Ribe – oldest town of Denmark

Posted by

Today Ribe is just a small town in Denmark but it has a very long history. The oldest known evidence of a settlement at Ribe dates back to somewhere between 704 and 710 – back then there was a trading post at this location and the town grew from there.

Old stone house

The city quickly became a significant settlement and was one of the leading settlements in the area which would become Denmark a few years later. According to legend the bishop Ansgar was allowed to build the first church of the new Christian religion in Scandinavia in 860. The fact the first Scandinavia church was built right here is no big surprise – by this time the small settlement had grown into one of the most important trading places in Scandinavia and the settlement was a fairly short travel north of Hamburg where the bishop of Ansgar came from.

The house of the local news paper

There is actually no proof of the legendary church of Ansgar – or his presence in Ribe for any significant amount of time. The first evidence of a bishop in Ribe and a cathedral of Ribe dates to 948 which is still before Denmark officially adopted Christianity with the baptism of king herald Bluetooth in the 960s.


In 1150 the old church had become too small so it was decided to build a new big church in the city which was located at the highest point in this low-lying town. The construction of the church took a century and was finally done in 1250 and the church is still standing as the most prominent feature of the town of Ribe.


During the coming centuries the town of Ribe was one of the most important cities in Denmark the population reach around 5,000 in the year 1500. But only a few years before Copenhagen had a population of 5,000 and no other city in Denmark had more than 6,000 inhabitants during the first comprehensive census of the cities in Denmark in 1801. So Ribe was in fact a very important town.

House next to the cathedral

It turned out 1500 was a highpoint in the history of Ribe – in the following centuries the population of Ribe kept falling and in the 18th century the population was under 2,000 people. From this low point the population started to grow slowly and today the town has around 8,000 people living there. The slow growth of the city has meant the statues of the town have deteriorated over time. Up until 2007 the town of Ribe was an independent municipality and the seat of the Ribe Amt (County). After 2007 the counties in Denmark was abolished and the municipality of Ribe was merged with the neighbor town of Esbjerg which had been founded as late as the 1870s but had outgrown Ribe and is now the dominant city of south west Jutland.

Old watermill

One good thing about the fact time has passed by Ribe is there has been very little need to expand the city. Hence the old town center has survived fairly intact and there are many old buildings in the center of Ribe. The center of the city is still the big cathedral which was built on the highest point in Ribe. When you see the cathedral today it is hard to believe the cathedral was actually built on the highest point in town – since all the houses around the cathedral is higher than the cathedral. The reason for this is the cathedral has been standing on the same location ever since the construction of the cathedral started almost 9 centuries ago. During this period the houses surrounding the cathedral have been rebuilt several times – so even though the houses around the cathedral old none of them is even half the age of the cathedral. Every time a house was torn down they didn’t completely remove the old rubbles from the former house – instead they just built on top of the rubbles. Every time this was done the new house were located a bit higher than the old house. This way the landscape around the church has grown in height slowly over the centuries and today the houses is looked down upon the entrance to the cathedral.

The main attraction of Ribe is just to walk around the main cathedral and see the old houses on the square. From here you can follow the pedestrian street down to the old harbor. Down at the harbor you find the evidence of the pass of Ribe when flooding happened from time to time and the biggest floods were devastating – especially the flood of 1634 which killed thousands of people in the coastal parts of Denmark down towards the Dutch border. The flooding in Ribe left the entire city flooded and the water stood high inside the cathedral. I guess this devastating flood might have accelerated the down turn of Ribe which seemed to happen from around 1500. Fortunately there are no more floods in Ribe after the dike has been built and there are still a few boats in the harbor of Ribe which can still move into the North Sea thanks to Kammerslusen which has a boat chamber a few miles outside Ribe.

High water mark

Behind the small harbor you find some nice cobbled stoned streets with old houses which are nice for a little wonder away from the semi busy main street which seems to attract all the tourist in Ribe – not that it is very many tourist on this sunny day.

Old houses in the cobbled street

After wondering around the town I decide to head for a place in Ribe I never been before the old ruins of Riberhus. Apparently there are some old castle ruins just outside the old town. I decide to go there and see what it looks like. It turns out the ruins are located on a rather big small islands within a wide moat. But there isn’t much to see of the actual old ruins most of the castle seems to have been torn down and possibly reused in newer buildings. There is only a few bricks left at the castle hill and I leave quickly.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.