History of Roskilde

The former city hall of Roskilde, completed in 1884

On the Danish island of Zealand, Roskilde, situated west of Copenhagen, is the eponymous municipality’s central city. With a population of 51,262, the town is an education and business center for the area and the 10th largest town in Denmark. The administrative council of Roskilde Municipality governs it.

Let’s explore the history of Roskilde.

Roskilde, which emerged as the core of the Viking sea and land trade routes over a thousand years ago, is Denmark’s oldest city. From the 11th century until 1443 CE, it was the sole capital of Denmark. With the bishop and king’s support, it had become one of the most important centers in Scandinavia by the Middle Ages. The Saxo Grammaticus and other ancient references link the name Roskilde (meaning “Ro’s spring”) with the King Roar, who apparently lived there in the 6th century CE.

According to the Saxo Grammaticus and the Adam of Bremen, Roskilde was established in 980 CE by Harald Bluetooth. On high ground above the harbor, he constructed a wooden church consecrated to the Holy Trinity and a royal residence nearby. Although no traces of these constructions have been yet discovered, in 1997 CE, archaeologists found Viking ships’ remains in the Isefjord, the oldest of which is dated to 1030 CE. At the time, there were also two churches in the region: St Jørgensbjerg, an ancient stone church, and a mysterious wooden church located under today’s St Ib’s Church. Harald was reportedly buried in the wooden church he had constructed on the present day’s Roskilde Cathedral.

In 1020, King Canute upgraded Roskilde to a bishopric, giving it special national status. Absalon, the Danish bishop, had a mysterious brick church erected on Harald’s church site in 1170 CE. Today’s cathedral was built in 1275 after five of Absalon’s followers had committed to its development. As a result of Absalon’s power, many other churches were established in the vicinity, making Roskilde the most influential town in Zealand. Coins were created there from the 11th to the 14th century CE. In 1150, Sweyn Grathe constructed a canal around the city. In 1151 CE, a religious confraternity was established for the defense of the city against Wendish pirates. Under the Wetheman command, it also took a central part in the Wendish Crusade. The Roskilde bishops controlled large land areas in the region, including, from 1186 CE, Havn on the Øresund, which later became the present-day Copenhagen. By the Danish Reformation time in 1536 CE, there were five monasteries and 12 churches in the town.

It is not that clear when Roskilde became a famous market town, but it relished trading privileges under the renowned King Eric II, who ruled from 1134 CE to 1137 CE. These privileges were firmly entrenched when the Roskilde City Council granted market town status to other towns in Zealand on 15 June 1268. By that time, it was apparently the most important and largest town in Denmark. In 1370 CE, the city-owned 2,500 farms throughout Zealand.

With the evolution of the rail network, Roskilde became an essential hub for commerce with Copenhagen. In the 1870s CE and 1880s CE, the harbor was extended, attracting industrial firms to the area. By the top of the century, there were iron foundries, tobacco factories, and machine shops. At the start of the 20th century, Roskilde first grew as a satellite community for Copenhagen but then, as boats increased in size, suffered from the weird fact that the harbor was too small and Roskilde Fjord too dull for navigation. Industries began to move out of the harbor area but were still the largest employment source, thanks in part to the slaughterhouse (Roskilde Andelssvineslagteri) and spirits factory (De Danske Spritfabrikker).

In the 1970s CE, the city profited from the Holbæk Motorway, which linked it to Copenhagen and Roskilde University’s establishment in 1972. Since the 1980s CE, the service sector has flourished, replacing the manufacturing industry as the principal employer (65% by 2002). With the boom in population, many new districts have grown up, including Kongebakken and Himmelev. Some of the surrounding towns and villages, such as Svogerslev, Vindinge, Vor Frue, and Veddelev, have emerged as satellite communities.

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