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The Cultural Landscape


The present Danish landscape is the result of cultural developments which have lasted several thousand years. During this time, Man, through his activities, has radically transformed the landscape by clearing forests, cultivating land and building settlements.

The Open Countryside
The Open Countryside

The Open Countryside

The open countryside comprises the land which lies outside the built-up areas, and where activities are mainly centred around the use of natural resources. The open country in Denmark is totally dominated by farming, since approximately 65% of the total area is used for agriculture and another 12% for forestry.

The landscape is characterised by well-cultivated fields, hedges, earth and stone walls, and scattered woods. Large forests are rare. Small towns, farms and houses lie strewn across the scenery, connected by a finely woven communications network. The scattered agricultural habitation is characteristic of Denmark. The lines of field boundaries and other perimeters are sharp, often completely straight; untended areas are very rare.

Only near the coast, outside the holiday housing areas, has the landscape been left to develop naturally. The vegetation in certain wetland areas is also natural. Large watercourses are rare, and their tributaries are often controlled by pipes and conduits.


Landscape Changes until c. 1850

Extensive farming and forest clearing began 6,000 years ago at the end of the Stone Age, and developed further during the Iron Age and the Viking period. At the end of the Iron Age, the heaths and commons crept onto the meagre soil and the forests took over some of the better land as marginal farming was once again dropped. During the Middle Ages, many new settlements appeared in the forest areas that had previously escaped clearing.

The 18th and 19th centuries saw a number of far-reaching changes, not least due to the land reforms introduced in the 1780s, which created a completely new structure of farm land. The village areas in the east of Denmark, where land was divided into small plots, took on a new character with the Enclosures Act, the introduction of freeholds and the spread of habitations, particularly in larger villages.

The landscape was drastically transformed, as the scattered strips of land owned by individual holdings in the open field system were exchanged for a smaller number of larger fields.

As far as field work was concerned, this new arrangement proved a great deal more efficient; a number of advances in farming techniques were also introduced from the middle of the 19th century, including the transition from the wheel plough to the swing plough, the introduction of clover in the grassland and meadows, and new draining and marling techniques. There was a significant increase in yield.

The Industrial Society and the Open Country

During the last decades of the 19th century, farming underwent a complete transformation; the emphasis shifted from the production of bread grain to the cultivation of forage crops for the growing livestock production.

The shift towards the export of farm products brought new elements into the cultural landscape: the road network was expanded and railways began to be built. A number of co-operatives with links to farming, such as dairies, also began to spring up at the edge of villages.

Signs of the new industrial society began to effect the open country. The 19th century saw an intensification in farming across the country. This, along with the reclamation of the heaths in Jutland, led to the number of holdings being doubled over the course of the century. For the next hundred years, the landscape was dominated by almost 200,000 farms using efficient farming methods and crop rotation.

At the beginning of the 19th century, a clear line was drawn between farming activities and the forests with the Forest Reserve Act of 1805. Lines of demarcation were drawn up and fixed, and the forests have since been a permanent feature of the cultural landscape. They were to be used for the production of timber and fuel, and were no longer to be utilized for grazing.

The Last Decades of the 20th Century

During the last decades of the 20th century, the open country has once again seen extensive changes. There has been a tendency towards fewer and larger specialised agricultural production units, even though a number of agricultural laws meant to protect the freeholds and the family holdings have tried to limit the amalgamation of smaller holdings and the rise in larger units. Increasing numbers of huge, uniform fields have appeared as a result of mechanisation, resulting in a much less varied landscape.

The Urban and Rural Zones Act of 1969 introduced an administrative division between the rural and urban areas. The act, which since 1991 has been known as the Planning Act, imposed strict restrictions on land usage and the building of plants and installations in the open country. These restrictions have had a limiting effect on developments in the rural districts.

Since the 1970s, EC/EU regulations, including the latest Set-aside Scheme, along with the county regional plans, have all left their mark on the landscape. The number of holiday housing areas and conservation areas has also grown.

Regional Differences

The extended usage of the Danish landscape, including the intensive farming all over the country, has been encouraged by the prevailing natural conditions, the mild Atlantic climate and the flat terrain. Short distances to the sea have also made it possible to drain wetlands and waterlogged areas.

Large parts of eastern Denmark (the islands and East Jutland) have very fertile soil, based on geologically young deposits that date back to the last ice age and are particularly high in nutrients. West Jutland, by contrast, is characterised by sandy soil which is partly derived from former ice age deposits.

