While we in the United States are celebrating our country’s Independence Day, Her Majesty Queen Sonja of Norway will be recognizing a different milestone—her eightieth birthday.

Their Majesties the King and Queen will spend part of the day unveiling the Queen Sonja Art Hall. The latest in a series of festivities to mark the 80th birthdays of the monarchs, the new hall was a gift to Sonja and is a public venue for arts and culture on the grounds of the Palace Park.

In honor of this special occasion, we’ve compiled some facts about the monarch. Read on to learn more about Queen Sonja’s formative years, marriage and initiatives as Norway’s queen.

Upbringing

Sonja was born in the Vinderen neighborhood of Oslo in 1937 to Dagny and Karl August Haraldsen. She began her studies at the Oslo Vocational School where she received a diploma in dressmaking and tailoring. While at École Professionelle des Jeunes Filles, a finishing school in Switzerland, she studied social science, accounting and fashion design. Upon returning to Norway, Sonja completed her undergraduate degree in French, English and Art History from the University of Oslo.

Marriage and consecration

Although they crossed paths once briefly as teenagers, it wasn’t until 1959 that Sonja formally met Crown Prince Harald. Nine years later they received permission to marry, setting into motion their wedding at Oslo Cathedral on August 29, 1968 and their consecration at Nidaros Cathedral in 1991.

Humanitarian work

The queen plays an active role in a variety of fund-raising initiatives. In 1974 she was a member of the committee for the first nationwide humanitarian telethon. In 2010 she was visited the world’s largest refugee camp in Kenya and was a patron of the Norwegian Refugee Council’s telethon campaign. A recipient of the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees Nansen Medal, Queen Sonja donated her prize money to the building of schools for refugees in Tanzania. From 1987 to 1990, she also served as Vice President of the Norwegian Red Cross. In 2005 she established the Queen Sonja’s School Award, which is presented annually to a school that has demonstrated excellence in promoting inclusion and equality.

A passion for the outdoors

Queen Sonja is a trained skiing instructor and regularly enjoys long ski treks or hikes in the mountains. She is also an honorary member of the Norwegian Trekking Association (DNT).

All things art

An avid lover of arts, culture and music, the queen is a patron of the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Oslo Chamber Music Festival and the Norwegian Traditional Music and Dance Association and more. A graphic artist, ceramicist and photographer herself, the queen has exhibited works from her private art collection and collaborated with artists at a variety of venues in Norway and abroad. In 2011, the queen established Her Majesty Queen Sonja’s Art Award (now known as Queen Sonja Print Award) in cooperation with artists Kjell Nupen, Ørnulf Opdahl and Ole Larsen to recognize artists working in a paper-based format.

Interested in learning more about the Norwegian royal family? Check out this great article on the history of Norway’s monarchy from our award-winning monthly member publication, Viking Magazine. Not a member? Join today by clicking here.