gardens + parks

gardens + parks, topography

Fælledparken / Fælled Park



Through the 18th century this was a large area of open land outside the city walls and beyond the lakes but by the late 19th century new buildings had encroached on the open land, particularly along the south and east sides. Mayor Jens Jensen was the prime mover for protecting what remained of the open area for public use by creating a park here. The first trees were planted in 1909 and the park was completed by 1914 with Edvard Glæsel as the landscape architect in charge.

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gardens + parks, streetscape, topography

open space in Vesterbro

Saxopark, Vesterbro


Because Vesterbro is such a densely built up residential area, green open space with grass and trees seems, somehow, much more important but when compared with other districts of Copenhagen, there appear to be few large open areas here.

The most important open space is Skydebanen, a large rectangular park has the backs of apartment buildings on both sides so that in some ways it is more like a large courtyard. Its on the site of a private shooting range so presumably originally it was just grass or perhaps gravel but now has mature trees. At the south end It has been extended and opened out to the west but it still seems like a well-kept local secret, hidden away behind the apartment buildings and from the north entered through a narrow gateway beside a school and from the south, from Istedgade, approached through a doorway in a forbidding high blank brick wall that closes off a short street of apartment buildings. 


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gardens + parks, streetscape, topography

Skydebanehaven - The Shooting Gallery Park


There is an impressive 18th century building onto Vesterbrogade, set back beyond a forecourt. Most people walking along the street would be hard pressed to guess what its function might have been although it was actually built in 1787 for the Royal Copenhagen Shooting Society. Until this summer it was the Museum of Copenhagen which has now closed pending a move to a building close to the City Hall.

Map showing the Kongelige Skydebane - the Royal Shooting Gallery - in 1860

The shooting range itself was a broad strip of open ground behind the building that ran down to the sea shore and can be seen clearly on 19th century maps. Then, the south approach to the harbour was much wider and the sea shore was on the line of what is now Sønder Boulevard.

First a railway into the city was constructed along the shore and then through the late 19th century more and more land and beyond was claimed from the sea and built over so the shooting gallery became rather cut off and in 1887 a large screen wall in brick was constructed across the south end of the gallery to prevent stray bullets injuring citizens on Istedgade. This is the screen wall that still stands at the end of a short street of houses with a gateway at the centre that now provides a partially-hidden access to the gardens and play area on the site of the shooting gallery. 


Vesterbro in 1879. Istedgade was still not continuous. The line of the brick screen wall can be seen but it was not constructed until 1887. The railway, marked as ‘Nedlagt Jernbane’ was still then on the line of what is now Sønder Boulevard and the first areas of new land out into the sound had been claimed and a new gasworks and the first buildings of the meat market constructed.


After the construction of the screen wall, work began on the Skydebanegade apartments that were built over the south part of the shooting range, on the south side of Istedgade and completed in 1893. 

Skydebanehaven is now an important green space in Vesterbro with a very popular playground for children at the south end. Several blocks of slum houses at the south end on the west side were demolished in the 1950s and 1960s as part of an extensive slum clearance programme and the space was opened up to link through to streets beyond. The space is open but not completely successful … the north part of the shooting gallery feels much more like a large Copenhagen courtyard but, at the south end, the space seem to leach out and break down on the west side creating odd chopped off rows of houses and odd views of the backs of houses that were not designed to be seen.

Even so, this is an amazingly important and much used green space.


The children's play ground at the south end of the shooting gallery with the screen wall beyond that was built in 1887 ... apparently to protect people walking along the street beyond from being hit by stray bullets


housing, gardens + parks, streetscape

Søndergårdspark housing scheme

Søndergårdspark was constructed between 1949 and 1951 for the Danish Public Housing Association. 

Designed by Poul Hoff and Bennet Windinge, the plan and style of the houses were a development of schemes before the war at Studiebyen in 1920-1924 and for the Bakkehusene housing scheme completed in 1923 but at Søndergårdspark there was more emphasis on a rural form of landscape with informal planting of trees and shrubs and the houses set at slight angles around a large open public space, like a village green, rather than along a street or around a formal square.

For more photographs on the Søndergårdspark housing scheme - the first in a new section here looking at housing in the city

gardens + parks, streetscape

community gardens in Copenhagen

Following on from a post about the exhibition Co-create Your City, now at the Danish Architecture Centre, and partly because - OK mainly because - the weather was so good over the weekend, I walked around Nørrebro, the area west of the lakes, looking at some of the community gardens. 

These are clearly thriving and what amazed me, coming from England, is that these gardens are completely open, in some cases right on the road itself, and in some of the most densely built-up parts of the city and yet there was no evidence of vandalism. What’s more - no signs saying do not leave litter - not a single sign - and yet no litter.

