Category Archives: Places

A visit to Villnäs (Louhisaari)

Villnäs (Louhisaari))

About 30 kilometres north of Åbo (Turku in Finnish), on the southwest coast of Finland, lies an unusually grand manor estate tucked into the local landscape and well hidden between long avenues of old trees. Villnäs as it is called in Swedish (Louhisaari in Finnish), is one of the country’s finest and grandest manors and thanks to a particular Finnish national hero it is also one of the most well known.

Villnäs lies near a local bay with access to the Gulf of Finland, a strategic choice in the estate’s early history which dates back to the 15th century and probably meant that the main house was situated next to the water for most of its existence. The estate of Villnäs passed into its first (in the future famous) hands in the middle of the 15th century when Magnus Fleming married Elin Nilsdotter whose family possessed it.

Today’s corps-de-logi of Villnäs stands in a barren renaissance style, it was finished in 1655. The owner and builder was Baron Herman Claesson Fleming af Lieblitz (1619-1673), a man from a prominent family in royal service who was born in Finland and after a great career with many positions of state receded to Sweden’s eastern country-half (Finland) as its Governor-General after the death of King Karl X Gustav. Villnäs then remained in the Fleming family until 1791 when a heavily indebted descendant had to sell.

Villnäs (Louhisaari)

Villnäs’ corps-de-logi has two wings, one on either side of the cour d’honneur, and there is a sense of strict symmetry and simplicity in the style and layout. A few kilometres away from the manor lies the church, once under patronage of the estate owner, which was erected around the same time as the manor and is seen from the air connected to the main buildings via straight lines.

Villnäs (Louhisaari)Above the wooden door to the corps-de-logi is the only break from the otherwise barren renaissance facade; a portal of sandstone where, although most of the text is unreadable, you can see the construction year of 1655 written. The corps-de-logi of three floors (plus a cellar underneath, dating back further than the construction year) is built of bricks and is after hundreds of years of function as a home that has been adapted to suit the inhabitants and times, much of its present condition is restored to the original 17th century state.

In 1795 Baron Carl Erik Mannerheim (1759–1837) bought Villnäs. The Mannerheim family originally came from the Netherlands or Germany to Sweden and Carl Erik became the first member of the family to permanently take up residence in Finland. He first used Villnäs as a permanent home and later as a summer home and Carl Erik held important positions when Finland became Russian and was later raised to comital stature by Emperor Alexander I of Russia.

Villnäs (Louhisaari)In 1867 Baron Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim (1867–1951), The Marshal of Finland, was born at Villnäs. He spent his first years living at the estate and later spent many summers there. The Marshal is the reason why Villnäs is today so famous and attracts around 30.000 (or so I was told) visitors per year.

The Mannerheim family held on to Villnäs until 1903 and after that it passed through the hands of various (non-noble) hands until it was donated to the Finnish state in 1961. The donation came from the delegation that raised funds for the mounted Marshal Mannerheim statue that stands in Helsinki, they managed to raise so much money that there were enough left over to purchase Villnäs and give it to the state as a museum.

Villnäs (Louhisaari)Between 1962 and 1967 the corps-de-logi and wings of Villnäs were transformed into a permanent museum. The first and third floors of the corps-de-logi were largely returned to their 17th century state. The first floor was previously used by servants and as storage, today it is used to exhibit simple time-typical items, for local archaeological finds and as a lecture space. There is no sign other than an open fireplace of the old kitchen. The third floor which originally held the ceremonial rooms has, because of its later old fashionedness and lesser importance, been well preserved and is now largely decorated with items borrowed from The National Museum of Finland.

The second floor, where the families of Villnäs used to live, displays the styles from the 18th to 19th centuries and is the only of the manor’s floors where one can feel some familiarity. This is also where there are some pieces left from the Mannerheim era and rooms have been re-created into what they were when some family members had their own bedrooms there and so on. The interior decorating styles vary with the times; from rococo to Gustavian and biedermeier. In the dining room one can admire the family’s dinner sets; one for everyday use and one for more special occasions. In the Count’s library the original book cases still remain and a quick glance at the original book collection shows very clearly that Finnish was not often spoken or read in the family. Portraits of members of the Mannerheim family give the rooms the most feel of originality and many of them were donated by the family to The National Museum of Finland some decades ago.

