Ribe is Denmark’s oldest town, located in south-west Jutland, with a population of 8,365 (2023). The town is built around its 12th-century cathedral and celebrated its 1,300th anniversary in 2010. Ribe ranks high on the list of historic centers in Scandinavia.
The town was a center of commercial activity in the early 8th century, and this may have originated with royal influence. Coins may have been struck there in 720. The atmosphere in the medieval city center cannot be described in words. It has to be experienced. The cobbled narrow streets, the well-preserved houses and plaques each tell their part of the proud history that stretches back to around 710 AD.
The courtyards and kroer (inns) are much as they were hundreds of years ago. When archbishop Ansgar set out to Christianize Scandinavia, he requested (in about 860) of King Horik II of Denmark that the first Scandinavian church be built in Ribe, which at the time was one of the most important trade cities in Scandinavia. However, the presence in Ribe of a bishop, and thus a cathedral, can only be confirmed from the year 948.
The ”Cat Head Door” was said to be the entrance for the Devil. The choir has been stunningly decorated by CoBrA artist Carl-Henning Petersen, and there are splendid views from the tower.
The Treaty of Ribe was proclaimed in 1460. Being located in a large region of low-lying marshland, Ribe has repeatedly been hit by storm floods, the most devastating being the Burchardi flood of 1634. The marks after this flood can still be seen on the cathedral’s walls and is also marked as the top point on a flood pillar in the town. Today Ribe, along with much of the Wadden Sea coastline, is protected by dykes.
Denmark is famous for its Vikings, and from Ribe their wooden ships set out into Europe to trade – and spread terror as well. This dramatic early history is in evidence in many city locations. Today, there is a peaceful, cozy ambience everywhere – in the pedestrian street, the art museum, the abbey and the old eateries.
Ribe continues its medieval tradition of night watchmen. On summer evenings at 8pm and 10pm, the watchman walks around singing the traditional songs that once told the people that all was well and they could sleep soundly.
High on the List of Historic Centers in Scandinavia, written by Tor Kjolberg
Feature image (on top): Ribe cathedral. Photo: Visit Denmark