The effort to have these initiatives as community driven and the sense of community ownership clearly works.

Byhaven, a recent Urban Garden at Høsholmsgade, is alongside one of the main cycle routes into the city. There are raised beds filled with flowers, seats constructed within the raised beds and open areas with picnic tables.

ByOasen, with gardens neatly laid out with sheds and individual plots are on Guldbergsgade. In the large triangular area east of those gardens there are more raised beds, benches carved from large logs, picnic tables, all kinds of play equipment for kids and a small zoo with chickens, goats and hamsters. 

There may well have been other animals but there were so many toddlers scrabbling around happily in the dirt with the chickens it was a bit difficult to tell what was in there. A little boy, no more than 2 years old, was being shown how to pick up a chicken gently with hands either side of the body. He got that but hadn’t quite worked out which end was which … the chickens clearly didn’t mind as being carried around upside down meant they could watch for worms and wiggled free as soon as they saw something worth eating.

A little further along the same street a traffic-calming system had been used as a good place to lay out a small but densely-packed garden. Again it was obvious that no one even considered vandalism a possible problem.

historic buildings, gardens + parks, drawings + documents

guard houses of the Amager gate

The inner guard house of the Amager Gate on the east side of Torvegade


The guard house on the ravelin - now a restaurant


A map from the middle of the 18th century shows the bridge from Amager to the ravelin with the guard house that survives and then a second bridge across from the ravelin to the south gate into the city. The gate was demolished in the middle of the 19th century. Inside the gateway to the east of the road, is the inner guard house that also survives.

There were heavy batteries of gun facing inwards from the bastions on either side of the gate in case the ravelin was captured and the inner bridge attacked.

Air view, courtesy of Google maps, showing Torvegade, the wide main road into the city from Amager, now on an embankment rather than a bridge. The road cuts across the west side of the ravelin.


View to the east from the road towards Kaninøen with Christianshavn to the left and the edge of the ravelin to the right.


streetscape, gardens + parks, exhibition review, book review

Copenhagen Green

Last Summer there was an outdoor exhibition of photographs on Nytorv in Copenhagen, the large square in front of the old 18th-century town hall, and then later, from the middle of August, it was moved to the other end of the Walking Street onto Højbro Plads where it remained until the end of October.

The aim of the exhibition was to “strike a blow for the good city life and for the city’s green and sustainable places.” Photographs selected showed 100 sites around and just outside the city and showed all seasons … so from well-used public spaces like Frederiksberg Have (Frederiksberg Gardens) and the Søerne or lakes, that arc around the city centre to the west and north, to less well-known areas of green and planting like Kineserbyen (or the Yellow Town) and roof-top vegetable gardens of Østerbro and from the Spring blossom of Bispebjerg Kirkegård (cemetry) to the Winter frost covering Pinseskoven forest.

The photographs were stunning, particularly at the size they were printed, but the information and back stories of the long labels were also interesting and important … for instance there was one photograph and panel about the history of the distinct dark green paint used in the city for gates, doors, windows and benches. There were also clear location maps for finding the places profiled.

A book was published to accompany the exhibition, Copenhagen Green - 100 green things to see and do in Copenhagen, by Susanne Trier Norden and Poul Arnedal, for Foreningen By&Natur (June 2014)

There is also a fantastic web site, Discover Green Places in Copenhagen, with all the photographs and text but also additional maps and route directions ... you can browse from your armchair or plan a tour or start from where you are, if you are in Copenhagen, and look for nearby places and use the map and route directions to explore the city.

photographs of the exhibition when it was on Højbro Plads

gardens + parks, streetscape

sculpture on the bridge

Or strictly the sculptures at each end of Dronning Louises Bro.

The bridge, with its three central arches and ornate street lamps was completed in 1887 to designs by Vilhelm Dahlerup and replaced an earlier bridge that crossed the lakes between Sortedams Sø and Peblinge Sø.

On either side of the approach from the city side there are bronze sculptures - that on the south side dating from 1897 is the figure of the Nile cast from a marble sculpture from the 1st century that was discovered in 1513 and is now in the Vatican.

On the north side is the figure of the reclining Tiber with the figures of Romulus and Remus with the wolf that is a copy of a group in the Louvre and was set up here in July 1901. Given the style of the apartment buildings that face you as you cross the bridge, heading for the city centre, then a representation of the River Seine might have been more appropriate. 

On the Nørrebrogade side of the bridge are seated figures from 1942 by Johannes Hansen (1903-1993). This really is what is called a conversation piece although the conversation does look rather serious.

topography, gardens + parks

the Copenhagen lakes

Looking at maps of the city, one of the most striking features is the long line of narrow lakes that run in a gentle arc around the west side of the inner city and form a distinct break between the inner historic centre and the later areas of Østerbro, Nørrebro and Frederiksberg.

