Karlberg Palace (Karlbergs Slott in Swedish) in Stockholm, built along a narrow arm of Lake Mälaren (called Karlbergskanalen -– the Karlberg Channel), is not a conspicuous ex-royal residence. This is not due to lack of magnificence or historical significance -– it certainly impresses the visitor as a most beautiful, wide-winged white Baroque building in a pleasant setting, carrying memories of Sweden’s Years of Glory. But though it is situated well within the Stockholm inner city, the Karlberg Palace is unfortunately somewhat out of the way of the casual stroller. You will hardly hit on it by chance –- you have to know where to look.
Older than Sandhurst and West Point
The palace dates back to 1634, but for the last 211 years -– since 1792 -– it has been housing the Military Academy Karlberg, the Swedish officer’s school. This makes Karlberg the world’s oldest military academy that has been continuously operating in it’s original facilities, in this sense older than Sandhurst and West Point. In addition to their studies, Karlberg’s cadets also supply the Swedish parliament, government and Commander in Chief with units of dashing young cadets in ancient uniforms for official ceremonies. Like most officer’s schools, the Military Academy Karlberg reportedly has it’s share of traditions, parties and ball’s.
Scant fortunes of war
King Gustav III of Sweden founded the Military Academy Karlberg, only to be assassinated at a masquerade ball at the Royal Opera later in the same year. It is perhaps equally noteworthy that the Karlberg Military Academy may indeed have interesting traditions and dazzling celebrations, but that it hardly seems to have done the Swedish military much good. After its inauguration, the Swedish army met over the next few decades with a humiliating series of smarting defeats. Sweden’s military power soon became permanently insignificant.
Built in Sweden’s Days of Glory
In 1634, when Admiral of the Realm (Riksamiral) Karl Karlsson Gyllenhielm built Karlberg Palace, things looked very different. Sweden was successfully participating in the Thirty Years' War. Its victorious armies fought all over central Europe, grabbing vast territories in Germany and the Baltics and building a Swedish Empire of sorts around the Baltic.
Some time after Admiral Gyllenhielm’s death, Karlberg Palace was acquired by Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie, a most important political and military figure during Sweden’s years as a Great Power. A general at the early age of 26, De la Gardie took part in the Swedish sacking of Prague (to this day the Czechs are trying to get back some of the huge treasures that the Swedes stole) and was promptly appointed Field Marshal as well as Governor of Livonia. At 30 De la Gardie became Minister of Finance (Riksskattmästare). It was Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie who gave Karlberg Palace the splendid Baroque exterior and interior that it has today.
De la Gardie unfortunately fell from grace some years later and was unable to support such lavish quarters. Karlberg Palace was taken over by the Crown. The royal family often lived there, particularly in summertime. Karl XII (Charles XII), the famous Swedish warrior king who for years fought Tsar Peter the Great of Russia, grew partly up at Karlberg. When the Stockholm city palace Tre Kronor (Three Crowns) burnt to the ground in 1697, the royal family moved permanently to Karlberg Palace. Karlberg remained a royal palace until 1792, when Gustav III founded his Military Academy.
For music-lovers only
Being an institution of military learning, the palace interior is ordinarily not open to the public, except for scheduled concerts, which are given quite regularly. Only concert-goers can admire the richly decorated Baroque interiors.
A god’s temple, a warrior’s dog
However, the palace grounds and the Karlberg Palace Park are open to visitors. The park was originally huge, first built in French style by architect Jean De la Vallée, but converted in the 1780’s into an English-style park. Over the years the Stockholm traffic system in the form of railway lines and motorways has encroached on the park, but the remainder is still pleasant and has a few interesting highlights, among them a typical 18th century neoclassical temple to Neptune, that King Gustav III, a great romantic and patron of the arts, ordered built. For some curious reason it is today referred to as “Diana’s temple”.
For admirers of the Swedish Warrior King Karl (Charles) XII there is a convenient place of pilgrimage in the Karlberg Park: the grave of the King’s dog Pompe, complete with an eloquent gravestone. A stroll in the park also brings you to a genuine 11th century rune stone (“Anund and Torfils had the stone raised after Åsgöt”) and to a monument of a now hardly remembered Swedish hero (E. G. Vilhelm von Döbeln).
How to get there:
To get to Karlberg Palace, you could start at St Eriksplan (several bus lines and the Tunnelbana /= Stockholm Underground/ have stops there). From here walk along Rörstrandsgatan, a lively street lined with scores of restaurants and bars. After maybe a few beers, walk as long as Rörstrandsgatan takes you, and then some. Pass under a railway bridge, turn to the left and walk over a pedestrian overpass, crossing a motorway. After a few minutes you will see the eastern wing of the white-walled Karlberg Palace right in front of you.