norway.
Denmark’s viceroy in Norway when news of the Treaty of Kiel arrived was Crown Prince Christian Frederik, heir presumptive to the Danish throne. He opposed the treaty, arguing that he was the rightful heir to the Norwegian crown, and was therefore entitled to take over as king as soon as Frederik VI’s rule no longer applied there. Initially the Crown Prince sought the advice of his good friend Carsten Anker, owner of the Eidsvoll Verk ironworks. Then he embarked on a journey up the Gudbrandsdalen valley and over the Dovre mountains to Trondheim to whip up support among the people. Having returned to Eidsvoll he convened a council of the country’s leading men. At this meeting, on 16 February, he presented his plan to declare himself king and, when time allowed, give the country a constitution.
Not everyone backed the plan. Professor Georg Sverdrup protested: “You have no more right to the Norwegian throne than I or any other Norwegian,” he said. According to Sverdrup, it was up to the people themselves to elect a new sovereign now that the union with Denmark was over. And before a king could be elected those very same people had to draw up a constitution for themselves. Giving assurances that Christian Frederik would be the one elected king, the meeting decided to call together representatives from the whole country to an assembly at Eidsvoll that would adopt a new constitution.
Christian Frederik instructed every parish in the country to swear an oath to support the Norwegian independence process, after which the parishioners were to elect delegates who would, in turn, choose the representatives who would make up the Constituent Assembly.
Restoration up to 2014
In connection with the Constitution’s bicentenary in 2014 the Norwegian Ministry of Culture has tasked Statsbygg (the Norwegian public construction and property management service) with restoring Eidsvoll House (Eidsvollsbygningenn) to how it may have looked in 1814. The main house and the two adjacent pavilions are being restored to give the public an idea of how they appeared in 1814. The project also includes the reconstruction of the Eidsvoll house basement, and an upgrade of the surrounding park. The restoration ahead of 2014 is the largest and most comprehensive ever undertaken at Eidsvoll House, and is provisionally estimated to cost NOK 380 million.
In October 2011 Statsbygg began the work of restoring Eidsvoll House to its former glory under the ownership of Carsten Anker and how it appeared to the men who assembled at this building “of extraordinary size” to draw up Norway’s constitution in the spring of 1814. Recreating Anker’s basement floor is one of the restoration project’s most exciting undertakings.
Before work commenced the buildings and park were comprehensively surveyed. Inside the house colour samples have been taken of the various surfaces in search of paint and other traces dating from 1814. The woodwork and structural elements have also been extensively tested to determine the building’s condition. Statsbygg has engaged the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) to study the colour samples, and Multiconsult AS to assess the building structure. Geir Thomas Risåsen, art historian and curator at Eidsvoll 1814, has been engaged by Statsbygg to trawl the historical record in pursuit of documentation.
Eidsvoll House was first emptied of its contents and then closed to visitors. The extensive construction work means that the public cannot access the house or pavilions, unless by special arrangement with Statsbygg, when it is possible to see how far the work has progressed. However, the Eidsvoll 1814 museum remains open! While restoration is underway the public can still enjoy a wide range of activities and displays. Statsbygg and Eidsvoll 1814 have also set up a dedicated restoration information centre.
So when Eidsvoll House opens its doors in connection with the Constitution’s bicentenary celebrations in 2014, visitors will encounter a new entrance to the north, through which they will enter the basement floor, with its open hearth and servants going about the day’s household chores, and gain an insight into the social differences that existed in Norwegian society at that time. Then they will be able to go where no visitors have gone before – up the old staircase to the beautiful entrance hall. These stairs have not been in use for 150 years.
There they will find room after room looking just as they did when Carsten Anker turned Eidsvoll Manor into a fashionable modern home in 1814, with wallpaper-clad walls bordered in a colour palette far different to that we would feel comfortable with today, and accentuated by textiles of the sort Anker himself would have chosen. The ‘year of miracles’ in Norwegian history will come alive for new generations, and Eidsvoll House will stand ready to continue being the country’s foremost national symbol for another hundred years!
Norwegian Center for Constitutional History
Main attractions: Eidsvoll House, Wergeland’s House democracy centre, Kafé Standpunkt lunch café, Museum shop.
Due to restoration works for the bicentenary celebrations in 2014 the Eidsvoll House is closed for the public until February 2014. In the meantime you can hear the exciting history of 1814 in our visitors center, Wergelands Hus, which also includes a film about the danish Prince Christian Frederik, who was elected to be the new King in Norway in 1814.
Opening times 2014:
1 May – 31 August
Mon – Fri: 10am – 5pm
Sat – Sun: 10am – 5pm
Thurs: 10.00 – 8.14pm in May and June
(The museum shop opens every day at 11am)
1 September – 31 December
Wed – Fri: 10am – 4pm
Sat – Sun: 11am – 4pm
Thurs: 10am – 8.14pm in September
(The museum shop opens every day at 11am)
Tel: +47 63922210
Fax: +47 63922211