As the capital of Denmark, Copenhagen has a long and rich history. This largest city in Scandinavia boasts a population of nearly 2 million people, including greater Copenhagen and surrounding regions.
Founding and growth of Copenhagen
The city of Copenhagen was initially founded by Bishop Absalom in 1160. At the time, Absalom was a counselor for the then-king of Denmark, King Valdemar I. Absalom was tasked by his liege to build a city on Zealand's east coast to help protect trade on the Sound. Originally, Copenhagen was a fishing village and a small fortress was built to protect the city from 1160 to 1167. The castle was attacked and demolished in 1369 by the German Hanseatic League, but the remains of the castle can still be seen under the foundations of today's Christiansborg Palace.
Thanks to its position and advantageous harbor, Copenhagen grew extremely quickly throughout much of the 12th century. It grew so large that in 1254 Bishop Jakob Erlandsen gave Copenhagen a charter, allowing it to upgrade its status to that of a city. In 1417, King Eric of Pomerania, the then-current ruler of Denmark, moved into a new castle built on the ruins of Absalom's Castle. The city replaced Roskilde as the capital of Denmark in 1443, partially because of its centrally located position, making it a great trading port as well as a strong military and political center.
The first Danish king to actually be crowned in Copenhagen was King Christian I in 1449. His lineage, known as the Royal House of Oldenburg, ruled Denmark until 1863. King Christian I also founded Copenhagen University in 1479, making the city the home of the first university in Denmark.
16th and 17th centuries
The 16th century saw many changes and Copenhagen was right there in the middle of it all. King Christian III, then the ruler of both Denmark and Norway, brought the Protestant movement to Denmark in 1536. Shortly thereafter, Lutheranism became the official state religion in Denmark with the Evangelian Lutheran Church declared the state church. To this day, nearly 90% of Danes are members of this church.
Not everything in 16th century Denmark revolved around religious upheaval. In 1583, the Bakken was opened just north of Copenhagen. Bakken began when a natural spring was discovered at the Dyrehaven. Rides, games and restaurants soon sprung up around the area, making Bakken the world's first amusement park, which is still open to this day.
In addition to helping with the formation of Bakken, King Christian IV spearheaded the construction of many of Copenhagen's most well-known buildings. The king was also a great architect and structures constructed during his reign include the Round Tower, Old Stock Exchange, canals, Old Citadel and Rosenborg Castle.
In 1711, bubonic plague broke out in Copenhagen, with nearly one-third of the population of the city dying, resulting in a death toll of about 20,000. In addition, a series of fires destroyed much of Copenhagen in 1728. By the time the reconstruction was completed in 1737, the medieval portion of Copenhagen was irrevocably different.
In 1794 another fire broke out, this time causing extensive damage to Christiansborg Palace. The royal family had to move to Amalienborg Palace, which became the new permanent home of the Danish royal family.
Battle of Copenhagen
In 1801, a fierce naval war with England was waged. During the war, the Danish fleet suffered heavy losses. War casualties on the Danish side alone were nearly 2000 and as many men were also captured. Britain attacked Copenhagen in 1807 again as a part of the Napoleonic Wars, bombarding the city heavily.
19th century to present day
In 1813, during the reign of King Frederik VI, the country faced a financial crisis and went bankrupt. As a result, Norway was ceded to Sweden, breaking up the Danish-Norwegian kingdom for the first time in 450 years.
Despite the financial troubles of the era, Copenhagen saw an increase in education, with compulsory public schooling and the opening of the College of Advanced Technology, founded by Hans Christian Ørsted, who discovered electromagnetism. The college was renamed the Technical University of Denmark in 1994.
On June 5, 1849 the country became a constitutional monarchy. This constitution was signed by King Frederik VII. The last official criminal execution in Copenhagen took place in 1861.
With a long and storied history, Copenhagen remains one of the most interesting and historically important cities in the world. Today, this modern city is still beloved by many and regularly wins global accolades, such as having the highest quality of life and the best designed city, and ranks among one of the world's top 25 cities.
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Copenhagen Airport – official website
Copenhagen at a glance – SAS guide
Flights to Copenhagen
Flights to Aarhus
Flights to Aalborg
Visit Copenhagen – Copenhagen's official tourism website
Visit Denmark – Denmark’s official tourism website