Maritime Denmark


The port to commerce and leisure

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For centuries, all important goods transport went by water. It wasn't until modern times that the sea came to be viewed as something that divided parts of the country. Even with the modern network of motorways and bridges, much heavy transport still takes the sea route. Despite Denmark's small size, it has a disproportionately long coastline – 7,300 kilometres in all. The multitude of islets and fjords makes waterways a natural choice for transport. Tides have little effect on Danish waters, and even though the waterways are shallow, ships have had easy access to market towns, thanks to pilots who helped ships through the trickiest and shallowest passages.

Wide variety
The vast majority of Medieval market towns were built near navigable waters, and the calm fjords and bays provided natural shelter for ships. The southern reaches of the West Jutland coast along the Wadden Sea register the biggest tidal differences of any of the country's waterways. Further north, the North Sea makes its presence known in the form of crashing waves that make the waters dangerous to sail as well as to build ports in. Denmark's maritime environments vary widely, from the enormous port of Copenhagen to the harbours of market towns and the quays of towns where there was no natural harbour. Some of the ports retain their historical charm, with others are unmistakably working harbours, where fish, raw materials and ferries all come and go. In recent years, marinas of all sizes have emerged, adding yet another type of use to the country's ports.

Copenhagen, an international port
During the 17th and 18th century, the Port of Copenhagen was bigger and better than any other Danish harbour. Copenhagen was the only port where international goods could enter the country, and many other types of goods needed to pass through the capital. Copenhagen was the first port where large warehouses and maritime buildings were built on a large scale. Provincial harbours were smaller, and normally consisted of just a quay extending from the coast.

Grain-powered growth
The Napoleonic Wars spelt the end of Copenhagen's growth and Denmark's influence as an international naval power. Times changed after trade shifted away from Norway to other parts of the world in the 1820s. Provincial merchants prospered by selling grain to Britain, and grain warehouses were built in many ports around the country. In some places, such as Lundeborg on the island of Funen, and Snaptun, near Horsens, Jutland, ports were built just to facilitate grain exports.

Building a modern port

As the economy grew and larger ships began to call on the country's ports in the mid-19th century, a wave of modernisations was undertaken in the provinces. Eighteenth century ports were built for small ships, but the larger schooners became the most widely used ship in the early 1800s. In 1819, Denmark's first steamship Caledonia began sailing between Copenhagen and Kiel, and before long the large provincial harbours were linked by ships in regular service. The modern basin harbour had become the most common form of port expansion. Basin harbours were made up of one or more basins, each almost completely surrounded by quays, and is the type of harbour we most commonly associate with Danish ports. Piloting became a state-regulated activity in 1831, and a number of large lighthouses were built. Many companies and industries had already established themselves on Copenhagen's waterfront by this time.

Industrialisation on the waterfront
By the mid-19th century, ports and railways had become a part of the national transport network. The presence of port and shipping facilities played a decisive role in the competition between towns. Starting in 1866, Det Forenede Dampskibselskab (the United Steamship Company), began to systematise domestic and international shipping, which played a major role in the growth of ports. With the industrialisation of the late 19th century, most large ports began to reinforce their quays with granite, and to build steamship warehouses, coal loading areas equipped with cranes and railway tracks. In the early 20th century, another period of expansion took place that saw more warehouses, grain silos and factories being built. Ports came to resemble urban environments, but still retained a distinctly different feel. They took on their characteristic appearance after World War II with the construction of large reinforced concrete silos for grain and animal feeds. The silos were often the largest buildings in a city and visible from considerable distances.

The country's largest employers
The Danish tradition was to build ships under open skies on the waterfront. The town of Aabenra in South Jutland and towns in the South Funen Archipelago had a long tradition as ship-building areas. The tradition continued at the new steel shipyards that began turning out increasingly more ships in the years after World War I. Shipyards came to employ more Danes than any other type of business in the 20th century. Towards the end of the 19th century, it became fashionable for the wealthy to own their own yachts. The number of pleasure craft increased throughout the 20th century, but ownership was still the privilege of the well-to-do. During the post-war period, the popularity of sailing increased considerably. The trend could be seen in many places along the coasts, as marinas for recreational sailors began to appear.

Still a seafaring nation
Starting in the 1960s the amount of traditional port activity began to decline. Lorries were replacing ships as cargo transport vehicles, mechanisation was eliminating workplaces, and fewer, but larger, fishing vessels were sailing. Ports were gradually being deserted. Århus remains as a centre of modern container traffic, while Fredericia and Kalundborg house the country's only oil refineries. The Odense Steel Shipyard is the only remaining large shipyard – though it is scheduled to close in 2012. The shipyard's owner is A.P. Moller-Maersk, the country's largest company. Starting in the 1990s, and rapidly increasing during the economic expansion of the first years of the 21st century, former port areas have been converted to other uses, primarily housing and office space. Denmark's maritime traditions remain strong, thanks to the countless harbours and marinas hidden along its coasts. Small or large, these maritime environments form an important part of Denmark's cultural heritage and its identity as a seafaring nation.