There are three lakes - from the north end first Sortedams Sø, the longest lake divided into two parts by a road, then Peblinge Sø, the two lakes separated by the Dronning Louises Bro, and, at the south end, Sankt Jørgens Sø, again divided into two parts by a road. From the top end at Østerbrogade to Gammel Kongevej, below the level of the south lake, is just over three kilometres and the lakes, although they vary in width, are around 200 metres wide, from the inner edge to the outer shore, so this is a very large area of water.

The lakes, initially spreading over a larger area and flanked by marshy ground, provided an outer defence to the city that was a physical barrier that any attacking army would have to cross and the water here also maintained the level in the outer moat of the defences. The lakes provided the city with a store of fresh water and water for irrigation.

The earliest settlement appears to have been on a gentle slope running down to the shore and looking across to the large low island of Amager. With the density of building in the city now, it is difficult to appreciate the natural topography but clearly the lakes are in a slight hollow beyond the slope and the early town and are barely above sea level. Østerbrogade is at the highest point and then each lake is at a lower level until you reach Gammel Kongevej where the road itself is actually around a metre below the level of the surface of Sankt Jørgens Sø.

Looking at the map there appears to be four bridges crossing the lakes although only the road at Dronning Louises Bro between Sortedams Sø and Peblinge Sø with its three central arches is actually a bridge with the water level the same on both sides. The other roads, Solvgade running across to Fredensgade, Gyldenløvesgade and Kampmannsgade are on dams. In fact Kampmannsgade has embankments on either side and the sloping road is actually well below the water level of the lakes on either side.

The upper lakes have low stone retaining walls and gravel pathways forming an edge to the water but at Sankt Jørgens Sø there are natural grass banks with willows and reed beds but again these are man-made embankments and particularly on the outer shore the gardens and houses and apartments along Vodroffsvej are well below lake level.

Historic maps show how the lakes have changed over the last four centuries and in the late 17th century and through into the 18th century the lower lakes had a much more irregular outline and covered a much wider area indicating the natural contours of the underlying topography. In fact the map of 1674 shows a lake north of Østerbrogade and a simple dyke between that lake and the sea and, at the south end, lakes or marsh continuing round to Køge bay so at that time the city was surrounded by water.

By 1705 the moats and embankments of the defences encircled the city and there were regulations to restrict buildings beyond although there were outer defences beyond the lakes. By the late 18th century there were roads beyond the lakes with some houses with gardens running down to the far shore of the lakes. By 1860, shortly before most of the moats and defensive embankments were removed, the lakes were close to their present extent and shape. 

Now the lakes are an important resource. They provide a strong sense of clearly-protected open space, with wild life - Fugleøen, the island on the outer edge of the northern lake, has a breeding colony of cormorants and there are nesting swans on the lower lake. Thousands of people live in the apartments and houses overlooking the lakes and the lakes are a major resource used for leisure and for people walking and running.

Crossing over Dronning Louises Bro and heading into the city for the evening

gardens + parks, historic maps, historic buildings, topography

17th-century embankments and moats

Historic maps can give a slightly distorted impression of the embankments and outer moats that were built in the late 17th century to defend Copenhagen - from plans and drawings it is difficult to appreciate the scale of the earthworks and to appreciate the extensive engineering work that was required for their construction.

Even walking through Østre Anlæg in the summer, the first impression is of a wooded valley with a wide lake, although this was in fact a section of the original outer moat, and the embankment here on the city side of the lake is one of the best preserved sections of the city defences.

However, if you look across the lake towards the city in the Winter, when the trees have lost their leaves, then you can see the full height of the embankment with two stages of slope rising to the top of the bastion. If you open the image file - to enlarge the photograph - you can see how small the figures of the runners are on the path on the far side of the lake. 


The Østre Anlæg lake in the summer ... this view is looking south down the moat with the city to the left.


The view in Winter from the Stockholmsgade side looking south towards the city. The figures of runners on the path on the edge of the lake give an indication of the height of the double embankment.

If the slopes were bare of undergrowth, as on the embankments of the Kastellet now, you can begin to see just how daunting it would have appeared to a soldier in an army attacking the city. In the 17th century, the grass on the embankments would not have been this well kept but even if you got across the moat somehow, then you still had to climb up that bank, loaded down with your own weapons and kit, and, presumably, against heavy defending fire.

Note the windmill on the embankment in the distance - historic maps show a large number of mills on the circuit of the bastions and embankments through the 18th and early 19th centuries.

A lower embankment but wider expanse of water, the Stadsgraven, survives around Christianshavn and Holmen. These defences were constructed in the 17th century to protect the south side of the city.