At the little body of water called Schlei you find a fairly big town on the northern side of the water called Schleswig. Today this modern town is one of the most important in northern Germany – but there has actually been an older settlement right across the water which is today just a grassy area. But back in the Viking era there was a thriving settlement at this location. The town of Hedeby.
Hedeby was the oldest town in the area ruled by the Danish king and it was by far the biggest city of its time in Denmark or anywhere in Scandinavia for that matter. The town is first mentioned in 804 in a Frankish chronicle but it probably date back to at least 770 making it the oldest Danish town.
The town became a major trading post when the Danish king Godfred destroyed a competing Slav trading post and moved the merchant to Hedeby. After this the town became the major trading post in Scandinavia and the town at the entrance from Europe to Scandinavia. The king also improved the fortification around the town. The fortification was already a part of Danevirke and with the sudden rise of the town of Hedeby a new set of fortifications was built around the town.
The town did attract a lot of ancient travelers who wrote about Hedeby in their description of Scandinavia. They all considered this old town the most important trading post at the water at the end of the world. The town flourished only for a short period of time. In 1050 the city was burned down by the Norwegian king Harald Hardrada during his war with Sven II of Denmark. The city survived the first onslaught but only a few years later in 1066 the town were sacked and burnt by worriers from western Slav area. After this the town was abandon forever.
The area of the town has never been rebuilt again – people just relocated to the town of Schleswig on the other side of the water. This is actually fortunate since the area has been almost untouched for a millennium so the archeological artifacts have been left behind to be discovered today. There have been some excavations of the town already but there might still be more to be found in the ground.
Today they have made a little museum at the place where they have recreated a few old houses in the old Viking style. You can go and visit the little outdoor museum – unfortunately it was closed in the evening when we arrived. In addition to the outdoor museum you can still see a bit of the old wall around the city which were built to protect the town against attacks.