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The Development of the Urban
Structure of Copenhagen

Merchants' Harbor

Denmark was blessed with a sheltered harbor not far from the sea route between the Baltic Sea and the North Sea known as the Sound, a major trade route. The harbor is between the big island of Sjæland and the small island of Amager and is known as the interhavn. Inderhavnen (inner harbor). It is just to the south of the stretch of water known as the Sound.

From the tenth century or earlier there was a small fishing village located where Copenhagen grew up.

Bishop Absolon

In the twelfth century the royal palace of the Danes was located at Roskilde, some 25 kilometers from the Merchants' Harbor. Roskilde itself was at the head of a long narrow inlet of the sea. This inlet provide access to the sea and protection from storms and marauders but was not suitable for a trade center.

Associated with the royal family was the family clan of the Hvides (Whites). One member of this family was to have a tremendous impact upon the Danish kingdom and the future city of Copenhagen (The Merchants' Harbor). His name was Axel but he is known to history by his ecclesiastical name, Bishop Absolon. He grew up with Valdemar who eventually after a civil war became King of Denmark and Axel remained a close advisor of Valdemar throughout his life.

Ultimately after Copenhagen had been given protective structures by Absolon the royal residence for the Danish monarchy was moved to Copenhagen.

Although he studied for the priesthood in Paris Axel Hvide (Bishop Absolon) had many talents and abilities aside from his religiousness. He was, in effect, the commander-in-chief of the Danish military forces. The most famous statue of him in Copenhagen shows him dressed as a warrior.

There is however a carved stone showing him in ecclesiastical dress.

For Copenhagen's protection Absolon in 1167 built a small fortification on an islet in the Interhavn that provided refuge to the merchants where they could escape from marauders. That location became known as Slotsholmen, (The Castle Islet).

Once the merchants had a refuge it was no longer as worthwhile for the marauders to attack and pillage the Merchants' Harbor. Absolon later had a wall and moat built to protect the urban settlement that was known as the Merchants' Harbor (copenhagen).

One source of marauders was from the tribe of the Wends, a Slavic people located to the southeast of Denmark. Bishop Absolon led a crusade against the Wends. The Wends subsequently disappeared as a power in the Baltic region but survived in the borderlands between Germany and Poland.

Christian IV

Although Bishop Absolon can be considered to have been the founder of Copenhagen the person who was most influential in the urban structure of Copenhagen was King Christian IV. Christian IV's father died when Christian was eleven year old. He was put through an extensive program of training and assumed the kingship when he was 19. Like Bishop Absolon, Christian was a man of many talents. He involved himself and Denmark in the politics and wars of Scandinavia and Germany in trying to increase Denmark's territory.

(The constrast between the depiction of Bishop Absolon as a viral warrior and Christian IV as a foppish aristocrat couldn't be stronger.)

The first item on Christian IV's agenda was the building of a larger castle on Slotsholmen (The Castle Islet), the islet where Absolon had a fortress built. Later Christian's castle was replaced by a larger Castle of Copenhagen and ultimately the structure known as Christiansborg.

Christian IV enjoyed a long reign from 1588 to 1648. He devoted some effort to having Slotsholmen extended toward Amager Island. This involved building two long, red buildings to house the Naval Arsenal. A harbor basin was excavated between the two Arsenal buildings.

In 1606 Christian had the Gammel Torv (Old Market Square) enlarged and a Ny Torv (New Market Square) created.

The Rädhus (Townhall) is on the Old Market Square.

The following image shows the extent that canals extened into the city proper. It shows a canal with the tower of the townhall in the background.

In 1614 Christian commissioned the building of a new quarter of the town for members of the royal court and the Royal Fleet. It was opposite Slotsholmen on the channel. It was named De Skipperboder. In 1617 Christian had a Dutch architect plan a new town called Christianshavn (Christian's Harbor) across the channel and to be connected with the old town by a special bridge.

