Author: Rundetaarn

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To Live Well Is To Live Concealed

When the organ in the Trinity Church was restored in 1931, an old marble tablet was found under the large instrument. Five years later, the marble tablet was placed in the Round Tower’s spiral ramp, as marble tablets are not intended to be put away. Or said differently: it is not aimed at them when the old maxim states that to live well is to live concealed. The words, most famously coined by the Roman poet Ovid, apply much better to one of the lesser-known astronomical writers of the 18th century, Johan Samuel Augustin (1715-1785). At least he believed so...

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Trade at All Heights

There is an old joke about a Norwegian tourist standing in front of the Round Tower and taking a long look at it. A Dane comes along and remarks, “I’m sure you don’t have a tower like this in Norway?” and the Norwegian replies, “No, but if we had one, it would have been both taller and rounder”. One should not be too square when it comes to questions of roundness, but at least the part about the height is not quite right. Norway actually does have a Round Tower, which is, however, somewhat shorter than its namesake in Copenhagen....

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Location, Location, Location

If you want to build something that is going to last, you rarely get far by cutting corners. Even if what you want to build is a round tower. Maybe that is why King Christian IV (1577-1648) did not take any shortcuts when he built the Round Tower. The obvious choice would have been to place the university’s new observatory, which the Round Tower was to house, at a reasonable distance from the vibrant capital and the smoke “which is spouted out everywhere from the wood burning stoves”, as formulated by the astronomer Christen Sørensen Longomontanus (1562-1647). But Christian IV...

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The King Returns

If one can say that the Round Tower belongs to anyone, then it must belong to King Christian IV (1577-1648). It was he who, as early as February 1637, slightly less than half a year before the foundation of the tower was laid, had made an agreement with a citizen in the important Northern German Reformation city of Emden to deliver shiploads of brick for its construction. And it was he who, five years later, in July 1642, sat down at Rosenborg Castle and wrote in a letter that he had drawn a plan of the upper platform of “the...

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Crossing the Creek to Fetch Water

When looking downward, I gaze upward. This was how the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) described one of the allegorical sculptures that decorated his manor house Uraniborg on the island of Hven. But the words also fit Brahe himself. Uraniborg contained not only an observatory where he could follow the movements of the planets in the sky, but it was also the centre of a stringently designed garden, which among other things consisted of ingeniously landscaped flowerbeds, many of them in star-shaped patterns. Here Tycho Brahe cultivated herbs with which he could do chemical or alchemical experiments in Uraniborg’s basements....

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The Round Tower Marches Past

In one of his writings the philosopher, theologian and writer Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55) imagines a wealthy bourgeois who believes that he is a good Christian just because he is giving a good deal of money to the priest. It is, however, “truly as ridiculous as if the Round Tower would pose as a young 18-year-old dancer “, Kierkegaard writes. Sure enough, the Round Tower is no dancer, but it does not mean that the old tower has never trodden the boards. In fact, it was on stage when Denmark’s first revue premiered on New Year’s Eve 1849. However, it hardly...

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Gateway to the Round Tower

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...

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Light in the Lantern

There is something about the Round Tower and lighthouses. If one starts in the periphery of things that connect them, one can mention that the Round Tower was thoroughly restored in 1870-71 by the architect N. S. Nebelong (1806-71) who covered the majority of its façade with grey cement plaster. A dozen of years prior to this, the same Nebelong had designed a lighthouse in Denmark’s northernmost area Skagen. The lighthouse reaches a height of 46 metres and was the tallest in Denmark until the lighthouse in Dueodde on the Danish island of Bornholm surpassed it with one metre a...

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Almanac

If one is unsure about who built the Round Tower, one can quickly find the answer by casting a glance at the crowned monogram that is part of the golden rebus on the tower’s façade. Should one not be in the immediate vicinity of the tower, one can have a look at one of the many depictions of it. Almost all of them correctly identify the monogram below the crown as belonging to King Christian IV (1577-1648). Except, that is, for the older volumes of the University of Copenhagen’s official almanac, which had the Round Tower on its front page...

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Stone, Bronze, Iron

It was not just gold that was gleaming during the Danish Golden Age in the first half of the nineteenth century. More modest materials also got their chance to shine. They constituted the very foundation of the systematic organisation of the past that took place in the 1820s in the Library Hall accessible from the Round Tower. An organisation so precious that it underlies the system, which is still universally used today. It is the so-called three-age system whereby the human prehistory can be divided into periods named after the material predominantly used for the production of weapons and tools...