Here, the heaths and the fields have fought for control of the land over the past five millenniums, and the area has only really been fully exploited during the 20th century as a result of new technology, fertilisation and irrigation.

North Jutland, i.e. Himmerland and the North Jutland Island, is dominated by sandy soil and wetlands with huge bogs. The fertile soil by the western Limfjord set this area apart from the rest of North Jutland.

These different regions have been subject to a number of common social influences over the last few centuries; legislation, economic control, better technology and increasing environmental and natural protection have all left their traces. Country-wide regulations have produced very different results in eastern Denmark, West Jutland and North Jutland, depending on the prevailing natural conditions in each area.

The Store Dyrehave deer park south of Hillerød.
Chr. Malling
The Store Dyrehave deer park south of Hillerød. Lake Sjælsø in the southwest is seen to the left in the background. To the right is Lake Furesø.

East Denmark (East Jutland and the Islands)

The Landscape

The varied terrain in East Denmark is dominated by clay and highly calcareous moraine flats and hills. This so-called young moraine formation has produced highly fertile land. The landscape is dominated by large, closely spaced homogeneous fields given over to the cultivation of crops.

Fertilisation, crop spraying and drainage have resulted in huge, weed-free carpets of corn and seed crops which cover the hills and the hollows, blurring the contours of the landscape. Grazing cattle are a relatively rare sight. Small, scattered deciduous forests and hedges, and the large East Jutland valleys with their meadows and coppices, break the monotony of the landscape.


Settlement Structure and Infrastructure

The present settlement structure in the open country is dense and made up of a variety of farms, one-family houses, villages and small service centres. Larger communities, generally former market towns, are predominantly found near the coast and at the bottom of the fjords; these urban areas have begun to encroach onto the open country.

The 21st century traffic network is completely dominated by the car: bridges and motorways provide links between the communities in East Denmark. Sailing previously provided a cheap, significant way to reach the various parts of the country, but it is now becoming too expensive and the costs are threatening the inhabitants of many of the smaller islands.

Traces of Former Civilisations

Despite the many technological advances of the last century, the landscape in East Denmark still contains traces of former civilisations in the shape of burial mounds, churches and old farms, as well as the area patterns found around the old manors and villages.

The manors, most of which are found on Funen, Lolland and the south of Zealand, have huge fertile fields surrounded by quickset hedges, ditches and stone walls and hundreds of acres of woodland.

Long tree-lined avenues, grandiose buildings and landscaped grounds have been left over from the Renaissance and the period of absolutism. Many of the large landed estates today find it difficult to finance the upkeep of the listed buildings and parks.

The owners of the manors previously protected the forests against overexploitation, and large areas of deciduous forest could therefore be found in East Denmark around 1800, at a time when the rest of the country was almost completely devoid of woodland.

In North Zealand the King had game preserves set up in many of the larger forests, characterised by a network of straight paths arranged in the shape of a star. These old forests have preserved many signs of earlier civilisations, including several high-ridged furlongs and large numbers of burial mounds.


Like the manors, the villages also provide evidence of earlier civilisations. After the land reforms at the end of the 18th century, the manors had to relinquish many of the tenant farms which slowly reverted to freehold status. The ancient open field system was abolished, and the Enclosures Act meant that each farm was assigned a consolidated piece of land.

In many villages, the farms stayed in their original places near the church. Today, such villages reflect small mediaeval centres. Radiating from the heart of such villages were the fences and ditches that marked the new property boundaries typical of the time. Modified examples of such stellate patterns, with roads and fences radiating outwards like the spokes of a wheel, are found around many small towns today.

The Enclosures Act and the cultivation of the commons meant that many farms were moved to new locations, forming a block re-allotment pattern. After the Forest Reserve Act of 1805, impoverished wooded areas were given over to farming, and smallholdings were frequently erected on these marginal parcels of land. Such small properties are generally found on the borders of the land belonging to the villages, squeezed onto small plots on the edges of the woods and moors.

The characteristic pattern of scattered farms and houses found in East Denmark came about as a result of the rise in the number of smaller holdings which followed the scattering and division of the larger farms.

It did not, however, prevent a move from the country to the towns, the growing urbanisation or the increased emigration to the USA and elsewhere. With support from the State, groups of identical smallholdings were set up as a result of laws passed in 1899 and 1919 (the conversion of entailed estates) in order to counteract the migration from the rural districts.

