History of Copenhagen

In the centre of Copenhagen is a small, canal-encircled island called Slotsholmen, which serves as Denmark's governmental seat. It was here in 1167 that Bishop Absalom constructed a small fortress within a harbourside village to try and stifle regular raids by the German Wends on the east coast of Zealand, thereby laying the foundations for the future capital of Denmark. The fortress inflated the village's sense of self-worth, causing it to grow significantly and to adopt the name Kømandshavn (Merchant's Port) - the moniker was eventually shortened to København.

The fortifications built by the bishop were destroyed during an attack on the town by ransackers from northern Germany in 1369 and work on a new defensive structure, Copenhagen Castle, began seven years later. The city's fate as the capital of Denmark was sealed in 1416 when the reigning monarch, King Eric of Pomerania, moved into his sturdy new castle quarters. Grand Renaissance buildings such as the Rundetårn (Round Tower) - established as an observatory and still regularly used for that purpose - and Børsen, home to Denmark's stock exchange, were added in the first half of the 17th century by the aesthetically minded ruler Christian IV.

Copenhagen grew swiftly in size and population, and by the beginning of the 18th century had around 60,000 people living within its confines. The next 100 years weren't kind to the burgeoning capital, however. By 1711 nearly one-third of the population had died from bubonic plague, and a pair of fires (in 1728 and 1795) turned large areas of the city, including most of its wooden buildings, to ash. To top it all off, in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars in 1807, Britain's Admiral Horatio Nelson decided he'd had enough of Denmark profiting from wartime foreign trade, and of rumours that the neutral Danes were considering putting their naval fleet at Napoleon's disposal, and ordered a savage bombardment of the city. Much of Copenhagen went up in flames (again) and the British rubbed salt into the wound by confiscating the entire national fleet.

Several decades later, Copenhagen had turned its attention away from the atrocities of war and was concentrating on the cultural revolution that was daubing, scribbling and philosophising its way across the country. The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, the writer Hans Christian Andersen, the verbose theologian Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig, and Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, founder of the Danish School of Art, all contributed to this artistic 'Golden Age'. Copenhagen benefited physically from the revolution through the grand neoclassical statues bestowed on it by sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen.

After Denmark became a democracy in 1849, it went through a lengthy and fairly peaceful period of economic development, not counting a political hiccup in 1864 when a short-lived war was successfully waged on it by Prussia. Denmark even managed to retain neutral status during WWI, but that ploy didn't work during WWII when the Nazis marched on Copenhagen and ended up occupying it and the rest of the country for five years.

Today, Copenhagen is flourishing as a centre of culture and the arts, and has had its historic skyline marred by only a few high-rise developments. The highpoint of the new millennium for the Danish people to date has to be the victory of the local Olsen Brothers in the 2000 Eurovision Song Contest, ensuring the staging of the recent 2001 gala event in Copenhagen. The low point would be the death of the popular matriarch of the royal family, Queen Ingrid, in November 2000. The other big news of recent times was the opening of a massive 12km (7.5mi) bridge-tunnel, road-rail link between Copenhagen and the Swedish port of Malmo in July 2000, the first direct land link between Denmark and the rest of Scandinavian Europe.