Villnäs (Louhisaari)

The interior of the two wings is very simple. In one of them there is a billiard’s room (moved from the main house) and a room that displays the various handicraft women devoted themselves to, in the other there are traces of an old kitchen and laundry room plus a museum office and shop.

Villnäs (Louhisaari)

Villnäs is surrounded by a large English landscape park. There are gravel paths surrounded by tree avenues in different directions and large trees placed here and there in the park and on the backside of the corps-de-logi. There is a beach pavilion or bathing house from 1825 and a playhouse used by the Mannerheim children. Earlier traces of a kitchen garden, walled gardens, apple orchards and other kept gardens are largely gone. In front of the manor there is a wonderful map of the estate for the blind, they can feel the layout and also read where everything is situated.

In the park of Villnäs there is a monument in memory of Marshal Mannerheim, leaving visitors with one of his concluded wisdoms for Finland and other countries:
– A small country’s greatest strength is its unanimity.

To see more of my photos from Villnäs, please visit my Flickr stream.

A visit to Lobkowicz Palace

One of the two highlights of my recent trip to Prague, the Czech Republic, was definitely the Lobkowicz Palace inside the Prague Castle complex. The palace is the only privately owned part of the castle and is one of many residences that members of the Lobkowicz family has managed to get back from the state. And at Lobkowicz Palace they certainly have done the most of it!

Lobkowicz Palace

In the most wonderful audio guide I have ever listened to, Prince William Lobkowicz, occasionally joined by other family members, takes visitors on a personal tour of the palace as well as the family’s history.
– Probably the most remarkable thing, certainly in the past 100 years, is that we’ve lost everything twice, and gotten it back twice, William says at the beginning of the tour when one has climbed the stairs to begin a wander through a suite of rooms. What a way to start, I thought! The audio guide goes on to present both the items you view as well as the family’s history in an excellent way, nicely paired with some background music from composers of the time.

– Even after 50 years of exile, I have vivid memories of riding my bike down the long galleries of Roudnice Castle, feeling the weight of my disapproving ancestors looking down on me, Prince William’s father Prince Martin tells visitors in front of a painting of the castle. In 1939 Prince Martin fled the Nazi occupation with his family, leaving behind the family’s thirteen castles and a large collection of art and other objects.

In 1945 the Lobkowicz family could return to a liberated country and reclaim their property but only three years later, in 1948, they had to flee the communists who seized everything once again. The Lobkowicz family couldn’t return until after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 and the restitution of some of their properties and collections has been a process going into the 21st century.

The collection at Lobkowicz Palace is beautifully presented both in the way the exhibitions are made and how the audio guide gives a personal presentation of many items. There is a very impressive collection of family portraits, paintings, porcelain, armoury, religious items, dog portraits and musical instruments and scores. For lovers of classical music it’s a real treat to see original instruments and scores by Beethoven (who left personal dedications to Lobkowicz family members), Mozart (including his re-orchestrated version of Händel’s Messiah), Haydn and Guck.

One instantly recognizable piece at the Lobkowicz Palace after last year’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom was “The River Thames with St. Paul’s Cathedral on Lord Mayor’s Day” by Antonio Canaletto. The painting, of circa 1750, was on loan to the exhibition “Royal River: Power, Pageantry and the Thames” at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich for a good part of 2012 and featured in many reviews and articles about the Thames Diamond Jubilee flotilla. Also this painting, which is the second of two in a series, has an interesting story of how it came into the Lobkowicz family – but I’ll let you visit the palace to hear about that (I don’t want to spoil all the gems of the audio tour!).

Prepare to spend quite a good amount of time at the palace and when you’re done what better place to sit down and relax than the palace’s café, featuring beautiful views down over Prague? The establishment has a small but good menu, the food is of good quality and taste as far as I could tell. My travelling companion and I both tried the carrot cake from a family recipe and it was excellent.