These smallholdings are often located on strips of fertile soil from larger farms and represent a particular pattern of development found on North Funen, Lolland and Als. The last smallholding colonies were built in the 1950s.

The number of farms has since fallen drastically as a result of amalgamations and leasehold agreements. In many places, companies have taken advantage of dispensations in the zone regulations and agricultural legislation to build installations in the open country.

The Cultivated Land

The cultivated land has changed character; intensively farmed fields have replaced the old hay meadows and the commons which have now almost disappeared in East Denmark. Fields were first drained via a network of open ditches, but from approximately 1850 onwards these were replaced by underground drainage pipes made of clay, later of plastic.

The wet, sour areas found in the fields were either reduced or completely eradicated. The old system of open ditches can still be seen in some forests. The streams which run through the arable land are generally forced into straight canals or led through pipes.

The few remaining water holes are either natural or man-made watering holes, or the remains of former gravel or marl pits. Almost every clayey field used to have a water hole in former times. Peat-digging continued far into the 20th century, leaving rectangular ponds and small lakes surrounded by thickets.

Many of the smaller water holes and ponds which got in the way of the large agricultural machines have been eliminated; others have been converted into coverts and game shelters. Since 1980 there has been a backlash from groups with interests in recreational activities of various kinds: many reclaimed areas have once again been turned into lakes, and watercourses are once more allowed to meander at will.

The Nature Conservation Act of 1992 protects the commons, meadows, bogs and dikes which were created as a result of earlier agricultural production methods. There has also been an attempt to convert mineral pits into recreational nature reserves such as those found in North Zealand.

The dominant soil types in Denmark are coarse sand, clayey sand and sandy clay, each of which covers about 1/4 of the area. Areas with fine sand account for 1/10, while clay and peat each cover 1/20 of the area. On the basis of soil type and quality, Denmark can be naturally divided into three main regions: the Islands including parts of East Jutland, West Jutland and North Jutland.

The clayey areas dominate in the Islands and in East Jutland. In addition clayey soils dominate around the western part of the Limfjord. These soils are naturally nutritious and have a high water holding capacity. In the spring they might become waterlogged because of low permeability of the subsoil, for which reason most of these areas are drained.

The areas on the Islands are often calcareous from a depth of c. 1m and below, while chalk in the soils in Jutland is not common. Clayey areas with calcareous subsoil constitute the most fertile agricultural areas in the country, that is to say land of the highest quality.

In West Jutland coarse sandy areas dominate representing the lowest quality soils. Highly productive agriculture in these areas requires not only fertilisers and lime, but also irrigation, as these poor agricultural areas easily dry out in the summer as a consequence of a poor water holding capacity.

North Jutland, both the undulating moraine landscape and the coastal foreland are dominated by fine sandy soils. These areas occupy a middle position between the fertile eastern Danish and the poor West Jutlandic areas, and they are of medium quality. They are not so nutritious as the clayey soils, but they have a high water holding capacity. Large areas of the coastal foreland are waterlogged, and here we find some of the major bogs in Denmark, including the so-called 'vildmoser'.



The Coasts

East Denmark consists of several hundred islands of varying sizes, and there are many natural bays and fjords. This accounts for the relatively long coastline, almost 6000 km. In character, the coastline ranges from moraine and lime cliffs to sandy beach ridge plains and lush littoral meadows. The coast no longer has the same significance as of yore; until 1900, it was the centre of the sailing and fishing industries.

Following the loss of South Jutland in 1864, the farming community needed new land and a number of small and large bays around North Funen, North Zealand and Lolland-Falster were reclaimed. Some of these reclamations were hugely successful in economic terms, including the Lammefjord in northwest Zealand. Others were too sandy to yield any profit.

The 20th century’s welfare state has given new significance to the coasts as the centre for a number of outdoor pursuits and the location for an ever-growing number of holiday homes. Since 1950, the holiday housing areas near the coast have grown significantly in East Denmark, but legislation from 1937 ensures that the beaches cannot be developed or spoiled by destroying the natural environment.

In addition, the public has been guaranteed access to all beaches. Nature conservationists particularly want to preserve the meadows in the coastal zone and the internationally rare moraine cliff coasts.


The landscape on Bornholm is highly unusual because of the bedrock and the mixture of lush and barren areas found within a very small region. Both the 100 m high bedrock horst in the north of the island, and the old sedimentary deposits found in the south, are generally overlaid by moraine which is rich in nutrients.