Copenhagen City was founded by Bishop Absalon (1128-1201), who was at that time adviser of King Valdemar I, and the archbishop of Roskilde, which was the capital of Denmark in the 12th century. Here he initiated the building of Roskilde cathedral, the royal burial place of Danish kings and queens for many centuries. He was also the archbishop of Lund, a province in Sweden near Malmø. The statue of Bishop Absalon, who founded Copenhagen, is situated between the pedestrian street "Strøget" and Christiansborg Castle. In the years 1160-67 Bishop Absalon built a citadel near Christiansborg Castle to protect the city. This was the first step to found the Danish capital Copenhagen. Today the remains of the original Copenhagen castle under Christiansborg can be seen by visitors. Copenhagen became the royal capital of Denmark in 1416, and during the reign of the great builder King Christian IV (1588-1648), many remarkable buildings were constructed like Rosenborg Castle, The Round Tower and The Old Stock Exchange. After the Capital was hit by the plague - and several destructive fires in 1728, the city was totally ravaged. The bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807 was also very damaging to the city, but the city survived. During the 19th century until today, Copenhagen has grown to be a thriving modern city and the capital of Denmark in great harmony with its citizens and many visitors.
Despite having evolved into a major capital, Copenhagen is still a small city. The medieval town and the new bridge districts, located on the site of Copenhagen's ramparts until the mid- 1800s, make up a harmonious whole. And not only is the water essential to the city's prosperity, it also frames the city. Photo: A statue of Absolon, the Arch Bishop from Roskilde who was given the city of Copenhagen by King Waldemar the Great. Photo: Stig Worm. A millennium of trading 1000-1300 Behind the new earthworks 1400-1650 From war to absolutism and splendour 1650-1700 Maritime might and brisk trade 1700-1800 Art and culture flourish 1800-1850 Industry and the labour movement 1850-1900 Modern times 1900-1950 The year 2000 - a north European power house A millennium of trading 1000-1300 From salty marshes to the Bishop's town Going back a thousand years, present-day Copenhagen is still nothing but damp salt marshes and a couple of small, low-lying islets that provide shelter for a small trading centre. Here herring is sold and crossings to Scania are operated. In the 1100s 'Havn' (Harbour), as the town is called, assumes increasing importance and the town is reinforced with earthworks. The Catholic Church erects cathedrals in Roskilde and in Lund (in what is now Sweden). In this way the small commercial centre midway between the two cities is centrally located for traffic and trading. Absalon as lord and master of the town In around 1160 King Waldemar the Great makes over Copenhagen to Absalon, Bishop of Roskilde. Whereas other cities in the Danish realm are under the governance of the king, 'Havn - or Købmannehavn' (Merchants' Town) as it comes to be known - is given the Bishop of Roskilde as its lord and master. In the years that follow, the town grows tenfold in size. Churches and abbeys are founded. The town's economy blossoms thanks to the income from an enormous herring fishery trade, which provides large parts of Catholic Europe with salted herring for Lent. Copenhagen's oldest seal Copenhagen's oldest seal dates from 1296 and shows Absalon's Castle on the islet of Slotsholmen. The three towers, the star, the crescent and the waves of the Sound are still incorporated in Copenhagen's city arms. Behind the new earthworks 1400-1650 The King takes over Copenhagen Copenhagen is located at the most important approach to the Baltic Sea and the rich North German trading towns of the Hanseatic League. That provides Copenhagen with power and wealth, but also threatens its very existence. Time and again the town is besieged and laid waste by the North German traders, called the Hanseatic League. At the same time the Danish king attempts to take Copenhagen from the bishop. This he finally succeeds in doing in 1416, when King Erik of Pomerania takes over the town. Thenceforth Copenhagen belongs to the Danish Crown. Copenhagen prospers as Nordic trading centre Despite centuries of power struggles and warring the town grows increasingly rich. The Copenhageners do a brisk trade with friend and foe alike. Foreign merchants come to the town. Craft guilds are established and a university is founded. By the time of Christian IV's coronation in 1596 Copenhagen has become rich and powerful. The new king decides to make the town the economic, military, religious and cultural centre for the whole of the Nordic region. The king establishes the first trading companies with sole rights to trade with lands overseas. In order to restrict imports, factories are set up so that the country can manufacture as many goods as possible itself. King Christian IV builds Børsen, The Round Tower, Nyboder, Christianshavn and Rosenborg Castle Christian IV expands Copenhagen by adding two new districts: Nyboder (New Booths) for the large numbers of navy personnel and the merchants' new district, Christianshavn (Christian's Harbour), which is modelled on Amsterdam. A modern fortification with earthworks and bastions surrounds the whole of the extended town. Gradually, however, it trammels the town limits, and for the next 200 years or so traffic entering and leaving Copenhagen has to pass through Copenhagen's four narrow town gates. Behind the new earthworks Christian IV commissions German and Dutch architects and craftsmen to construct magnificent edifices designed to enhance his prestige. To this very day those buildings make their mark on the cityscape of Copenhagen. By the