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The reconstructed old privy in the Round Tower

The Old Privy

When the Round Tower was completed in 1642, it was equipped with two privies. The first one was at the top just below the Observatory and was reserved for the astronomers. The other one was halfway up the Spiral Ramp just next to the entrance to the University Library, which was located in the Library Hall until 1861.

The privies are no longer in use but we have restored the one next to the Library Hall and you are welcome to step in, take a seat and look up at the vaulted ceiling with traces of the nicotine penetrating the whitewash. It was popular to smoke a pipe during the visit here, also among the famous writers and scholars who have used the privy when studying at the University Library.

The channels in the wall as depicted by the old privy
The channels in the wall as depicted by the old privy.

Eyes as Big

One of the celebrities that probably spent time in the privy was the fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen. Arriving in Copenhagen as a young man, he visited the University Library and was allowed to read its books – provided that he returned them properly after use. Later he returned to the Round Tower in his writings numerous times, most famously in the fairy tale “The Tinderbox” (“Fyrtøiet”), where the largest dog is described as having two eyes, each one as big as the Round Tower.

Decomposed Dung

Not all Copenhageners have been able to hold out until they reached the privy in the Spiral Ramp. Passers-by simply used the Round Tower as a urinal but around 1800, dawning critical voices stated that the stench was embarrassing when showing the tower to Danish and foreign tourists.

The smell from the two privies was not exactly pleasant either – hence the pipe smoking. Through channels in the wall, the waste from the privies was brought down into a sealed holding tank under the tower. This cesspit was so large that in 1865, reportedly it had not been cleaned for between 50 and 60 years.

When it was emptied in 1921, nine loads of decomposed dung were removed. The year after, the first water closets were installed in the Round Tower.