Signets of Power: Aarhus

Artikler

Aarhus is the second largest and one of the eldest towns in Denmark. Records of Aarhus date back to the 900s when the town was known as Aros, which means river mouth, but archaeological finds have dated the history of the town all the way back to the 700s. The natural harbour at the mouth of the river provided plenty of opportunities for trade, and after the town became an Episcopal residence in 948 these two conditions provided the most important foundation for the development of the town.  

The Viking town

Archaeological digs indicate that Aarhus River originally was an inlet of brackish water, and that the town emerged on an island at the mouth of the inlet. The passable inlet also provided the opportunity to bring ships into the land, where they could be kept safe from the weather and hostile attacks. In the 900s a rampart encircling the town was built, giving the town the structure known from the ring fortresses. The building of the rampart was a big investment and indicate the importance of Aarhus as a centre for trade, and perhaps also military.

The medieval town

The importance of the Episcopal residence and the trade opportunities of the harbour provided favourable conditions for Aarhus to grow into one of Denmark’s most important towns. The increase in trade, for instance with Norway and Germany, resulted in considerable wealth that influenced the physical development of the town. Especially the Church invested a considerable amount of this wealth in order to expand its position in town, and in the Middle Ages the Church was the builder of a series of large buildings, the cathedral being the most prominent, but far from the only one. During the Middle Ages, Aarhus experienced a considerable growth in population resulting in a sizeable expansion of the area of town on both sides of the river.

The market town, 1500-1850

After the Middle Ages the town continued to grow throughout most of the 1500s, and in the 1570s the population reached a peak at about 5000. After this, the rise in population ceased, and in spite of the continuous wealth of the town the population dropped until 1769 to about 3500. From then on, the improved trade conditions lead the town into a new development. An expansion of the harbour in 1810, which was the first of several during the 19th and 20th centuries, supported this. The industrial development took off in Aarhus from the 1830s, with several factories utilizing the water of the river to run their steam engines.

Industrialisation and growth 1850-1900

With the establishment of the coast harbour in the late 1840s the opportunities for trade over long distances were expanded dramatically, which brought a considerable amount of capital to town. The preconditions of the town’s massive growth after 1860 were therefore present, and Aarhus quickly became the second largest city in the country.

In the latter half of the 1800s Aarhus was distinctly dominated by the industry, Frich’s Machine Works and Iron Foundry and Mønsted Margarine Factory being the two most important businesses. The need for manpower in the industry led to a tremendous growth in population, which went from 7,000 to 15,000 between 1840 and 1870 and continued to grown past 50,000 in 1900. This highly influenced the appearance and the extent of the city. Aarhus grew considerably, as new neighbourhoods of blocks of flats for the industrial workers were built around the historical centre. From the 1880s, the town government and especially the more well-off citizens began a series of prestige building projects in order to show that the city was modern and progressing. Especially the construction of St. Clemens’ Bridge across the river and the area around the bridge can be viewed as a clear sign of this development, with streets on two levels and relatively tall buildings, built after the example of other European cities.

The industrial city, 1900-1970

The explosive growth in population and the financial growth in Aarhus continued into the 20th century. In 1930 the city reached 101,000 inhabitants. The industry and the harbour continued to dominate the city throughout the most of the century and the harbour was expanded several times. Yet, the city gradually changed its character as a number of educational institutions were established and came to be just as important to the city as the industry. The most important of these was Aarhus University which was founded in 1928 as the country’s largest university outside of Copenhagen.

The increased opportunities in education and the growth of the city provided Aarhus with a dominating position as the most important financial and educational centre in Jutland. Especially in Eastern and Central Jutland, Aarhus became an important centre of economy, culture and education. The importance and financial growth of the city were manifested in the construction of larger building projects in the first half of the 20th century. Some of the country’s first functionalistic buildings were erected by the town government with financial support from the state, in central locations near the river.

Because of the development within the areas of culture and education the share of employment in the industrial sector became a bit smaller than in other larger cities, and the share started dropping steadily in the mid 20th century. However, the overall picture was still an industrial city where more than 40 % of the population in 1960 was employed in this sector, and the largest employers were still Frich’s, the Floating Dock and Aarhus Oil factory.

The trade and university city 1970-2010

Since the 1970s Aarhus has gone through a considerable development financially and in population, and today the city proper has about 240,000 inhabitants and is the centre of a hinterland of more than one million people. This development is highly due to the harbour and the university. After several expansions during the 19th and 20th centuries, Aarhus harbour is now the largest harbour in Denmark and one of the largest in Northern Europe. Aarhus University has grown considerably in academic recognition, as well as in the number of students. Especially since 2005 the university has reached the position as the most important employer and investor in the city, on equal terms with the municipality.

The make-up of the employment sector in Aarhus has changed considerably since 1970, with the service sector, education and public administration now being the most important sectors. However, the industry has not disappeared completely, but has changed its focus to high tech industries as IT and electronics. Aarhus has achieved a status as the leading retail trade city in Scandinavia and the Baltic states.

The development in the late 1900s and since the turn of the millennium has changed the city considerably, especially with regard to demography. The concentration of educational institutions and industries in need of knowledge has resulted in a population with a level in education significantly higher than the country average. The many educational institutions have resulted in an average age below the country average. During this period of time, the almost total dominance of ethnic Danes has given way to a much more mixed population.

Om artiklen

Forfatter(e)
Christina Jessen
Tidsafgrænsning
900 - 2010
Medietype
Tekst
Sidst redigeret
19. marts 2019
Sprog
Engelsk
Litteratur

Fode, Henrik mfl: Århus Å. Natur og mennesker (2009).

 

Gejl, Ib (red.): Århus. Byens historie bd. 1-4 (1998).

Udgiver
danmarkshistorien.dk

Om artiklen

Forfatter(e)
Christina Jessen
Tidsafgrænsning
900 - 2010
Medietype
Tekst
Sidst redigeret
19. marts 2019
Sprog
Engelsk
Litteratur

Fode, Henrik mfl: Århus Å. Natur og mennesker (2009).

 

Gejl, Ib (red.): Århus. Byens historie bd. 1-4 (1998).

Udgiver
danmarkshistorien.dk