I ended up spending quite a long time at Lobkowicz Palace and when I left there was only one thing itching me – why is there not a good English or bi-lingual book about the family? I asked in the palace shop if they knew of any books about the family being published but to no avail. With such a rich and fascinating history as well as some very charismatic family members who are good at telling stories, a good comprehensive book about the Lobkowicz family and their properties and collections is long overdue.

Lobkowicz Palace café's terrace

Härkeberga Church

Härkeberga ChurchSituated a few miles north of Enköping municipality in Uppland County, Härkeberga church looks like a quite typical small Uppland-style church of which there are many dotted around its countryside that is rich in medieval remains.

But there is more to it than that humble greystone façade lets you know about; on the inside the church contains some of the best murals of Sweden’s most famous artist of the time it was built.

Härkeberga Church

Härkeberga Church lies on a ridge in open countryside landscape, surrounded by a partly-medieval wall that has a roofed stone entrance. The construction of the church took place in phases; the nave, chancel and sacristy was built in the beginning of the 14th century while the weapon-house (porch/anteroom) and stone vaults were added in the 15th century. Five of the windows are from the early periods and also the doors between the weapon-house and the church as well as to the sacristy have survived from the original state.

Härkeberga Church

The décor boasts with a beautiful 1791 pulpit by court sculptor Jean Baptiste Masreliez. There is also a crucifix from the early 14th century. The pews are from 1755, but uses material from the 17th century, and the current organ was put in place in 1811. The church is remarkably well maintained and not much has been done about it since a 1930’s renovation when also electric power was installed.

Härkeberga Church

On to the murals! Immediately when you walk into Härkeberga Church, through the weapon-house over the doorstep that separates the two, your eyes start to wander over those wonderfully decorated walls. Lively medieval-style characters depicting stories from the Old and New Testament, often modelled on the Biblia pauperum, meets you. The murals are thought to be from around 1480 and are made with lime paint by Albertus Pictor, famous at his time and now. If you study the details of the paintings you can spot an eagle claw here and there, this was a signature for Archbishop Jakob Ulvsson (1435-1521) and signals that they were made during his tenure.

Härkeberga Church

The murals of the vaults at Härkeberga Church are unique because they have never been covered nor restored; what meets your eyes today is also what met the eyes of churchgoers in the Middle Ages and they have witnessed both Catholic and later Lutheran ceremonials. The murals of the walls, however, were covered in the late 18th or early 19th century and were brought to the light and restored again during the 1930’s. Colour is the only thing that has changed about Pictor’s work; at the time they were made the colours were much stronger and made an even greater impact – what we today see as dark brown or black was red at the time. The kind of paint used for the red colour has simply oxidized with time.

Härkeberga Church

Albertus Pictor (ca. 1440-1509, exact dating unknown) was probably born in the town of Immenhausen near Hessen in Germany but is known in Swedish records since 1465. He was a painter and embroiderer and has left a remarkable legacy in some 30-something churches in the counties of Uppland, Södermanland and Västmanland, though not all of them verified by lasting signatures.

Härkeberga Church

To see more of my photos from Härkeberga Church, visit this set of mine on Flickr.

The Royal Burial Ground at Haga

The Royal Burial Ground

In the early twentieth century it became apparent that the Bernadotte crypt in the Riddarholmen Church, the traditional royal burial church of Swedish monarchs from 1632 to 1950 (with the exception of Queen Christina), was becoming quite full and that alternatives had to be sought for the future. Unless an extension was made, and this was not considered a good option considering the historical value and age of the church, it was advised that it could only continue to be used as a burial church for the monarchs and their consorts.

Around the same time Prince Carl, Duke of Västergötland, son of King Oscar II and Queen Sophia of Sweden, had thoughts about creating a cemetery for the more junior members of the ruling dynasty, and it didn’t take long before he had acquired a setting for it. In 1915 he took over Karlsborg, a small islet in the Brunnsviken Bay that connects Stockholm city with a part of unique countryside, situated in the big and beautiful Haga Park; a favourite recreational area for Stockholm inhabitants.

