Eidsvoll: Under Construction

I had heard that plans were underway at the Eidsvoll Manor house to completely refurbish the place in preparation for the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian constitution. If you’re not familiar with the name Eidsvoll, here’s a quick bit of background – the Eidsvoll Manor house, located about 20 minutes north of Gardermoen airport, is where an assembly of leading Norwegians meet in the early months of 1814 and drafted the Norwegian constitution as part of Norway’s push for independence during the Napoleonic Wars. The constitution was signed in this building on May 17, 1814, and is the same constitution still in use today (with some later amendments, such as changing the second paragraph which originally decreed that Jews couldn’t live in Norway – yes, it really said that). It is actually the second oldest constitution in the world after the American constitution. The date of the constitution’s ratification became Norway’s day of national celebration – May 17th.

Since I was going to the airport to pick up a friend, I decided to leave a little early to take a side-trip by this historic house and see how things were going. And right now the refurbishing is certainly in full swing…

 Eidsvoll Manor is now one massive construction zone

 This is what the building normally looks like:

And here is what one of the front wings looks like today:

It’s interesting to see the building in this state. With the paneling removed, you can see the actual timbers underneath, and gain a sense of the building’s construction and the construction styles of the period. For the time being the manor itself is completely closed. While I understand the desire to keep the public out, so that work can proceed quickly, there is a lost opportunity here. The reconstruction and refurbishment efforts would make an incredibly interesting exhibition in their own right, since this work gives us a rare opportunity to literally “see under the skin” of the historic building. But alas, all that can be done now is visit the small museum off to the side, with the usual exhibits on 1814.
 The backside of Eidsvoll Manor

Both the main house and the side buildings are being worked on

As I mentioned, this is all being done to prepare the building for a flurry of festivities (and a likely upswing in visitors) in 2014. One of the staff at the museum told me the focus now is on authenticity. Past refurbishments did not try to retain the specific appearance of the house from 1814, instead using general “period” furniture and wallpaper. As a result, the look of the 1814 interior has been somewhat lost. The hope is that once the current work is done, the inside of the manor will appear as near as possible to how it looked in those heady days of 1814, when the fate of the country was literally being decided within its walls.

If you live in Oslo but haven’t been to Eidsvoll Manor, you really should go – just not right now. While the museum is interesting, the real point of visiting Eidsvoll is to see the rooms where the historic events of 1814 actually occurred, which of course can’t be done at this moment. The house should (hopefully) be open again for visitors in early 2014, if not sooner, and once it is be sure to make a point to visit. In the meantime, check out the house/museum website at www.eidsvoll1814.no (English version here) to learn more about the events surrounding the creation of the constitution. It is actually a very gripping story, and I’m surprised that there is no English-language book focusing on 1814 in Norway (if there is one and I’ve missed it, please let me know). Read up and share some history with your friends this May 17th!