The Almindingen in the centre of the island is dominated by sandy and water-logged soil, with the odd rocks sticking up here and there. Since the beginning of the 19th century, woodlands have been planted in this area known as Højlyngen. The area, which was covered in thicket and heather, was formerly the property of the King but was generally used for communal grazing.

Højlyngen now forms part of a belt of more recent municipal plantations which stretches from Neksø in the east to Hammeren in the northwest. There are also a number of small woods on the commons and in the narrow rift valleys. Pine plantations have been planted north of Rønne and near Dueodde as protection against sand drift.

There is a wide, fertile belt of agricultural land round the Almindingen; freehold farms with some 20-50 hectares have been scattered around the area for many, many years, free of the open-field system and local squires.

The production methods and the crops grown here are similar to those on other islands in the east of Denmark. Apart from Åkirkeby, towns are located on the coast alongside a number of small fishing harbours which are slowly being turned into holiday towns.

Raw materials (granite, coal and clay) have been subject to intensive industrial exploitation, which has left countless small quarries and gravel pits. A number of large pits are found between Hammeren and Rønne, partly or completely abandoned and now overrun by fresh vegetation and with colourful lakes and ponds.

Groups of rocks, stone walls, burial mounds and monoliths surrounded by lush fields and deciduous woodland merge to form a fascinating scenery which is rich in contrasts. Large numbers of tourists are drawn to the area, and hotels, boarding houses, camping sites and holiday houses all leave their mark on the cultural landscape.

West Jutland

The Landscape

Despite the meagre soil, this part of the country still looks well-cultivated with fields, plantations and narrow meadows along the watercourses. The arable land is often divided into small parcels which are framed by quickset hedges.

This is most often seen on the sandy soils of the flat outwash plains, but can also be found on the surrounding moraine areas where the landscape is divided by mile-long windbreaks set at right angles to the West Wind.

In the clayey parts of the moraine areas, the soil is of such quality that the land can be left open without windbreaks. The intensive farming system found in West Jutland combine technology with the correct choice of crops, the construction of windbreaks and the use of irrigation plants. Traces can still be found of former irrigation plants in fixed canals and ditches along the rivers.

The Cultivated Land

The shifting sands which threaten the farmland every spring have been curbed by windbreaks and, since 1987, far more effectively by the compulsory use of more winter crop cover. The well-cultivated land is the result of almost 100 years of hard work spent reclaiming the heaths which dominated the West Jutland landscape well into the 20th century; the last extensive reclamation project was carried out as late as the 1950s.

Whilst the heaths were reclaimed and cultivated to produce arable land, other areas with infertile soil were set aside and planted with conifers. The choice of trees has become more varied at the beginning of the 21st century.

The plantations now include deciduous trees to ensure that they can provide a more varied range of recreational activities and greater diversity in the animal and plant species found in the area.

Developments in the Country

Developments in the open country have created a pattern of scattered farms and houses; small and medium-sized industrial towns and service centres have evolved in step with the cultivation of the heaths.

Many of the oldest houses and farms lie side by side along rivers or wetland areas, and are connected by roads which run parallel to the watercourse. These farms were originally tied to the old meadow-field-heath production cycle, in which the nourishment found in the hay in the meadows is used by the animals, whose manure is then spread on the fields where corn is grown; the heath was an outfield which was occasionally cultivated to produce a single grain crop.

Older buildings can also be found on the more fertile soil on the moraine, where the farms are even more scattered than elsewhere.

Between the river valley farms and the old groups of holdings in the moraine areas lie more recent dwellings. These were originally small freeholds which grew together with the cultivation of the heaths.

Agricultural activities in West Jutland peaked in the 1960s. Employment then fell and some of the farms grew; this is visible today from the large build-ings which have been expanded and modernised as a result of tenancy agreements with neighbouring farms.

Hedges are removed and open ditches drained to create larger and more productive fields. As a result, the landscape becomes more open.

Land Reclamation

The reclamation of the heaths and the wetlands created a basis for a huge increase in the population. This, in turn, produced a reserve of manpower. Since the 1930s, people have been migrating to the towns including Herning, Ikast and Billund, meeting the need for workers which has been created by the many new industrial concerns.

Locally, West Jutland has been dominated by huge lignite pits which have left a harsh landscape of overgrown mounds and deep lakes. Similar wastelands can be seen on some of the protected heaths and in the richly wooded Midtjyske Søhøjland (Lake Highland of Central Jutland), as well as along the border zone between West and East Jutland.