Karlsborg couldn’t be closer to nature; surrounded by water and with hundreds of years old trees such as lime, willow, alms, oak and pine trees, it is a world apart from the austere medieval Riddarholmen Church and its dark crypts. Immediately after Karlsborg was acquired Prince Carl ordered plans for a mausoleum with crypt from architect Ferdinand Boberg, but the plans never realised. Instead, all that came to be built on the islet was a granite crucifix on its highest point and a stone bridge with iron gates, both probably designed by Boberg as well. Where there are not graves, Karlsborg continues to be left in its natural state with hills covered in grass, big trees and some other wild vegetation.

In 1922 the early deceased Crown Princess Margareta came to be the first royal to be buried at the Royal Burial Ground. The quite religious British-born supposed future Queen Consort of Sweden had died in complications of several afflictions, weakened by an advanced sixth pregnancy, aged only 38 and was deeply mourned by family, public officials and the people. After the funeral of Queen Sophia in 1914, which she obviously thought was much too gloomy and dark, the Crown Princess wrote down instructions for how she wanted her own death to be handled.

Crown Princess Margareta did not find the Riddarholmen Church a good place for her eternal rest; instead she wanted to have it somewhere in the free nature. The Crown Princess also asked that the funeral church was not dressed in black, as was the tradition at the time, and left instructions for a simple coffin, no display of orders, lots of fresh flowers and lit candles. She also wanted to hold a crucifix in her hand and added that should her children still be young to let them be dressed in white, also at the burial. Little did anyone know how useful these instructions would be not that many years later.

The Royal Burial Ground

After a temporary burial at the Stockholm Cathedral in 1920, Crown Princess Margareta was laid to rest at the new Royal Burial Ground at Haga in a ceremony performed by Archbishop Nathan Söderblom in 1922. This came to be the inauguration of the new burial ground.

When you walk over the stone bridge and enter through the iron gates you first walk over a small gravel area, this is where car parks during a burial or when relatives come to visit, before coming to some steps.

At the Royal Burial Ground

After you have walked up those steps, uphill, there is a small path to you right.

The Royal Burial Ground

If you follow that path you will pass the graves of:

1) King Gustaf VI Adolf (1882-1973) together with Crown Princess Margareta (1882-1920) and Queen Louise (1889-1965)

Inscription of King Gustaf VI Adolf, Queen Louise & Crown Princess Margareta

2) Count Carl Johan Bernadotte af Wisborg (1916-2012)

Count Carl Johan Bernadotte af Wisborg's grave

3) Prince Bertil (1912-1997) and Princess Lilian (1915-2013)

Prince Bertil's grave

4) Prince Carl (1861-1951) together with Princess Ingeborg (1878-1958) and Prince Carl (1911-2003)

Grave of Prince Carl, Princess Ingeborg & Prince Carl Jr

5) Count Sigvard Bernadotte af Wisborg (1907-2002)

Count Sigvard Bernadotte af Wisborg's grave

Walking back that same path, to where you started, there is a small gravel path up the hill.

The Royal Burial Ground

On top of the hill, at the highest point of the islet, you will find the Bernadotte crucifix and the grave of Prince Gustaf Adolf (1906-1947) and Princess Sibylla (1908-1972).

Prince Gustaf Adolf & Princess Sibylla's grave

If you look down from there, this is the view…

The Royal Burial Ground

All tombs have large rectangular stones inscribed with names and titled on them. Rows of flowers are planted as decorations and mark the area of each grave. As the cemetery is only open to the public one day per week during the summer months, royal relations to those buried there often visit the graves to lay flowers for special anniversaries.

To view more of my photos from the Royal Cemetery at Haga, please visit my
Flickr album devoted to it and my visits there.

A visit to Princess Lilian’s grave

Floral tributes at Princess Lilian's grave

Floral tributes at Princess Lilian’s grave

Today I went to pay my last respects at the grave of Princess Lilian at the Royal Burial Ground at Haga. Just as the funeral day this past Saturday, this Monday was a cold day with icy winds reaching through all layers of clothes and snowflakes tumbling down from the sky.

