Unexpectedly, on a rainy day in July 2023 in Assen, the capital of the Dutch province of Drenthe, I bumped into a small display about a royal palace, that I didn’t even know existed. The place itself was already a surprise: the shopping centre in the middle of the city centre. Only after reading the information, it turned out the palace actually was never built.

For the story, one has to go back to the year 1809. Louis Napoleon, King of Holland, in March of that year visited several places in Drenthe, including Assen. Although district centre of Drenthe at the time Assen was only a small village with 700 inhabitants, farms, etc. The municipal administrators made sure that all inhabitants were involved in receiving the King, waved flags and shouted: “Long live the King”. It turned out that the King was so impressed – probably also due to the great weather – that Assen became a town, and received 20.000 Guilders to build new houses. Assen also was gifted with the Asserbos. And because the area was still rather pristine, there was quite some space to do so.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs was ordered to create a plan to expand the town. The King’s architect Carlo Giovanni Francesco Giudici was responsible for the design, that included a summer palace for the King, schools, churches, a theatre, an harbour and barracks, boulevards and parks. Because Louis Napoleon in 1810 was forced by his brother, Emperor Napoléon I of the French, to leave the country, the plans, apart from a handful of houses, were never realised. On the spot where the palace should have been, 83 years later military barracks were built. One thing is for sure: after the French left, Assen started to develop into a real town, the capital of the province. Because of the villas and mansions that were build in the 19th century, Assen is called “City of Palaces”, even although there is not a single palace to be found.

But back to the tiny display. Two years ago, Michal Cepelák from Czechia, became an inhabitant of Assen, according to the local tv-channel “RTV Drenthe”. His passion: to reconstruct old and special buildings in 3D, whether they ever existed, or not. He created a 3D visualisation based on the historical designs from 1809. The result is a surprising model with photos of what Assen could have looked like with a palace. The model and photos are so realistic that even I was almost fooled. The mini-exhibition “King Louis Napoleon’s Summer Palace in Assen” is on display at Vanderveen department store in the centre of Assen until the end of September 2023.

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