The beautiful Oscarhall summer palace at Bygdøy, Oslo, was built during the period 1847-1852, commissioned by King Oscar I. From Oscarshall there’s a view to Frognerkilen and the palace is placed in an idyllic setting, in what was once called Ladegaardsøen.
The building of Oscarshall was led by the Danish architect Johan Henrik Nebelong. Both King Oscar I himself and Queen Joséphine were deeply involved in the project. The architecture is English late Gothic, called Tudor. Frognerkilen and its surroundings, including Oscarshall, tell us a story about a romantic king and queen.
King Oscar I and Queen Joséphine sought to promote Norwegian art and craftsmanship when they commissioned the building of the summer palace, and today it is a monument to Norwegian art and artisans from the mid-1800s.
The original thought for King Oscar and his queen Joséphine was to build a place where they could withdraw together with their guests when they visited the capital. However, history tells us that the beautiful summer house never was properly used. On the other hand, there are long traditions of receptions and parties connected to royal events at Oscarashall.
At that time, large parts of Ladegaardsøen, now known as the Bygdøy peninsula, belonged to the Royal Family. According to contemporary writers the site of the summer palace was chosen by Oscar I’s sons during a sailing trip in the summer of 1847. The dramatic location at the top of a steep slove overlooking the sea reflected the popular trends of the era.
Although the palace seldom was occupied, it was a popular motif for painters and photographers during the late 1800s. Oscarshall is beautifully situated in the landscape, and it’s not surprising that “everybody” wanted to visit this small, but still great royal pearl.
The King and Queen used private funds for the construction work and were themselves the owners of the land. Architect Johan Henrik Nebelung worked closely with them, helping to turn their wishes into reality.
Poor maintenance and later restoration
Oacarshall was like many other buildings a victim of poor maintenance. Count Wedel Jarlsberg’s desire to save money may have been the detriment of Oscarshall. The desire to speed up the work led to demands that the workers continue throughout November and December 1850. As early as spring 1851 repair work had to be carried out because of damp and frost damage.
Over the years the building has undergone extensive repairs and the quality of the work has varied.
However, the total renovation of Oscarshall from 2005 to 2009 included a complete restoration of the main building’s exteriors and interiors, as well as the ancillary buildings. The primary objective was to recreate Nebelong’s original as closely as possible.
Oscarshall and the surrounding park were officially opened for public in 2009. Nina E. Høye has written a beautiful and instructive book on Oscarshall and the events who lead to what can be experienced today.
One of the main aims has been to make Oscarshall more accessible than before. The summer palace is now to a larger extent used as a venue for official events as well as entertainment and concerts. In addition the building is better equipped to accommodate the public, and guided tours are offered during the summer season. This will continue the tradition of King Oscar I, who himself opened Oscarshall to the public and made the summer palace a popular destination for the population of Christiania (now Oslo) as well as visitors.
Oscarshall is situated in a park called “Benadotte’s Public Park”. Inside the castle you may experience several interesting items. The castle has in fact turned into a great museum for young and old, about “kings and queens” who have “come and gone”. It is an interesting and important part of Norwegian history.
Oscarhall Summer Palace in Oslo, written by Tor Kjolberg
All exterior photos by Jon Arne Foss
All interior photos by The Royal Court, Norway