time of Christian IV's death in 1648 Copenhagen has become Denmark's principal fortification and naval port, and the town forms a framework for the administration of the realm and a centre of trade in Northern Europe. From war to absolutism and splendour 1650-1700 Copenhagen is under siege and loses Scania to Sweden In 1657 Christian IV's successor, Frederik III, declares war on Sweden, the unfortunate outcome being that the Danes lose all land east of the Sound. Copenhagen is no longer at the heart of the realm. Despite a peace agreement, the war continues. In 1659 the Swedes find themselves outside Copenhagen's ramparts after having conquered most of Denmark. The king and the burghers of Copenhagen join forces to defend the city and resist the Swedish attack and the king consolidates his position. Events take on far-reaching consequences. The king consolidates his power at the expense of the nobility, and in 1660 Copenhageners are witness to a magnificent sight: Frederik III is acclaimed the first absolute monarch in the square in front of the castle. The citizens' reward for defending the city so bravely is very modest. Too much liberty and power goes against the grain of the king's sovereign despotism. But a council of 32 citizens is created, which is nevertheless subject to the royally appointed City Fathers, consisting of mayors and aldermen. Administrative buildings are erected to cope with mounting bureaucracy, and the townsmen's life becomes more and more regulated. A corps of nightwatchmen is set up, and the offices of police constable and fire chief are introduced as well as common standards for weights and measures. Building regulations are drawn up together with countless rules governing city life. French court life and stately palaces Large parts of the old medieval town burn down in 1728, and the reconstructed city is made into a veritable Copenhagen of the king and central regime. The new houses have to comply with strict rules regarding height, choice of materials and architecture. The new castle, Christiansborg, rises into a magnificent edifice, emphasizing the prestige of the crown, and court life flourishes here along the lines of the French model. In 1749 the king bestows a site for building an entirely new district, Frederiksstaden, which is laid out with straight streets and stately palaces. Frederiksstaden forms the setting around Amalienborg Palace, the Marble Church and the city's delightful townhouses. After the fire at Christiansborg in 1794, Amalienborg becomes the king's permanent residence. Maritime might and brisk trade 1700-1800 Denmark is one of the world's largest naval powers At the end of the 1700s Denmark is keeping well out of the wars raging in Europe and America. The country is one of the world's largest naval powers and is able to protect its trade. Exotic items from all over the world and from Denmark's small colonies in India, Africa, the West Indies and the North Atlantic swell the many new warehouses along the port. The economy blooms. A banking system is founded in order to serve the rich new commercial houses whose owners build large mansions in the city and country houses in North Zealand. The balance of power in the city slowly changes. The newly well-to-do citizens want their share of the political power. They regard themselves as more 'useful' citizens than the old nobility. Newspapers are now published, and scientific and scholarly societies, cultural associations and coffee shops are formed, where the topics of discussion for the new bourgeoisie include the unfairness of the present social order. The state considers the new meeting places highly seditious. The French revolution in 1789 has no immediate consequences in Denmark, however. On the contrary, the bourgeoisie rallies loyally around the crown prince, later to become Frederik VI. Admiral Nelson bombs Copenhagen Conversely, Copenhagen is struck by new catastrophes. Christiansborg burns in 1794, followed by large parts of the rest of the city the year after that. The city is rebuilt in a classicist style, 'clipping' the corners of buildings to allow fire engines and other traffic to pass more easily. During the Napoleonic Wars the English see the large navy of neutral Denmark as a threat and launch a twofold attack on Copenhagen: the first time in 1801 the Battle of Copenhagen; the next time in 1807, when Copenhagen is subjected to the first terrorist bombing in history against a civilian population. The English carry off the Danish fleet, securing absolute mastery of the high seas in the process. Art and culture flourish 1800-1850 Hans Christian Andersen and Søren Kierkegaard in The Golden Age After the war with the English the economy is so strained that the state goes bankrupt in 1813. Social distress in the narrow streets behind the ramparts mounts. Restoration work makes slow progress, and houses are built higher and closer together on the small plots of land available. The stench of rubbish and night-soil is insufferable. At the same time, however, art and culture enjoy a heyday. In the streets and alleys of Copenhagen such personalities are encountered as the fairy-tale writer Hans Christian Andersen, the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, the ballet master August Bournonville, the painter C.W. Eckersberg, the natural scientist H.C. Ørsted, who discovers electromagnetism, and the sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, who acquires his own museum after many years' stay in Rome. City council elected The students and citizens, who wish to see changes in the way the state is administered, have gradually become the leading lights of the city. With the Local Authorities Act of 1840, more tasks are assigned to the municipality, and a City Council is set up at the Town Hall, elected