A tower is like a story: it has a beginning, a middle and an end. When it comes to the Round Tower, the middle is the spiral ramp and the end is the platform with its observatory on top of the tower. These two parts of the tower have attracted most of the attention throughout the tower’s history. The Round Tower’s beginning, its entrance with the gateway to the tower, has received less notice.
The gateway of the tower is, however, too interesting to simply be brushed aside as something one passes in order to reach something else. The gateway is the beginning, also in a more figurative sense. It contains nothing less than the Round Tower’s birth certificate, generously spiced with traces of changing kings who have found it important to make their mark in this central location.
Old Age and Solidity
Peculiarly enough, the monarch who is least visible is none other than King Christian IV (1577-1648) who built the Round Tower. The gate arch, which is composed of a number of ashlars, most likely originates from his time. It can more or less be assigned to one of the lesser-known orders of columns, the so-called Tuscan order, which was probably not only chosen because of its appearance, but also the conceptions attached to it during the Renaissance.
The Tuscan column was associated with such assets as age, godliness, strength and solidity. These exact qualities fitted a tower, which, as the base of the observatory at the top, was meant to indicate a continuation or perhaps even a rebirth of ancient wisdom, but now in a Christian context. Or, as it has been phrased by the art historian Henrik Bramsen (1908-2002), who has delivered a comprehensive analysis of the Holy Trinity Complex, which the Round Tower is part of, “One wanted to have a ‘Tuscan’ portal with everything that this entailed of religious and moral conceptions and which corresponded to the style of the tower and the entire complex”.
The reason why Christian IV did not place his monogram on the Round Tower’s portal is probably because it was included in his gilded rebus, which is placed a little further up on the tower’s façade. His successors, however, have not been stingy with placing monograms on the portal, which has gradually been enlarged in order to make room for all of them.
His son Frederik III (1609-70) thus placed his own and Queen Sophie Amalie’s (1628-85) monograms just above the gate arch in a so-called cartouche, that is a marked inscription area surrounded by ornaments. A little further up, the succeeding king, Christian V (1646-99), placed his own and Queen Charlotte Amalie’s (1650-1714) monograms free-floatingly.
The monograms are surrounded by a keel-shaped frame, which appears slightly skewed in relation to the Round Tower. The skewness is caused by the fact that the portal originally was part the wall that once separated the cemetery around the Church of the Holy Trinity from the street Købmagergade, the course of which the wall followed.
Three University Functions
The keel-shaped framing also encloses several other elements that have been added during the 17th century, among these a band that winds itself symmetrically between Christian V’s and his Queen’s monograms. It carries the text “SOLI.TRIUNI.DEO.S[acratum]”, meaning “Dedicated to the one triune God”. The band can thus be seen as a slightly late heading for the entire Holy Trinity Complex.
The complex is named after the three elements comprising the Trinity but the number three can also refer to the three university functions that the edifice originally housed. On one of the two inscription tables, which are also part of the portal, the functions are termed as “a holy temple, a venerable home of the muses and a mathematical lookout”. The words refer to the Church of the Holy Trinity, which was initially the student’s church, the university library on the floor above the church and the observatory at the top of the Round Tower.
The Only Remaining Source
Art historians have not been in favour of the portal in its entirety, which among other things has been called “scrappy”. But the tables, in particular, have received some harsh words along the way. “The most unfortunate part”, the art historian Frederik Weilbach (1863-1937) thus writes, “is the two inscription tables, which appear so unflatteringly sharp with their rectangular frames against the winding band of the cartouche and the other ornaments”.
The inscription tables are, however, some of the most interesting things about the portal, both because of the history of the tables and because of the Latin inscriptions per se. One table thus tells us that Christian IV “with his own hand laid the first stone of this royal edifice/ year after the birth of Christ 1637, July 7”, which is the only remaining source telling us when the foundation stone ceremony took place.
However, Christian IV could hardly have laid the foundation stone himself, since he was staying in the town of Glückstadt in the Duchy of Holstein in July 1637. The inscription with this information was probably also not added until 20 years after the foundation stone was laid, most likely at the same time as the other table was inserted. The second table tells us that Frederik III completed and inaugurated the Holy Trinity Complex in 1656. That, however, does also not entirely match the truth since the university library was not inaugurated until the following year.
Aftermath of the Bombardment
The Round Tower’s birth certificate is not entirely preserved, though. The current table only partly consists of the original, whose exact age is unknown. But it is probably from the time of Frederik III’s reign since its inscription is quoted in the work Inscriptiones Haffnienses (Copenhagen Inscriptions), which is written by the historian Peder Hansen Resen (1625-88) in 1668, i.e. two years before the King’s death.
The table seems to have fallen down and been partially destroyed in 1807, when a source states that “A new stone with inscription will be placed above the entrance to the tower and replace the one that has fallen down”. The account is from the month of May, which means that the accident has nothing to do with the British bombardment of Copenhagen in September that same year.
It is, however, probably the aftermath of the bombardment that caused the reinstallation of the table to drag on. Up until the anniversary of the Danish Lutheran Reformation in 1817, the governing body of the University of Copenhagen, being in charge of the Round Tower at that time, came with a proposal to renew the table that had fallen down and to restore the other one. In order to keep the costs low, it was proposed to “shorten the inscriptions on the new one as well as on the extant old table” and to “make the table out of strong wood, so that when it is painted and the frame in which it will be inserted, like before, is made out of sandstone and well cemented, can last a long time in this place”.
Scarred by Time
It is not clear whether the proposal with the wooden table was ever brought to fruition but apparently the inscriptions were allowed to keep their entirety. Today they have the exact same length as when they were quoted in 1668 and again 80 years later in the work Hafnia hodierna (Copenhagen Today) by the architect Lauritz de Thurah (1706-59), wherein it is claimed that the tables are placed reversed from what they are today, although this is probably a misunderstanding.
The oldest part of the portal, Christian IV’s gate arch, has possibly also been renewed. In an old newspaper clipping, which exists in the Round Tower’s collection, one can read that the sculptor Rasmus Secher Malthe (1829-93) made a new one in connection with the restoration of the Round Tower in 1870-71 because the old one was “greatly scarred by time and various damages”. The information cannot be verified, but even if it is true, it adds yet another layer of history to the old portal, which is already so rich in just that – history.