Coasts and Dunes

Apart from Bovbjerg, the west coast between Thyborøn and Blåvands Huk is low and dominated by sandy lagoons protected against the North Sea by tongues of land that are naturally reinforced by the littoral dunes whose white crests can be seen many miles away.

The sea has been eating away at the land ever since the Stone Age, and during the last 200 years or so it has managed to advance a couple of metres a year. The State has made increasing efforts to stem the erosion of the coastline.

Since 1862, groynes made of stones and reinforced concrete girders have been constructed in the most vulnerable places. Breakwaters of heavy rocks have also been built parallel to the coast, supplemented with sand and gravel pumped up from the seabed: one could say that the coast is effectively fed.

The belt of coastal dunes which are prevented from creeping inland when vegetation is planted on them, instead slides into the sea. This has made it necessary to reinforce existing dikes with concrete boulders. The spits of land near Harboør and Nissum Fjord are sand-covered cement dikes built to protect the fertile meadows and fields around the low-lying lagoons.

Holmsland Klit, a natural great spit on Ringkøbing Fjord, is wide with large dunes that act as a natural fortification against the sea; reinforcements have only had to be constructed in a few places. Old farms with the traditional quadrilateral layout can still be found amidst the rapidly increasing number of holiday homes and cottages.

Further south towards Blåvands Huk, the sea and the wind have created dune landscapes which sometimes stretch inland for several miles.

The Salt Marshes

The coastal area in southwest Jutland is a highly regulated and partly man-made landscape, where it has been necessary to build dikes to survive. The area consists of tidal flats and huge, flat salt marshes. The large outwash plains in the hinterland continue westward far as the marshes and the tidal flats; only in few places do the flat moraine areas come down as far as the sea. The whole area is bordered to the west by the Skallingen peninsula and the dune islands of Fanø, Mandø and Rømø.

The salt marshes probably constitute the one area in Denmark where the battle between Man and Nature has been most dramatic. There are daily tides of 1-2 m; floods of up to 5 m above DNN (Dansk Normal Nul – Danish Ordnance Datum), combined with a strong westerly wind, create a constant risk of flooding which is very much a part of daily life for the inhabitants of the marshes and dune islands.

There are still a number of open salt marshes furthest to the north near Ho Bay, but the coast to the south is protected by dikes built during the 20th century. In Tøndermarsken close to Germany, it is still possible to see one polder after another. These diked marshes are bordered to the west by the great dike built in 1979-1981. The oldest polders date back to the 1500s.

The soil in the salt marshes is good, but the fact that they are situated at only 0-2 m above sea level has meant that they have had to be drained via a close network of ditches which divide the landscape into small rectangular plots. The many corn fields date from more recent times; until the middle of the 20th century, the moist meadows were only used to graze sheep and cattle. This is still true in more exposed locations, such as the foreland west of the dikes and in the protected polders close to the border.

The large marsh farms and houses have been built in rows along the border zone between the salt marshes and the surrounding old moraines and outwash plains – the so-called geestland – away from the danger of flooding. The marsh itself is generally undeveloped; this is not true of Tøndermarsken, however, where the pioneers built their homes on man-made mounds in the meadows. After the dikes were constructed, farms and houses were also built in the lower marshes.

Land Reclamation

The Rømø road dam (built in 1948) and the land reclamation projects outside the dikes have caused the coastline to move westwards and have given the new land areas a straight-edged appearance. These man-made landscapes help to counteract the effects of storm surge on the coast and thereby protect both the dikes and the land behind them.

On Rømø and Fanø, the holiday houses and the tourist industry all leave their unmistakable stamp on the landscape. During the summer months, the number of people on the islands increases greatly, putting an enormous strain on the environment.

North Jutland

The Landscape

North Jutland consists of the regions of Thy, Mors and Salling along with Hanherred, Vendsyssel and Himmerland. A third of the total area consists of sandy coasts with big dunes and low, marshy plains left over from the Littorina Sea during the Stone Age. Fertile soil is only found in Thy (not counting the area along the North Sea coast), Mors and Salling, and the cultural landscape here is highly reminiscent of East Denmark.

Elsewhere, shifting sands and wet areas have caused big problems; only the technological advances of the last hundred years have enabled farmers to overcome the inherent obstacles. The sandy Littorina plains have risen between 4 and 10 m since the Stone Age, and the area has a number of littoral cliffs formed during different geological periods by the action of the sea. These are generally found in the west and, to a lesser extent, in the east.

