Copenhagen was founded in 1167 by tough-as-nails Bishop Absalon, who erected a fortress on Slotsholmen Island, fortifying a small and previously unprotected harbourside village.
After the fortification was built, the harbourside village grew in importance and took on the name Kømandshavn (Merchant’s Port), which was later condensed to København. Absalon’s fortress stood until 1369, when it was destroyed in an attack on the town by the powerful Hanseatic states.
In 1376 construction began on a new Slotsholmen fortification, Copenhagen Castle, and in 1416 King Erik of Pomerania took up residence at the site, marking the beginning of Copenhagen’s role as the capital of Denmark.
Still, it wasn’t until the reign of Christian IV, in the first half of the 17th century, that the city was endowed with much of its splendour. A lofty Renaissance designer, Christian IV began an ambitious construction scheme, building two new castles and many other grand edifices, including the Rundetårn observatory and the glorious Børsen, Europe’s first stock exchange.
In 1711 the bubonic plague reduced Copenhagen’s population of 60, 000 by one-third. Tragic fires, one in 1728 and the other in 1795, wiped out large tracts of the city, including most of its timber buildings. However, the worst scourge in the city’s history is generally regarded as the unprovoked British bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807, during the Napoleonic Wars. The attack targeted the heart of the city, inflicting numerous civilian casualties and setting hundreds of homes, churches and public buildings on fire.
Copenhagen flourished in the 19th and 20th centuries, expanding beyond its old city walls and establishing a reputation as a centre for culture, liberal politics and the arts. Dark times were experienced with the Nazi occupation of the city during WWII, although the city managed to emerge relatively unscathed.
During the war and in the economic depression that had preceded it, many Copenhagen neighbourhoods had deteriorated into slums. In 1948 an ambitious urban renewal policy called the ‘Finger Plan’ was adopted; this redeveloped much of the city, creating new housing projects interspaced with green areas of parks and recreational facilities that spread out like fingers from the city centre.
A rebellion by young people disillusioned with growing materialism, the nuclear arms race and an authoritarian educational system took hold in Copenhagen in the 1960s. Student protests broke out on the university campus and squatters occupied vacant buildings around the city. It came to a head in 1971 when protesters tore down the fence of an abandoned military camp at the east side of Christianshavn and began an occupation of the 41-hectare site, naming this settlement Christiania.
In the new millennium, the future looks uncertain, as riot police patrol Christiania and the city talks of taking back the land from the squatters. The only event that seemed capable of taking this topic off lips and front pages was the wedding of Crown Prince Frederik to Australian Mary Donaldson in May 2004. They have since had two children, a boy and a girl.