by and among the city's burghers. Finally, in 1848, the citizens force the king to introduce a free constitution in Denmark. A bloodless revolution has been accomplished and, like the other revolutions in the history of Denmark, it assumes great importance for Copenhagen. As an almost symbolic gesture, the 1840s see the construction of the Tivoli pleasure gardens and the first railway station on the old military earthworks. The enclosure of the city behind ramparts and fortifications by the absolute royal power ceases in the 1850s. Copenhagen's gates are flung open and the city grows at an explosive rate. Industry and the labour movement 1850-1900 The Copenhagen of entrepreneurs models itself on Paris The economy is back on its feet again. Freedom to trade and exercise crafts is introduced, and enterprising new capitalists take up the initiative in Copenhagen. Beyond the ramparts large enterprises are founded, organized in the form of joint stock companies. The first water and gas works are built, and banks and institutions are created to promote trade and industry. The expansion of Copenhagen has begun. The model is Paris, with wide boulevards and residential properties inspired by French architecture. The financier C.F. Tietgen completes the Marble Church, and the brewer Carl Jacobsen takes the initiative to beautify the city with new art. Large industrial fairs showcase all that is new and highlight progress. Trade-union movement established Behind the international facade of elegant department stores and amusements, industrial and working men's quarters mushroom more or less haphazardly, often in the form of unrestrained jerry-building on sites with crowded construction. But the new population of labourers that has immigrated from the country to the new industry in the city begins to unionize in the 1870s and demand better living and working conditions. Modern times 1900-1950 Copenhagen adopts its modern day image In 1901 the Municipality of Copenhagen is extended by large tracts of land to the north, south and west of the city. The Sundby villages, Valby, Vanløse, Husum, Brønshøj and Emdrup make room to accommodate the city's growth. At the same time the present-day town hall is built to serve the large new municipality. Everywhere, institutions and schools are built for the rapidly growing population. Suffrage and social awareness In 1908 also women are given the right to vote in municipal elections. And by a constitutional amendment of 1915, universal suffrage is introduced for everyone, irrespective of income. After the Social Democrats gain a majority in the municipal council, the municipality takes over more and more social tasks. Modern, subsidized council housing is built in outlying areas, together with parks and sporting amenities. Public health is enhanced by improved light and air. In the 1920s and 1930s entertainments and amusements flourish, but at the same time the economic crisis of the 1930s puts a damper on the city. Unemployment rises to alarming heights. People were linen up in front of the employement offices in order to earn enough to their daily bread. As the photo from Mejlgade 8 shows the situation often seemed hopeless. The city is occupied by Nazi Germany During World War II Denmark, and hence Copenhagen, is occupied by troops from Nazi Germany. Yet not till 1943-45 is the city seriously war-scarred by sabotage operations and isolated bombings. Compared to other European cities, Copenhagen gets through World War II virtually unscathed. The year 2000 - a north European power house Post-war development Just a few years after World War II, slum clearance and urban development begin as part of the fight against the widespread housing shortage. The so-called 'Finger Plan' from 1948 becomes a pioneer of modern urban planning. The idea is to create a city with housing and commerce positioned along radial roads and railways, retaining large green wedge areas right in towards the centre of the city. New housing estates with single-family homes and council housing proliferate in the suburbs. Women now enter the labour market on a grand scale, creating a need for creches and nurseries. Schools, sporting facilities, nursing homes and hospitals are built. Central and local government creates a cradle-to-grave security net for its citizens that has never been seen before. The swinging sixties As the older generation is enjoying increasing material welfare, unrest is smouldering among the young. There are numerous demonstrations against nuclear weapons, NATO and the Vietnam War. In 1968 the students protest against the professorial powers-that-be at the University. Other groups, the squatters, occupy condemnable properties. They demand influence over redevelopment, housing policy, working conditions - and better playground areas. It all culminates in 1971 with the occupation of the former military area of Bådsmandsstræde Barracks in Christianshavn, where the Free City of Christiania is established in a protest against current social norms. Culture was largely affected by the US. Not only jeans, long hair, rock music and free love was adapted to, also festivals saw the light of day in Copenhagen. Copenhagen today The oldest inner city area has now become a shopping and entertainment centre that attracts people from the outskirts. There is a thriving cultural life, most recently exemplified in the large-scale commitment to Copenhagen as Cultural Capital of Europe 1996. Today Copenhagen is under the spell of the ambitious projects connected with a new district called 'Ørestad' on the island of Amager, a metro and a fixed link to Sweden. So Christian IV's aspiration to turn the Øresund region into the top economic and cultural region of Northern Europe is in the process of coming true - only in a modern guise.