The central part of the Råbjerg Mile dune on the Skagens Odde spit.
Chr. Malling
The central part of the Råbjerg Mile dune on the Skagens Odde spit. The shifting sands have been given a free rein here on this huge protected migrating dune. The barren, infertile sand has been shaped into 1-2 m high waves which constantly collapse. The wind blows the sand in from the west (to the right in the picture).

Coasts and Dunes

The coast itself mainly consists of sandy beaches with small sandy cliffs behind them. In places, however, promontories formed by ice age sediments and limestone jut out onto the coast as can be seen at Lodbjerg, Hanstholm, Rubjerg, Hirtshals and Frederikshavn. Huge dunes, some stretching up to 7 kilometres inland, have been formed by sand blown up from the coast.

The dune belts are dominated by large, dark conifer plantations, intermixed here and there with white dunes, heaths and heather bogs. In the 16th and 17th centuries, shifting sands drove the population back from the coastal areas.

It was only in the 19th century that the State managed to bring the sand-drift under control by planting dune grasses and conifers. These dune plantations became a common sight after 1880. The barren dune zone allowed limited sheep farming and some inshore fishing from the beaches; since then, fishing activities have been centred around the new fishing harbours, but there are still signs of the earlier customs in the shape of slipways and old houses.

The dune zone is generally sparsely developed, but large holiday housing developments have sprung up since 1930 wherever nature conservation regulations and shifting sands have allowed, particularly in Vendsyssel.

The Skagens Odde spit is one of the most remarkable dune regions in the area, not only because of its extent (it stretches 30 kilometres out into the sea), but also because of its huge migrating dunes. A prime example of this type of dune is the sparsely vegetated Råbjerg Mile which is still very active. More fertile cultivated areas are, however, found in the strictly controlled ‘dune desert’, particularly towards the Kattegat and in the reclaimed lake Gårdbo Sø.


Plains and Bogs

There are other unusual terrains and culture landscapes in North Jutland. The extensive, low-lying marine plains created by the Littorina Sea stretch from the dune belts of the Jammerbugten, along the Limfjord to the Kattegat coast and southwards to Mariager Fjord.

A vast number of isolated hill areas with moraines and underlying limestone deposits are found on the plains. In the border zone between these two types of terrain lie rows of old farms, built as ribbon developments between the grass and grain areas.

The marine flats between Thy and the Fjerritslev area are only 1-3 m above sea level. Until the middle of the 19th century, the plains were divided by several shallow bays known as Vejlerne. Reclaiming these bays turned out to be a financial failure as the resulting land was both sandy and infertile. Today meadows, reed swamps and lakes regulated by moderate drainage make up the 50 square kilometres area which became a nature reserve in 1960.

Since the Iron Age, several bogs have appeared on the plains north and southeast of Aalborg. The two most important examples are the approximately 100 square kilometres raised bogs known as Store Vildmose and Lille Vildmose. The first is located in Vendsyssel, the second in Himmerland. The peat layer in these bogs is up to 5 m thick.

Store Vildmose, which was drained and marled after peat-cutting at the beginning of the 1900s, was bought up and redeveloped by the State. Grass fields were sown for the rearing of disease-free cattle; the area was later divided into plots and sold off and long rows of farms were built. Other areas of the moor have been set aside as a nature reserve.

Lille Vildmose has evidence of two lakes which were drained and farmed in approximately 1760. After 1930, the State cultivated the northeasterly part of the moor before dividing it up into smallholdings in the 1950s.

The northwesterly quarter of the moor consists of dark, barren peat bogs where the peat has been partly cut to produce peat-moss litter. The southern half is a raised bog overgrown with heather which, together with Tofte Skov, has been enclosed and turned into a deer park with red deer and wild boar.


Central Vendsyssel is higher than the Littorina plains and is equally divided between high moraine formations and Yoldia flats consisting of sea deposits from the end of the last ice age. The soil is sandy in both areas and farming is hindered by drifting soil, despite the use of winter crop cover and the many windbreaks that have been constructed.

Large streams such as Uggerby Å and Voers Å have worn away deep trenches in the terrain during the isostatic uplift which has taken place since the ice age. The old farm buildings are seldom grouped in villages, but are instead scattered round the area on both types of terrain.

Ever since the 17th century, single farms have been much more common in Vendsyssel than elsewhere in Denmark. This is reflected in the isolated locations of the churches built during the Middle Ages.

