Vartov, situated next to Copenhagen’s city hall, is a large redbrick edifice with four buildings arranged around a placid courtyard. Vartov is known mostly because of Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig who was a pastor in Vartov Church from 1839 till his death in 1872.
Vartov as it looks now was built in 1724-1755. In earlier days, Vartov was a hospital for poor and elderly people. The sickbays were placed in the southern wing of the building - with an open view to the Vartov Church placed right in the middle of the wing. In its heyday about 500 people lived in Vartov. A family could own and inherit "a bed” in Vartov and so take care of elderly people in the family.
Today Vartov is owned by Grundtvigsk Forum, a grundtvigian society started in 1898 and still dedicated to reinterpret Grundtvig’s thoughts and make him known in Denmark and abroad. The society has members doing local work all over Denmark. Grundtvigsk Forum takes part in current debates and arranges conferences and seminars. Furthermore the organization runs The Grundtvig-Library and the Grundtvig-Academy which are also based in Vartov. Vartov also houses three children’s institutions and several ngo’s such as The Danish Cultural Institute and the Association of Danish Museums. Two university centres are based in Vartov, namely Søren Kierkegaard Research Centre and The Grundtvig Study Centre.
The poet, theologian and educator N.F.S. Grundtvig (1783-1872) is one of the most influential persons in Danish history, his ideas having left their mark on church, school and politics and still being vividly discussed in the Danish society.
Grundtvig lived most of his adult life in Copenhagen – hometown in the 19. century of as well the philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard, as the physicist H.C. Ørsted, the author H.C. Andersen and the sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen.
The Vartov courtyard
His thoughts were crucial for establishing the folk high schools. The folk high schools intended to enlighten peasants to take part in society and political life in the new democracy - Denmark had its first democratic constitution in 1849. The folk high schools are boarding schools based upon free conversation between student and tutor. Today they have spread all over the world. Grundtvig got his high school vision from his travels to England where he visited the colleges of Oxford University.