The Børsen's iconic dragon spire before the 16 April fire

Legendary Danish Dragons Fall in Heartbreaking Børsen Fire

4 min read

In the heart of Copenhagen lies the Børsen, a magnificent 17th-century structure that once served as Denmark’s bustling stock exchange and is now owned by the Danish Chamber of Commerce. Its iconic dragon spire, shaped like the entwined tails of four mystical beasts, has long been a symbol of the city’s mercantile power and architectural grandeur. However, on 16 April 2024, a devastating fire ravaged the old stock exchange, a stark reminder of the vulnerability of even the most enduring structures. In what Denmark’s Deputy Prime Minister described as Denmark’s own “Notre Dame moment,” the burning building and icon of Danish history succumbed to significant damage. Let’s celebrate the historic old stock exchange building and consider how Denmark might approach its restoration.

A Testament to Danish Prosperity and Incredible Design

Commissioned by King Christian IV of Denmark, a monarch known for his ambitious building projects, the Børsen was completed in 1640. Its design, heavily influenced by the Dutch Renaissance style, reflected the nation’s growing wealth and prominence in international trade. For centuries, grand halls of the the Copenhagen Stock Exchange echoed with the voices of merchants, brokers, and financiers, shaping the economic landscape of Denmark.

Shaped by the talents of Hans van Steenwinckel the Younger and Lorenz van Steenwinckel, the building’s architecture reflects the deep commercial and cultural ties between Denmark and the Netherlands during the 17th century. More than just a marketplace, the Børsen became a dynamic social hub, echoing with the sounds of grand celebrations, royal visits, and even the solemn proceedings of court trials.

Its iconic spire, featuring the intertwined tails of four dragons wearing the three crowns of Scandinavia, symbolized Denmark’s reliance on its maritime prowess, with the mythical creatures fabled to ward off misfortune. Throughout centuries, the Børsen has borne witness to Denmark’s triumphs and struggles – from the turbulence of the Napoleonic Wars to the occupation during World War II and the nation’s fluctuating economic fortunes.

Escaping Previous Fires

As noted above, the Børsen’s spire features four entwined dragon tails. These mythical creatures hold a special place in Danish folklore, often associated with strength, vigilance, and protection. In the context of the Børsen, the legend suggests the dragons act as guardians, warding off flames and misfortune.

Throughout history, there have been documented instances of fires breaking out in buildings close to the Børsen. However, the flames never seemed to reach the stock exchange itself, further fueling the legend of the protective dragons.

For example, the nearby Christiansborg Palace, which currently houses the Danish Parliament, has been ravaged by fire on several occasions. The most recent incident occurred in 1990, while the Børsen remained miraculously untouched.

Because the Børsen has escaped tragedy so many times in the past and because these narrow misses have been so tied to the building’s lore, the loss has been felt even more keenly by many Danes. Even Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen expressed her dismay.

Tragedy Strikes on Tuesday Morning

The 2024 fire erupted during renovation work on the Børsen’s copper roof. Despite the valiant efforts of firefighters, the flames quickly spread, consuming much of the interior and causing the iconic spire to collapse.

While thankfully there were no casualties and emergency services (including military personnel sent to aid firemen) responded almost immediately, the damage to the building’s roof, historic furniture, historic paintings, and other interior items was profound. For all Danes and anyone with a soft spot for historic architecture, the smoldering stock exchange building was a sad sight to behold.

How the Fire Started

The exact cause of the 2024 Børsen fire remains undetermined. However, it’s strongly believed to have originated during renovation work being conducted on the copper roof of the structure. Possible ignition sources during such renovations include sparks from welding, electrical faults, and chemical reactions. Learn more about the cause of the fire from the BBC’s coverage above.

Rebuilding Borsen Tower

The fire at the Børsen in April 2024 sent shockwaves through Denmark, sparking a national conversation about the importance of preserving cultural heritage. Thankfully, nearby structures like the Danish Jewish Museum were untouched. In the aftermath, extensive efforts have been undertaken to restore the building to its former glory, though the task is complex and ongoing.

The Børsen stands as a testament to Denmark’s rich history, a place where economic ambition and architectural splendor once intertwined. Despite the scars of the fire, its spirit endures. The restoration process is not just about rebuilding a physical structure, but also about safeguarding a piece of the country’s identity, a symbol of resilience in the face of adversity.

Challenges Faced in Restoration the Børsen

The Børsen’s ornate architecture, particularly its distinctive spire, represents a complex engineering feat. Recreating these elements with historical accuracy requires specialized skills and meticulous planning.

Many of the original materials used in the Børsen’s construction, such as specific types of stone or wood, are either scarce or difficult to replicate faithfully. Finding suitable replacements that maintain the building’s historical integrity is a challenge.

The Børsen was built with exceptional craftsmanship. Replicating the intricate details, carvings, and decorative elements requires highly skilled artisans who specialize in traditional restoration techniques.

While the fire caused significant damage, it also revealed layers of the building’s history. Restoration efforts need to balance the need for reconstruction with the preservation of any historically significant elements uncovered during the process.

The restoration of a historic landmark like the Børsen is a massive financial undertaking. Securing funding and managing these resources efficiently is crucial to successful completion. Thorough restoration of a historical building is a time-consuming process. Careful planning, meticulous execution, and potential unforeseen delays all factor into the timeline.