Brief history of Copenhagen summarized
A brief look at the history of Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark.
The birth of Copenhagen
There is evidence that Copenhagen existed as a settlement more than 6,000 years ago, but its first written record dates to 1043 BC.
Copenhagen, in those days called “Havn”, meaning the port, had little strategic or political importance. Most of the inhabitants of “Havn” earned their daily bread by fishing for the abundant herring in the Øresund.
In the following two centuries, fishing and trade turned the small fishing village into a flourishing town. And in 1343 King Valdemar Atterdag made Copenhagen the capital of Denmark, today the seat of government and hometown of the Danish royal family.
A viking area
The Copenhagen region is a Viking area. Over a period of 300 years, from 750 to 1050, the Vikings set sail for countries as far away as Greenland, North Africa, the Caspian Sea, and North America. Copenhagen was an important outpost from which the Vikings undertook their journeys across Europe and the rest of the world.
As well as dramatically affecting the course of European history, the Vikings also left indelible marks on the Danish landscape. A 35-minute train ride west of Copenhagen is the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde.
In the shipyard it is possible to follow the shipbuilders who work on the reconstruction of Viking warships. The ships are exhibited and their history is told with models, posters and films in the Exhibition Hall.
If we go back a thousand years, Copenhagen was still a humble city with a small shopping center where salted herring was sold and crossings to Scania were operated.
In 1160 Archbishop Absalom becomes an influential adviser to the king, Valdemar the Great. In the following years, the city multiplies tenfold, numerous churches and abbeys are founded.
The city’s economy flourishes on income from a huge herring fishing business, which provides large parts of Catholic Europe with salted herring for Lent. Archbishop Absalon is the man who more than anyone else can claim to be the founding father of Copenhagen.
Since pirates had plagued the Danish shores for years and years, a fort was built outside of Copenhagen to repel them. Absalom and Valdemar the Great used the victory as a launching pad for the founding of Denmark’s Baltic empire.
The Kalmar Union
Queen Margaret I (1353-1412) was the most powerful woman in Europe during her reign from 1387-1412. By marrying the Norwegian king Hakon Magnusson, she became sovereign not only of Denmark, but also of Sweden and Norway. And it was she who laid the foundation for the founding of the Northern Alliance, formalized as the Kalmar Union in 1397.
After the death of his son, Crown Prince Olof, he named King Erik of Pomerania as his heir. He was crowned in 1397, but Margrethe ruled until her death.
The King takes charge of Copenhagen
The geographical position of Copenhagen with the approach to the Baltic Sea and the rich North German trading cities of the Hanseatic League, was very important. It gave Copenhagen power and wealth, but it also meant threat and vulnerability.
Time and time again the city was besieged and razed to the ground by German merchants. For some years Copenhagen belonged to the Archbishop, but when King Erik of Pomerania inherits the throne Copenhagen belongs to the Danish Crown.
Copenhagen as a Nordic shopping center
Despite centuries of power struggles and wars, the city grows richer and richer. Copenhageners do a brisk trade with friend and foe alike. Foreign merchants come to the city. Craft guilds are established and a university is founded in 1478.
At the time of the coronation of Christian IV in 1596 Copenhagen is a rich and powerful city. After the penetration of the Lutheran Church in Germany in 1517, the Danish population began to turn against the Catholic Church and in 1526 the Danish Church separated from Rome. Lutheranism became the official religion of the country, and remains so to this day.
Christian IV (1577-1648)
Christian IV became king of Denmark and Norway already at the age of 11. During his reign 1588-1648 he lost part of his kingdom to the Swedish crown.
But despite this, Denmark became a prosperous country during his reign. Christian IV founded a couple of cities, including Christiania, the current Oslo, the capital of Norway. He also established the first trading companies with exclusive rights to trade abroad.
The plagues of modern times
In the 18th century a series of disasters hit Copenhagen: first the plague of 1711, then two fires that ravaged the city in 1728 and 1795. The first fire started in a candle shop in Nørreport and destroyed 1,700 houses, including the town hall and the University.
The circumstances surrounding the great fire of 1795 were unfortunate. The firefighters could not find the keys to the fire house and do their job, so the spire of the church of St. Nicholas was destroyed. However, the fires gave the city the opportunity to draw up a new, broader urban plan. In 1740 Christian Vl moved into his new royal palace Christiansborg.
19th and 20th centuries
The XIX century began with a great battle of Copenhagen with the British navy in 1801, and the battle of 1807, when the enemy severely bombarded the city. The “Kastellet” fortification proved useless, so these types of defense lines were soon abandoned and the city walls were opened, allowing new dwellings to be built around the lakes.
After all the wars, Denmark ceded Norway to Sweden in 1813. In the following years, the city slowly recovered. Copenhagen invested in education, establishing free compulsory primary schools, and in science.
In 1849 Denmark became a democracy and the following years were quite peaceful with stable economic growth. In 1912, the first diesel-powered ocean-going ship M/S Selandia was built at the city’s shipyard. In 1932, air traffic at Kastrup Airport (opened in 1925) was well over 6,000 passengers.
Nazi occupation (1940-45)
On April 9, 1940, Hitler’s troops invaded Denmark and Copenhagen. The occupation lasted until the end of the war. Germany moved 200,000 soldiers to Denmark, as the country was seen as a useful source of agricultural produce.
The royal family with King Christian X, Crown Prince Frederik and his wife Princess Ingrid refused to leave Copenhagen. Despite the best efforts of the Danish resistance and the secret evacuation of almost 7,000 Jews from the country to Sweden, Denmark resigned and was ruled by Berlin.
Denmark was liberated by British troops under Field Marshal Montgomery on May 4, 1945. Starting today, if you visit Denmark on this date, you will see candlelight in many windows to commemorate this very day.
Queen Margrethe II was born shortly after the start of the occupation, on April 16, 1940.
Copenhagen is today one of the most dynamic cities in Europe and the second largest city in Scandinavia. With 1.1 million inhabitants in the Greater Copenhagen area (and more than 1.8 million if other nearby municipalities are taken into account), the city is one of the largest capitals in this part of the planet.
Copenhagen is one of the world’s leading destinations for international conferences and congresses. Since the opening of the Øresund Bridge between Malmö and Copenhagen in 2000, the two cities have provided more than 22,000 hotel beds.
The largest conference center in Scandinavia, the Bella Center on the outskirts of the city is well known for its international fairs and other arrangements.
In the 17th century, the vision of King Christian IV was to make the Øresund region the main economic and cultural center of Northern Europe. Today we are sure that he is sitting with a smile on his face on a real cloud, absolutely happy that his dream is about to come true.
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