Rundetårn in Copenhagen

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The Rundetårn (English: Round Tower) is a 17th-century tower located in central Copenhagen, Denmark. One of the many architectural projects of Christian IV, it was built as an astronomical observatory. It is most noted for its 7.5-turn helical corridor leading to the top, and for the expansive views it affords over Copenhagen.

The tower is part of the Trinitatis Complex which also provided the scholars of the time with a university chapel, the Trinitatis Church, and an academic library which was the first purpose-built facilities of the Copenhagen University Library which had been founded in 1482.

Today the Round Tower serves as an observation tower for expansive views of Copenhagen, a public astronomical observatory and a historical monument. In the same time the Library Hall, located above the church and only accessible along the tower's ramp, is an active cultural venue with both exhibitions and a busy concert schedule.



Astronomy had grown in importance in 17th-century Europe. Countries had begun competing with each other in establishing colonies, creating a need for accurate navigation across the oceans. Many national observatories were therefore established, the first in 1632 at Leiden in the Dutch Republic. Only five years later the Round Tower Observatory, first referred to as STELLÆBURGI REGII HAUNIENSIS, would follow.

Planning and preparations

After Tycho Brahe had fallen out of favour and left Denmark, Christian Longomontanus had become Christian IV's new astronomer and the first professor of astronomy at the University of Copenhagen. In 1625 he suggested the king to build an astronomical tower as a replacement for Brahe's Stjerneborg which had been demolished after his death in 1601.

Longomontanus' initial proposal was to erect the new observatory on the top of the hill Solbjerget, now known as Valby Bakke. But since there were also plans for the construction of a new students' church and a library for the university, the idea of merging the three buildings into one grand complex emerged.

Already in 1622, Christian IV had bought the land where it was ultimately decided to build the Trinitatis Complex. His original plans for the site are not known but as it was conveniently located next to the Regensen dormatories and the university, it was chosen for his new prestigious project.

Although there is no clear proof, it is generally accepted that Hans van Steenwinckel the Younger was charged with the commission to design the new edifice though he did not live to see the tower completed.

From 24 November 1636, stones were brought to the site for the foundation, first from the city's ramparts and later from the area around Roskilde. Bricks were ordered from the Netherlands since local manufacturers could not meet the high quality standards requested. In February 1637, a contract was signed with a Henrik van Dingklage in Emden for the supply of bricks for the construction. The first three ship loads were to be delivered in May, the next three loads the following month and the remainder on demand.

The Trinitatis Complex was set for construction in a crowded neighbourhood of narrow streets and alleyways. The area first had to be cleared. On 18 April 1637, 200 men, soldiers and personnel from Bremerholm began to demolish the half-timbered houses occupying the site.

Construction phase

The foundation stone was laid on 7 July 1637. When Hans van Steenwinckel died on 6 August 1639, Leonhard Blasius was brought to Denmark from the Netherlands as new Royal Building Master. Unlike his predecessor, he would become a mere transitional figure in Danish architecture, dying just four years after his arrival in the country without leaving any notable buildings of his own design. On several occasions construction work came to a standstill due to shortage of funds. Churches in Denmark and Norway were therefore ordered to contribute a share of their earnings during the construction years. The University therefore decided to build Østervold Observatory on the old bastioned fortifications of the city, which had become outdated and were being decommissioned. The new observatory was inaugurated in 1861 to the design of Christian Hansen.

Notable ascents

  • In 1726, The Czar Peter the Great ascended the corridor on horseback while visiting Copenhagen.
  • In 1902, a Beaufort car was the first motorised vehicle to ascend this Round Tower.
  • A medal in the Round Tower's collection of medals indicates that the first bicycle race held in the tower took place as early as 1888, possibly in connection with The Nordic exhibition of Industry, Agriculture, and Art.
  • In 1911, the newspaper Socialdemokraten arranged a bicycle race down the Round Tower.
  • In 1971, Ole Ritter won a bicycle race against Leif Mortensen up the Round Tower in a time of 55.3 seconds.
  • In 1993, Henrik Djernis won a bicycle race against Jens Veggerby in a time of 50.05 seconds.
  • In 1989, Thomas Olsen went up and down the Round Tower on a unicycle in 1 minute and 48.7 seconds, which is a world record.


The Round Tower is a cylindrical tower built in masonry of alternating yellow and red bricks, the colours of the Oldenburgs. The bricks used were manufactured in the Netherlands and are of a hard-burned, slender type known as muffer or mopper.

The Round Tower today

Today the Round Tower serves as an observation tower, a public astronomical observatory, an exhibition and concert venue and a historical monument.

Public observatory

In 1860 the University of Copenhagen decommissoned the Round Tower as a university observatory but in 1928 it was reconstructed as an observatory with access for amateur astronomers and the general public. It is open from mid-October to mid-March.

Exhibitions & concerts

Since 1987, the Library Hall has served as an exhibition space, featuring various exhibitions of art, culture, history and science. At the same time, it is used as a concert venue, every year hosting around a hundred concerts.<ref name="The Tower"/>


The observation deck affords extensive views over the rooftops of the old part of Copenhagen with its many spires. On clear days, both the Øresund Bridge and Sweden can be seen in the distance.

Rundetårn Unicycle Race

Every year in spring, a unicycle race is held in the Round Tower. The contestants have to go up and down the tower. The world record, set in 1988, is 1 minute and 48.7 seconds.<ref name="Sære måder at bestige tårnet på"/>

Cultural references

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  • In Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale The Tinder Box, the largest of the three dogs is said to have eyes as large as the Round Tower at Copenhagen.
  • In another Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, The Elder-Tree Mother, an old married couple remembers how they used to go "up the Round Tower, and looked down on Copenhagen, and far, far away over the water; then we went to Friedericksberg, where the King and the Queen were sailing about in their splendid barges!".
  • A 1:3 scale replica of the tower is build in the Danish city Solvang, CA.
  • The asteroid 5505 Rundetårn commemorates the tower.
  • In Denmark, heights of buildings are often compared to the height of the Rundetårn.
  • A phrase in Danish is "Which is highest, the Rundetårn or a crash of thunder?" (loud and high are the same word in Danish). It is often used in a discussion when the opponent tries to compare incomparable quantities - see also Apples and oranges.

See also

  • Architecture of Denmark
  • Østervold Observatory

External links