Copenhagen History Facts and Timeline

(Copenhagen, Hovedstaden, Denmark)

Denmark's capital and largest city, Copenhagen, is one of the jewels of northern Europe. Compared to other regions of the continent, the history of Copenhagen is relatively young, with its 12th century origins.

From its beginnings as an island fortress, the Danish capital has evolved into a splendid representation of the beauty and grace that European culture is capable of. Today, it is literally connected to Sweden via the Oresund Bridge that ends in Malmo, creating a fascinating duel-nation atmosphere that is irresistible for travellers and tourists.

Bishop Absalon

The history of Copenhagen can be reliably traced all the way back to 1167, when a gritty and determined bishop named Absalon built a fortified castle on a tiny island, in order to protect a little Danish harbour village that was defenceless. That island was none-other than Slotsholmen, and the fortress is now the home of the Christiansborg Castle.

A Natural Harbour

Copenhagen has an amazing natural harbour that encouraged businessmen to set up shop here, when this little village was called Merchant's Port (Kober Havn). Under the protection of the fort, the village grew into a town that was later renamed Kobenhavn. The fortress built by Bishop Absalon remained for two centuries until the Hanseatic States destroyed it in 1369.

Work to rebuild Copenhagen's castle on the Slotsholmen Island site began in the year of 1376, marking a new evolution in the prominence and the history of Copenhagen. When the castle was finished after 40 years' worth of construction work, Pomeranian King Erik moved in and started the town's quick transition from commercial harbour town to the capital of Denmark.

Christian IV

The beautification of Copenhagen didn't really take off until the early 17th century, when the Danish king, Christian IV began his reign. He was a huge fan of the European Renaissance movement and ordered a massive building project to transform the city into one of Europe's leading capitals.

Christian IV's ambitious construction dreams included two brand new castles and a host of grandiose buildings that remain today, such as Europe's earliest ever stock exchange, the Borsen, and the innovative Rundetarn Observatory. However, the 1700s were not as kind to this fledgling capital. The bubonic plague wiped out more than 30 percent of Copenhagen's population in 1711, followed by citywide fires that ravaged most of its timber buildings in the late 1720s and again in 1795.

Those Pesky British

The worst events in the history of Copenhagen, however, were inflicted by the British. In the run-up to the Napoleonic Wars, a British fleet under the direction of Admiral Horatio Nelson attacked the Danish-Norwegian fleet anchored in the city's harbour in 1801. Eventually a truce was called, ending what many historians believe was Nelson's toughest battle.

Much worse was the unprovoked British naval attack in the summer of 1807, which was soon known as the Second Battle of Copenhagen. In this pre-emptive attack on the city, British ships fired phosphorus bombs on the city centre, killing many hundreds of civilians and burning most of the city's homes and buildings. Modern historians liken this attack to Europe's first incident of terrorism.

Nazi Occupation

Copenhagen rebuilt itself once again and reached even greater heights during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The capital expanded outwards to accommodate the rise in population and established itself as a European bright spot for art, culture and liberal governance.

Even when Nazi Germany occupied the city during WWII, Copenhagen managed to get through the war relatively intact. Though the Germans controlled the capital from April 1940 until early May 1945, the Nazis did not want Denmark as part of their empire, and so an 'amicable' agreement with the Danish government was made.

Modern Liberalism

In the 1960s, Copenhagen's youth led the way against the Cold War and other negative ideologies, such as consumerism.

Student protests were a common event at the city's historic university (Kobenhavns Universitet), boiling over in 1971 when students invaded an abandoned military complex on the eastern side of the city and founded the Utopian free state of Christiana. Denmark's capital remains one of the world's most progressive and open societies.