The History of Aalborg

Denmark is the oldest monarchy in the entire world. Once, Denmark was a an imperial power, governing both Norway, Sweden and even England at one point. Since its establishment, Aalborg has been one of the core cities of Denmark, and here is a history of Denmark's fourth largest city. Enjoy! 

Past History

The city of Aalborg (Danish pronunciation: ˈʌlb̥ɒːˀ) itself is believed to have been founded during the Viking Age, but the area has been inhabited for much longer. Limfjorden, the fjord that runs through Aalborg, is one of the main reasons for the siting of the city. In the Iron Age, many villages were placed on the chalk hills on which the modern Aalborg is built. The most significant of them were Lindholm Høje, Tranders and Hasseris. In Lindholm Høje, the burial sites which were in use in 400–1000 A.D. are still visible. On all the hills, archaeologists have found traces of metal work from German Iron Age, and the entire area is thought to have been of importance for trade.

The Viking Age

The first actual urban settlement is likely to have taken place by Østerå’s (old stream running through Aalborg) outlet into the Limfjord in the place where the modern streets of Algade and the Boulevard intersect today. The stream was operated as harbour, much like in any other trade places during the Danish Viking Age. Underneath the oldest city houses have been found traces of agriculture, including plough tracks. Apparently, a village existed here from approx. 800 A.D.
 
 
During 1994–1995, a great archaeological search was carried out in the oldest layers of Aalborg. This broadened the hitherto knowledge of Aalborg’s early history. Among others, it was discovered that changes took place around the stream’s estuary during the 900s. Traces of craftsmanship and workshops were found along with quarry houses and a trade centre. The structure of the place is similar to that of Ribe in the 700s; it was no permanent settlement, but rather a regularly active market place. The trade and workshop place has probably been in function until the mid 1000s A.D., and it was most likely replaced by the first actual city with permanent residence. The oldest street is Algade, and its houses were built with the gables facing the main street. Traces from contemporary houses have been found on the other side of the stream. The place of Aalborg had probably been subject to royal interest from the beginning, and this became even more evident in 1035–1042, when King Harthacnut began striking coins here as he did in Aarhus. The eldest name for Aalborg stems from these coins; Alabu. Also the kings Eric I the Good and Canute IV the Saint had coins struck in Aalborg. Scattered traces of craftsmanship from the entire period of 700–1000 have been found near the stream, but the earth layers show that agricultural fields replaced buildings. Churches were built on each side of the stream, and their graves date back to 995–1025.

The Middle Ages

Aalborg blossomed during the Middle Ages, and in 1342, it was named royal borough, making it one of the largest cities in Denmark. This development increased further as Aalborg was granted monopoly of the salted herring trade in 1516. The merchant- and trade association Guds Legems Laug (roughly translated: the holy association) was established in 1481 pending long-time trade with the Hanseatic League. Herring fishing facilitated connections across the North Sea to England, but the trade with Norway and Western Sweden was also important. During the Danish Count’s Feud (Danish civil war 1534-1536), the city of Aalborg was, however, terribly struck. Skipper Clement (famous Danish merchant, captain, privateer and leader of the peasant rebellion during the Count’s Feud) used Aalborg as his main base, but in December 1534, the city was stormed by Johan Rantzau’s (German-Danish general and statesman) troops who plundered and burnt down the city. Around 2,000 people are said to have died during this atrocity which may have been revenge for the battle of Svendstup (small town located a little south of Aalborg) during which the rebellion army had defeated King Christian III’s (picture on the right) army of nobles. In 1554, Aalborg became a bishopric, and in the following centuries, the city grew, mainly due to herring fishing around Jutland. 
 
Traces of a range of buildings from the middle ages have been preserved in Aalborg. The Grey Friar Convent, which was placed on the east side of Østerå, is mentioned in 1268 when it was an Order of Friars Minor (the Franciscans) Convent. It was probably built around 1240, later than the Franciscans Convent in Ribe which dates back to 1232, making it the oldest in Denmark. The Grey Friar Convent was closed in 1530, hence, before the Reformation. The remains of the torn down buildings may be seen in an underground exhibition under Bispensgade today. The city’s third convent, the part monastery, part nunnery, the Hospital of the Holy Ghost, was founded in 1451 to help sick, orphans and the poor. It was changed into a hospital by the Reformation. Today, the buildings function as a nursing home for the elderly, and it is one of Denmark’s best preserved medieval establishments. The gothic-style Cathedral of Saint Budolfi was built in the late 1300s.  

Modern Times

Around 1800, a decrease in herring fishing took place which had a negative influence on the city’s economy. The latter was worsened further by the loss of Norway during which the city lost its pivotal role as the centre of trade with Norway. Aalborg continued to be the largest city in Jutland until the mid-1800s when Aarhus took over. The number of inhabitant increased, however, from circa 7,800 in 1850 to circa 31,500 in 1901. In 1970, Aalborg's population was circa 97,000, whereas today, the city counts 162,500 inhabitants, and it is the fourth largest city in Denmark and the third largest municipality. In the 1900s, Aalborg was mainly an industrial city and home to several large companies. Over the years, Aalborg has also developed into a centre for culture and education.
 
During the German occupation of Denmark, the airfield north of Aalborg was taken by German parachuters very early on in the operation of 9th April 1940. This event is considered the first in which parachute troops were used in war. During the entire war, the airfield was of great important for the Luftwaffe, and it suffered numerous RAF attacks, some of which went wrong, dumping bombs on fields outside Aalborg and more dangerous, on the city itself. Aalborg was in fact one of the cities in Denmark most marked by the German occupation both with regards to warfare, secret police affairs and resistance. If you are interested in learning more about Aalborg during the German occupation, please click here.

Historical Attractions in Aalborg

The old Aalborghus Castle and some picturesque houses of the 17th century remain in the centre of the city. The half-timbered castle was built in 1550 by King Christian III, and was converted to government administration offices in the 1950s.  
 
Jens Bang's House, a five story building built in 1624 by the merchant Jens Bang is an example of Renaissance architecture. It is located on Nytorv next to the old Town Hall.
 
The present Budolfi Church dates from the end of the 14th century, although at least two earlier churches stood on the same spot. Budolfi Church was just a parish church until it became the seat of the Lutheran bishop of Aalborg in 1554.
 
The Church of our Lady (Vor Frue Kirke) is a relatively modern church. The original Church of Our Lady from the early 1100s was pulled down after the Reformation because it was old and unstable. The newer building in a different location was partially burned in 1894.
 
On your right is a picture of a preserved living room from the 1800s in Aalborg.