Numerous small towns appeared during the 20th century to serve the scattered countryside population. These are generally found by cross-roads and near the railway stations which have since been closed down.


In Himmerland, villages are much more common than in Vendsyssel and the terrain consists of large, 60-100 m tall rounded moraine formations where the underground limestone is found close to the surface. Deep, wide erosion valleys and the fossil coasts created by the Littorina sea have carved out moraine formations which now rise steeply over the valleys and the Littorina plains. After the Second World War the valleys and the marine plains were drained and cultivated.

In East Himmerland, the white calcareous soil is visible on many hillsides and freshly turned fields. Both old and active limestone quarries are a common sight. The close proximity of Aalborg has meant that older settlements have been supplemented with new housing estates.

The central and southeastern parts of Himmerland have always been covered by forests; the best known of these is Rold Skov. The wooded areas have grown during the last century as the older forests have been expanded and new trees planted on the heathland and sandy fields.

West Himmerland, like Vendsyssel, is plagued by drifting soil. Remains of the heaths which used to cover large parts of the area can still be found on the hillsides; most are subject to conservation laws or have been planted and cultivated. Southeast of Løgstør, however, there is a 10 km stretch of heathland hills which still show traces of Iron Age fields. There are also a few large plantations from around 1890.

More recent developments in the countryside are distributed between the old villages and the new service centres. Large farms are few and far between, partly because allotment associations were very active during the first half of the 20th century when many smallholdings were created. There are surprisingly few holiday houses in the Himmerland area.

Kristen Marius Jensen, Hans Kuhlman, Gyldendal Leksikon

The Built-up Area

The earliest real towns in Denmark (which date back to the 9th and 10th centuries) arose as a result of the need to sell the surplus output produced by the farming community. The natural conditions imposed on agriculture were thus crucial to the size and number of towns that were established. Prior to industrialisation, the areas with infertile soil, such as the heaths in western and central areas of Jutland, had small towns that were few and far between.

Large numbers of small market towns appeared along the coasts during the Middle Ages, closely connected with shipping. The presence of certain raw materials and the availability of water power have also played a role historically, particularly during the time before industrialisation.

Many towns were established because of the easy access to water power, including Frederiksværk, Hellebæk, Brede and Silkeborg. Others, such as Nivå and Egernsund, prospered because of the presence of smooth clay used in the tile works.

The rapid expansion of the towns between 1860-1940 was closely linked to industrialisation. During this period, the number of towns and the urban population rose steeply; in 1860 there were approximately 400,000 Danes distributed across 83 towns.

In 1940, the number of towns had risen to 628 with a total population of 2.5 million. During the same period, the urban population’s share of the total national population rose from 23% to 63%. It was mostly the large and medium-sized towns which grew during the urbanisation phase.

Other medium-sized and small towns, particularly those located close to larger cities, have prospered since the Second World War, particularly in North Zealand. Since 1980, however, this growth has stopped.

Infrastructure and Towns

The commercial and industrial development of the towns has always been closely linked with easy access to the prevalent method of transport. In older times, this was particularly true of shipping. Today, access to the national road network (motorways) and air transport plays an important role.

The development of individual towns has also been greatly influenced by their administrative and political importance. Copenhagen, which was a modest harbour in the 11th century, underwent rapid growth after it came under the rule of Bishop Absalon in the 12th century, and later in the 15th and 16th centuries when it became the country’s capital.

Present-day parallels can be drawn with the small towns that suddenly became administrative centres when the municipalities were amalgamated in 1970. These communities all proceeded to grow drastically in size over the next 30 years.

The Urban Distribution Pattern

The urban distribution pattern, which profiles the size and relative position of the towns, constantly changes. It does so slowly, however, due to the large investments which have been made in the physical structure of the towns and their relatively long useful life.

The urban distribution pattern in Denmark was partly shaped during the Middle Ages and partly during the urbanisation phase when the present relative proportions of the towns were established. Copenhagen enjoys special status as the capital; the political centralisation in the 17th century guaranteed the city a dominant position in the country, and it prospered dramatically during industrialisation.

With approximately 30% of Denmark’s population living in the capital, Copenhagen assumes the same national position as e.g. Budapest, Vienna, Paris and London. Denmark’s urban distribution pattern can thus be described as monocentric unlike the pattern in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany which have several equal centres as opposed to a single dominant city.