At the Royal Burial Ground

Just like after Prince Bertil’s funeral in 1997 the Royal Burial Ground has been extra open to allow members of the public to pay their last respects, normally the site is only open occasionally during the warm summer months. Since yesterday was a Sunday I thought that it would perhaps be a better idea to go today, a regular Monday, as I had the possibility to do so and thought that there might be less people there because of it. That did not turn out to be the case…

Tributes at Princess Lilian's grave

At the gates to the burial ground was a constant stream of people coming and going, that it was not a sunny day like yesterday Sunday did not seem to be of any hindrance whatsoever. Old and young, children and even a few dogs gathered in large crowds around the temporary blue cloth that covers the opening to the tomb were Princess Lilian’s coffin had been lowered. The heavy gravestone carved in gneiss from Bårarp in Halland has been moved to the side and all the beautiful wreaths and other floral tributes placed on and around the cloth that covers the temporary setting.

Tributes at Princess Lilian's grave

Princess Lilian’s last resting place was a sea of flowers to which a constant stream of people came to look and some to place their own flowers, cards or candles among them. In the good Swedish tradition a line was formed so that everyone could have the chance to walk around and see, but at times there were so many people that the line was double or triple. I took my time to look at all the different tributes though I have to say that the current cold spring, now even with more snow, had not treated the flowers, which are not made for such climate, very well. But it was indeed a beautiful tribute and it’s hard to imagine a more heart-warming send-off for Princess Lilian than the masses of people and many beautiful tributes at her last resting place.

Tributes at Princess Lilian's grave
Tributes at Princess Lilian's grave
Tributes at Princess Lilian's grave

Because of weather and wind, and also the amount of flowers, it was not easy to see each individual tribute but I did my best and from what I could spot there were fifteen floral decorations from royal descendants.

Carl Gustaf, Silvia

(King Carl XVI Gustaf & Queen Silvia of Sweden)

Victoria, Daniel, Estelle

(Crown Princess Victoria, Prince Daniel, Princess Estelle of Sweden)

Carl Philip, Madeleine, Christopher

(Prince Carl Philip and Princess Madeleine of Sweden, Christopher O’Neill)

Margaretha, Birgitta, Désirée, Christina med familjer

(Princess Margaretha Mrs Ambler, Princess Birgitta of Sweden and Hohenzollern, Princess Christina Mrs Magnuson with families)


(Countess Gunnila Bernadotte af Wisborg, widow of Count Carl Johan)


(Countess Marianne Bernadotte af Wisborg, widow of Count Sigvard)

Mica, Ebba, Marianne, Carl Johan

(Count Carl Johan Bernadotte af Wisborg’s daughter Monica Bonde af Björnö with children)

Christian & Marianne

(son of Count Carl Johan Bernadotte af Wisborg with wife)

With tender affection
Madeleine Bernadotte Kogevinas

(daughter of Prince Carl Bernadotte)

Prince Oscar Bernadotte’s family


(Queen Margrethe and the Prince Consort of Denmark)

Kronprins Frederik
Kronprinsesse Mary

(Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark)


(Prince Richard zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg and Princess Benedikte of Denmark)


(King Constantine and Queen Anne-Marie of Greece)


(the Norwegian Royal Family)

Some of the other floral tributes came from the government, the county governors of Sweden together, Halland County, Stockholm County, the County Governor of Stockholm, the City of Stockholm, the staff of the Royal Court, the Wallenberg family, the Ulla Winbladh restaurant (Princess Lilian was a regular), The Royal Lawn Tennis Club of Stockholm, The Swedish Sports Confederation, KAK (The Royal Automobile Club), SOS Children’s Villages (a favourite charity of Princess Lilian, she was protector) and the editorial office of Svensk Damtidning.

Tributes at Princess Lilian's grave

To view more of my photos from the Royal Burial Ground at Haga, please visit my
Flickr album devoted to it and my visits there.