- Arvfurstens Palace was completed in 1795
- Originally, it was the residence of Princess Sophia Albertina
- Its facade was almost identical to the original 18th-century Opera House
- Today, it houses the Swedish Department of Foreign Affairs
Only a few dozen metres from the Swedish House of Parliament (Riksdagshuset) and not much further from the Royal Palace itself, stands a massive yellow palace which once mirrored the famous opera house built by King of Sweden Gustav III. It is known as the Arvfurstens Palace (Arvfurstens palats) and in the following paragraphs, we explore its story from the very beginning until modern days.
Let me begin by introducing you to Princess Sophia Albertina (Sofia Albertina), the last Princess-Abbess of Quedlinburg Abbey, the sister of two kings of Sweden, daughter of the royal couple who planned a state coup, nephew of a king who fled the country, and a witness of the end of the reign of the dynasty she herself belonged to.
The available literature describes the princess as many things. Some say she was prettier as a child than as an adult, some call her an early feminist, others describe her as a nice person who stood up for the rights of everyday people despite being a member of the Royal Family. Despite never having been married, the princess reportedly had a daughter who was raised in an orphanage operated by the Freemasons the princess was somewhat close to.
She is also said to have had a close and loving relationship with her mother, Queen Louisa Ulrika, which is something that cannot be said about her brother, King Gustav III. Consequently, it was the princess who inherited most of the queen’s fortune after Louisa Ulrika passed away in 1782. On the other hand, Gustav did not receive a dime. Not that he, as the person who had, among other things, the Haga Park (Hagaparken) or the first opera house in Stockholm built, could complain.
Next year, Princess Sophia used her mother’s wealth to purchase a new residence on Strömgatan in Norrmalm, then a growing part of the city. The property she acquired was known as the Torstenson House (Torstensonska huset) which had been built as one of the first residences in the new city part by Lennart Torstenson between 1647 and 1651.
Torstenson House was located on the corner of Gustav Adolf’s Square (Gustav Adolfs torg), back then known as Norrmalmstorg, and Fredsgatan, right across the square from the brand-new Opera House opened in 1782. That motivated Gustav III to get involved in the construction of his sister’s new residence and together with the city architect Erik Palmstedt, they designed an almost perfect counterpart to the Opera House on the opposite side of the square.
Architect Palmstedt managed to overcome challenges such as the uneven land and keep the symmetric appearance of the building. The fact that the southern end of the palace is taller than the northern one can be clearly observed from the square. You can also notice that the window frames on the northern, shorter side only have five sections while the ones on the taller side have eight.
The palace with its two distinctive parts of the façade was completed in 1795. Of the three floors, the bottom one has a dark-red massive façade while the upper two are painted yellow with grey décor such as the majestic tall columns stretching over both floors.
A particularly interesting element visible on the façade from the square dominated by the statue of Gustav II Adolf is the sculpture group at the very top of the palace above the main entrance. It consists of two lions and a coat of arms in the middle. Below the sculptures created by the world-famous artist Johan Tobias Sergel, you can see the name of the original owner, Princess Sophia Albertina.
Something that you might find somewhat surprising is that the former Torstenson House was fully incorporated into the new building. Most notably, you can see the monumental portal which belonged to the former building from Fredsgatan. Having been made in 1647, the portal is much older than the current palace.
While the princess resided in the palace at Gustav Adolf’s Square, she employed a staff of over 50 people and her stables accommodated about 25 horses. As I have already suggested, she was one of those monarchs who cared about the people around them. As she did not have any official heirs, she requested in her will that all those who lived in the palace at the time of her death be allowed to keep living there.
After she passed away in 1829, the palace ended up in the hands of Prince Gustaf, but he never lived there. Only later, his brother Crown Prince Oscar (later Oscar II) moved in with his wife Sophia and consequently, all of their children, Gustav, Oscar, Carl, and Eugen were born in the palace.
Interestingly, after the latter of the two above-mentioned Oscars inherited the palace, he married a commoner (non-aristocrat) and lost his right to the throne together with his residence.
Around the time when the original Opera House was demolished, the demolition of the Arvfurstens Palace was on the table, too. A private investor offered 2,250,000 SEK for the palace with the intention to build a modern shopping centre in the location at the end of the 19th century.
Fortunately, the state decided to purchase the palace for the same price as the investor offered and has since turned it into the home of the Department of Foreign Affairs (Utrikesdepartementet). Although the state acquired the palace already in 1902, the Department did not move in before 1906 and it took more than twenty years after that until it was the sole occupant of the historical premises.
Several reconstructions have been needed for the palace to be in such a great condition as we can see it today. First works were carried out in the 1920s but it took a few decades before the renowned architect responsible for the construction of places such as the Stockholm Concert Hall (Konserthuset) and the Högalid Church (Högalidskyrkan), Ivar Tengbom, could finish the reconstruction.
The most fundamental restoration took place between 1948 and 1952 despite Tengbom having taken over the project already in 1936.
While the interior of the palace is inaccessible to the public, there are some interesting historical artefacts worth knowing about. In the former dining hall, which now serves as a conference room, there are a number of valuable portraits of former state officials hanging on the walls. Among others, these include portraits of Axel Oxenstierna, Gabriel de la Gardie, and Carl Gustaf Tessin.
All in all, the Arvfurstens Palace gives you a great opportunity to admire nearly unchanged facades from the 17th and 18th century and equipped with the knowledge of its original, royal owners, you should now be able to enjoy your visit more than ever.
Before you go explore the palace, take a few minutes to take our fun little quiz and find out how well you know places in Stockholm. Do not forget to leave your impressions in the comments below.
Mårtensson, Jan, 1997. Sofia Albertina. En prinsessas palats.
Arvfurstens Palats. SFV. [sfv.se].