There are UNESCO World Heritage Sites that require you to dig deep into history to understand them and appreciate them. The par force hunting landscape in Denmark is one of them.
It is easy to visit a castle like Frederiksborg and be mesmerized (picture down below). It is far more difficult to grasp the relevance of a landscape, like the par force hunting ground, located close by.
Let’s step back in time, in the 17th century, to understand a little better this UNESCO inscription.
Not: this post includes some of the lamest pictures I’ve ever taken. No amount of Lightroom filters and testing could solve the issue. Don’t let this deter you from reading it. It’s kind of interesting!
Louis XIV: the French King who influenced the whole of Europe
Louis XIV, the Sun King, is probably the most famous king of France. He ruled over France for over 72, from 1643 to 1715, the longest reign ever recorded and his influence reached far beyond France’s borders.
Louis XIV is the king the most commonly cited when talking about absolutism: the centralized and complete holding of powers. He might have not been entirely absolute, as it is now argued that absolutism was more of a dream than a reality. Nevertheless, as a self-proclaimed representative of God on Earth, Louis XIV prestige and domination was undeniable. Other European monarchs envied him and followed in his footsteps, by copying some of his achievements.
The greatest achievement of Louis XIV was the Chateau de Versailles which combined all the representations of the powers of the monarch, through its architecture, its location, organisation, ceremonial… and through its Royal Domain.
The Royal Domain of Versailles
The Royal Domain of Versailles design is the representation of the absolute monarch powers: the ability to control and organize nature in a well-ordered whole. This may sound weird to you. Of course the Royal Domain of Versailles are magnificent, especially the gardens, but why would a few flower beds, some well-trimmed boxes and a few crossing alleys in the woods, represent such power? (I am deliberately being sarcastic, ok?!) Well, I don’t think I have a definite answer on this but it seems that 17th century thinkers considered geometry as the finest expression of reason. Taming chaotic nature in an orderly manner was therefore the most impressive representation of power.
To be fair, creating perfect grids of straight lines, through what were probably very dense forests, was probably no piece of cake in the 17th century. However to a French girl like I, who lived in a country which is filled with such grids from Chambord to Chantilly, from Fontainebleau to Rambouillet and so many more, it is kind of deja vu.
But OK, geometry and ordered nature were a representation of power. And maybe it is still the case?
From Louis XIV to the par force hunting landscape in Denmark
At age 17, Christian V, future King of Denmark travelled through Europe. In France he met Louis XIV who was 25 years old and had been king for 20 years already. Young Christian was impressed by Louis XIV power. Although Versailles was nothing yet compare to what it was to become, Christian V, dreamt of a Danish Versailles and his share of absolutism.
As you could imagine, Louis XIV and Christian V went on a chasse à courre in the forest of Saint Germain en Laye. It was there, that Louis encouraged Christian to start his own par force hunt in Denmark and so Christian did.
And this is how the par force hunting landscape was born!
The par force hunting landscape
So what is this par force hunting landscape? Is this just a pretty forest which was the hunting ground of the Danish Kings, 300 years ago?
Yeah, pretty much!
Ok, there are actually 3 forests:
- the former royal hunting forests of Store Dyrehave,
- the former royal hunting forests of Gribskov,
- the former royal hunting park of Jægersborg Dyrehave and Jægersborg Hegn.
And if you think it’s nothing extraordinary, it means you didn’t read the paragraphs above… Hummm… So, just for you, I will repeat.
Geometry and ordered nature were a supreme representation of the Kings’ Godly powers on Earth.
Needless to say that hunting par force was considered the noblest form of hunting and was reserved to a happy few.
This is a terrible attempt to show you the star formed by the paths crossing, just like in the logo of the site which I recreated on the first picture. Below you can see some of my many terrible pictures of the forest paths!
Designed around 1685, the geometry grid in the par force hunting grounds is not just there to be pretty. It is a carefully designed grid which optimise the hunt. In addition, it seemed that the design of such landscape also required areas where people could gather quickly. For what? To admire the king’s bravery of course!
Kings built castles and palaces, the biggest possible ones. They showed the World their wealth and displayed their most priced possessions at every possible occasions. Now you know that, they also considered taming nature as their prerogative. They transformed forests into hunting playground to display their powers. They also went to war, sometimes over incredibly stupid reasons, but that’s another story.
But there is a lesson to learn in Tim Planning quote from The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648-1815: “The greater the doubts about the stability or legitimacy of a throne, the greater the need for display.“
Although men don’t built castles anymore, nowadays they still display their wealth maybe by wearing a sharp suit & shiny shoes or driving a big car. They play with nature in different ways. They still go to war…. Men haven’t really changed and have yet to learn their lesson….
Frederiksborg castle is located near by the par force hunting landscape and is worth a visit.
Final, final words
I told you at the beginning, this post includes my lamest possible pictures to date! You were warned and I apologize.
You can see some far more interesting ones on the website listed below, including aerial views, buildings and much prettier landscape views.
The Technical bits:
The official website: parforce.dk
The UNESCO listing: UNESCO par force hunting landscape (special tip: do check the nomination file available in the documents tab. You will find there all an incredible amount of info)
Visit Denmark: www.visitdenmark.com
What you need: good shoes! water, drinks and eventually a picnic.
It wouldn’t be a bad idea to visit by bike. You may not feel like a king while riding it, but you will save time. The alleys and roads are really straight and long (and just a touch monotonous!).
It’s really not that hard to find but you will need a good GPS where you can zoom in and see the stars formed by the roads. There are many places to park when arriving by car.
The par force hunting landscape in North Zealand was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2015
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