Grandeur and culture
Drottningholm (= Queen’s Island in Swedish, officially named Royal Domain of Drottningholm) represents an attempt by the aspiring 17th century Nordic Great Power of Sweden to stand up to France and other continental powers in matters of grandeur and culture. Situated outside the capital of Stockholm, the Royal Domain of Drottningholm is in many ways a Nordic answer to Versailles outside Paris. It delivers its -- by itself gentle and delightful -- reply in a somewhat martial tone of voice: Central European art treasures, looted en masse by the victorious Swedish armies during the Thirty Years' War, are unashamedly displayed in the Drottningholm parks and palaces.
A Royal Domain, a World Heritage
Drottningholm is most becomingly situated in the southern part of the lush Lovön island in Lake Mälaren, about 15 km from central Stockholm. It is accessible either by boat (a lovely 40-min trip) or by car/bus. The Royal Domain contains a grand Baroque Palace (constructed in the 1660's), a Chinese Pavilion, a 18th century Palace Theater (still giving performances of 18th century plays and operas with preserved original sets) and several huge parks, some in the formal French style and some in the “natural” English style. The Drottningholm Baroque Palace is presently the residence of the King of Sweden and the Royal Family, but the vast parks, the Chinese Pavilion, the theater and even parts of the Baroque Palace itself are open to the public.
The Royal Domain of Drottningholm became the first Swedish site on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The main reason for this was the Drottningholm Palace Theater and the Drottningholm Chinese Pavilion.
Stage thunder from bygone days
The Palace Theater was built in 1766 and became a cultural hobby of the gifted and creative King Gustav III. When Gustav III was assassinated at a masquerade ball in 1792, the theater and all its stage sets fell into oblivion, thus keeping the place intact as one of the best preserved Baroque theaters in Europe. The theater was restored in the 1920’s and has given performances of 18th century operas and plays ever since –- using the original 18th century stage sets that were stored in the theater building. The original stage machinery, moving waves, trapdoors, cloud cars, lighting machinery and wind and thunder apparatus are intact and are still used in the same way as they once were, more than two centuries ago.
Chinese, real or imagined
The Chinese Pavilion was built in 1769 and represents a belated 18th century awakening of keen European interest in anything Chinese. However, actual European knowledge of Chinese culture was at the time less pronounced than European sinophile enthusiasm. Hence the Chinese Pavilion in Drottningholm offers a rather amusing eclectic blend of real Chinese, imagined Chinese, and 18th century European elements. But eclectic or not, it is all very romantic and most beautifully done.
Picnicking in the park
There is no need to display any cultural interest whatsoever in order to enjoy the beauty and atmosphere of the Royal Domain of Drottningholm. Thousands of Stockholmers just take along a basket of wine and food and go to Drottningholm for a summer's day of picnicking, playing outdoors games or just strolling among the old trees and lawns of the huge parks.