Aarhus History Facts and Timeline

(Aarhus, Central Denmark, Denmark)

Denmark's densely populated city of Aarhus is a place with rich Viking roots and is quite possibly the oldest city of size in Scandinavia. Its favourable location on the Aarhus River put it along traditional trade routes between Denmark and the Baltic States, as well as Germany and other regional towns on the Jutland peninsula.

Although the city's history stretches back more than 1,300 years, it only really began to develop at the end of the 19th century.

The Age of the Vikings

The city gets its name from the Danish term 'aross', which literally means 'river mouth'. Archaeological evidence shows that the Vikings established a settlement around the mouth of the Aarhus River towards the end of the 7th century AD. It was a superb location, due to its natural harbour and the regional trade that flowed up the river and along the coast.

Visitors can imagine the early history of Aarhus by walking along Mejlgade Street and the riverside, up towards Immervad. This area is where the first Vikings built clusters of longhouses that served as both homes and workshops. Though the entire area has long been paved over, archaeologists continue to find buried relics from this era, as recently as 2005.

An Official Town

The city's Viking roots left behind a pagan burial site right in the heart of Aarhus. Historians know that the city had reached a certain level of importance by 900 AD, when the King of Jutland constructed the first church in the city. He built the completely wooden Holy Trinity Church directly over the old burial site. A series of runestones (raised stones with inscriptions) discovered around Aarhus also indicate that wealthy nobles were living in the area roughly a century later.

The Middle Ages

The history of Aarhus is much better recorded in the Middle Ages. In the 1200s, the city began a serious wave of expansion, building outwards from the old city core. The stately Aarhus Cathedral had its foundation corner stone laid in the year 1201, and served as the hub for the city's social and economic life for centuries. Today, the cathedral boasts Denmark's longest nave and is a major attraction.

The Reformation and Conflict

When the Reformation began to influence society in Denmark, the focus of local life shifted from the cathedral to the grand houses of the merchants. Aarhus history during this era was shaped by the regional strife that existed across Scandinavia. German campaigns swept over the city in the late 1620s and the fortifications used to defend the city at this time are still visible to the south.

The Swedes also inflicted some serious pain on Aarhus and its population. Swedish soldiers occupied the city several times during the 1600s, enforcing hefty taxes. A bad outbreak of the plague and a series of fires that destroyed large portions of the mainly wooden city all added to the woes of the 17th century.

Development in Aarhus

Despite all that misfortune, the strategic location of Aarhus at the mouth of its mighty river ensured that this remained one of Denmark's most important cities. In the late 1840s, the city began expanding its harbour to accommodate the boom in maritime trade from Jutland and other European nations.

After the harbour project finished in the early 1860s, the city was connected by rail to the Jutland town of Randers. Between these two forms of transport, Aarhus quickly developed into one of Denmark's largest and most significant cities. It remains so today, showcasing its heritage in the Old Town and its Danish culture within its many performance arts venues.