A large fortress, the Citadel, was commissioned to be built north of Copenhagen and Christian had a wall built that would extend protection from the walls of Copenhagen to the Citadel. This fortified extension was to be known as New Copenhagen.

Under Christian IV's reign an Exchange Buiding was built which was topped with a spire of four entwined Chinese dragon tails.

Across the square the Holmens Church was built. A magnificient Round Tower was added to the Church of the Holy Trinity. The unique feature of the Round Tower is having a helix walkway instead of stairs.

It was quite an agenda of urban development that Christian IV commissioned. It is hard to believe that during his reign he also involved Denmark in several wars, including the Thirty Year War in Germany.

Frederik III

Frederik III's contribution to the urban structure of Copenhagen was the commissioning the planning and building of the Frederiksholm Quarter to the south of the Slotsholm and separated from it by a canal. The architects and urban planners tried to achieve the geometric order and symmetry in the Frederiksholm Quarter that was not achievable in the Copenhagen inherited from the disorder of the past.

The planning for Frederiksholm commenced in 1660, a year of great significance. It was the year the Danish monarchy became absolute and also the year Baroque architecture first came to Denmark. By the 1680's a church in the Baroque style, Our Saviour's Church, was being built at Christianshavn. An extraordinarily graceful exterior winding stairway was added to that church.

Frederik also induced the architect of the The Citadel to modify its design.

Christian V

Christian V added to Copenhagen's canal system by having a canal excavated from the sea to Kongens Ny Torv (the King's New Market Square). He also encouraged private citizens to build palaces in the area around Kongens Ny Torv.

Frederik IV

This King Frederik commissioned a few new major builings for the central part of Copenhagen. One was the Staldmestergaard, (the Courtyard of the Master of Horse). A Chancery Building was erected across the square from the Exchange Building.

Christian VI

To the north of the Slotsholm Christian VI had built the Christianborg. Part of this development complex covered the site of the Copenhagen Castle, which itself had covered Absolon's protective fortress for the Merchants' Harbor.

Frederik V

A devastating fire burned Copenhagen in 1728. The timber-structured sections and they were rebuilt with brick.

Not all of the area between the city and the Citadel, what had been named New Copenhagen, had been built upon and Frederik V decided to devote his city-building efforts to the parts of New Copenhagen which had not yet been built upon. He commissioned the building of the Frederiksstad (Frederik's City) about 1750. This included the Amalienborg quarter of Copenhagen named after the Amalienborg castle which it includes.

The Amalienborg Castle is actually a complex of four buildings arranged about an octangular site. Afterwards a number of family palaces and private mansions were built along the street named Bredgade. The Christian Church was built in the vicinity on Strandgade and also the public building Søkvæsthus (Busary).

To the north along the coast a new quarter was developing that included the Naval Shipyards and Nyholms Vagt (New Island Watch Tower).

In 1795 there was another major conflagration which destoyed many structures of Old Copenhagen. They were replaced by brick buildings built in the classics style of architecture.

The year 1848 brought the end of absolute monarchy and that had significant effects on the structure of the city. The rampart walls were torn down and the open area beyond was made available for the construction of housing.

In 1843 the Gem of downtown Copenhagen opened, Tivoli Pleasure Garden. It now covers about twenty acres of prime real estate to the south of the downtown with the main railroad station located just next to it. It is an amusement park, flower gardens and concert hall combined with numerous restaurants. It was built on at the southern ramparts of the protective wall that surrounded Copenhagen and includes a section of the moat as a lake for boating.

In 1884 much of the Chistianborg was destroyed by fire. Ony the Slotskirken (The Castle Chuch) survived that fire.

One of the most impressive structures of Copenhagen is Grundtvig's Church.

One of the notable features of downtown Copenhagen is the sections of six streets that were turned into a pedestrian mall called the Sporet. Now such pedestrian malls are common but when the Sporet was created it was a major innovation.

(To be continued.)

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