In 2000, the towns were home to approximately 85% of the population. In addition to Copenhagen, the provincial centres include the towns of Århus, Odense and Aalborg. Together, these four cities are home to 29% of the total urban population out of the country’s 1421 towns (1999). They are centrally located within their own regions (unlike Copenhagen after the surrender of Scania, Halland and Blekinge in 1658) and are home to the main services, including the universities, national newspapers, television and radio stations, as well as the headquarters of many national and international companies.

There are 60 towns in Denmark with between 10,000 and 100,000 inhabitants, including Hjørring, Herning, Thisted, Kolding, Randers, Svendborg and Nykøbing Falster. These are all regional centres and often serve as administrative centres in their area.

There are 435 smaller market towns and large villages, etc. with between 1,000 and 10,000 inhabitants (and suburbs such as Dragør and Farum near Copenhagen, Hjortshøj and Lisbjerg near Århus). Being local centres, they often serve a smaller surrounding area with retail trade and services. Furthermore, the largest of these towns and villages are home to vocational courses and upper secondary schools.

In the smaller towns (under 1,000 inhabitants) there is seldom anything other than local services such as grocers’ shops, schools and kindergartens.

Most of the larger towns in Denmark have a wide basis for trade and industry; very few are dominated by a single sector, which is to a larger extent the case in some of the medium-sized and smaller towns, particularly Billund (with the Lego factory), Bjerringbro (with the Grundfos pump factory), Nordborg (with the industrial group Danfoss) and the fishing and ferry towns Hirtshals, Hanstholm and Hvidesande.

Larger Towns

Individual towns consist of a number of districts (residential quarters and industrial areas, a town centre and sometimes a harbour area), where the town’s main functions are located. There are also recreational areas and transport networks connecting the different districts.

In larger towns, which are often market towns with a long history, the centre is easily recognisable by the street layout and the age and arrangement of the buildings. The centre is normally dominated by the retail trade as well as certain services and administrative functions.

Activities are generally focused around a market square or a quay, illustrating the town’s origins as a centre for trade. The centre has generally over the centuries become more densely built-up as new stories, back premises and lateral additions were added to existing buildings.

The floor-area ratio, i.e. the ratio of floorspace to the area of the site, has thereby increased. While residential areas estates generally have a floor-area ratio of between 10 and 20, the ratio in town centres and inner city areas is often more than 200. Urban renewal and redevelopment have managed to reduce the ratio in the worst affected areas drastically since the 1960s.

The historical heart of the regional towns is usually dominated by the business quarter, often known as the city, which incorporates large numbers of shops, offices, institutions, theatres, restaurants, etc. Residential premises are found in a variety of districts, all of which reflect the period in which they were built.

Examples include the compact residential blocks from the industrial period, the open park developments of the 1940s and the huge, featureless post-war residential areas consisting of either social housing developments or detached one-family houses, clearly separated. The more recent business districts are often placed at the edge of existing towns, near the large access roads.

Medium-sized Provincial Centres

The medium-sized provincial centres are often very like the regional centres in their structure. The division into distinct areas is often less clear, however, and individual neighbourhoods are often much smaller in size. These towns generally try to cater for their surrounding area by providing pedestrian shopping areas along the former main streets.

The courtyards of old blocks are often turned into car parks, and the historical town centre is usually surrounded by a ringroad which conveys the traffic into the available car parks. Outside the ringroad lie the residential neighbourhoods and the business districts. Herning and Roskilde are good examples of towns of this type.

The actual residential districts are dominated by open developments, predominantly one-family houses and terraced houses, as well as a number of blocks of flats.

Smaller Towns

The centres in the smaller market towns generally consist of one- or two-storey buildings along the most important roads such as the highway and the access road to the railway station. Around the centre lies mainly smaller houses. New types of development appeared in most market towns during the industrial period, including industrial districts, railway station districts and perhaps working-class areas.

The area between the old districts and these new areas is often marked by city parks, large industrial plants (gas and electricity), station areas or quay areas and cemeteries. At the beginning of the 20th century, developments became more open in character; institutions and large open areas intended for recreational use began to appear.

Many smaller towns are relatively unimportant in size and historical terms, particularly those which are centred around railway stations or ferry ports. Here, developments are seldom differentiated; only local services such as grocers’ shops, bakeries, garages and local schools are easily distinguished from residential houses. Many of these small towns lost a large part of their trade and industry in the middle of the 1970s.

Hans Thor Andersen, Gyldendal Leksikon