History of Odense

February 8, 2015

Odense is one of Denmark’s largest cities and the unofficial capital of the Island of Funen, lying between the larger Zealand island and the Jutland Peninsula. Odense’s history stretches back as far as 1000 years, and the name Odense comes from the king of the ancient Viking gods, Odin. As you can imagine, a city which is over a millennium old has its fair share of stories.

One of the main reasons that Odense is known, through Denmark at least, is as the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen, the legendary Danish storyteller. Because of this, there are plenty of museums, gift shops, souvenirs and hotels which celebrate the life of Andersen and his fairy tales.

Odense was mentioned for the first time in the year 988 in a letter from the German Kaiser Otto III. By this point the city had a bishop and was a Christian city, but was also still home to an Odin-worshipping cult.

In 1086 the Danish King Knud IV was killed in the city’s church and was canonised shortly later. The remains of Saint Knud can still be seen in the crypt of the city’s cathedral. St Knud’s monastery was set up a while later by Benedictine monks, and as more and more places of worship began to appear, the city became a powerful centre of religious influence in Denmark and Scandinavia.

As Odense grew, it became a major destination for merchants. This was aided in the 1800s when a canal was built connecting Odense to the sea. This saw the town expand outwards, remove the old gates and walls and really set itself up as an industrial power, second only to Copenhagen in terms of its influence in Scandinavia.

All this time, Odense had been a cultural hub in Denmark, and was the first Danish city to have its own theatre, it is also home to one of Danish TV’s major channels, and has been a famous university town since 1988.

So next time you’re exploring Denmark, take some time out to soak up the off-the-beaten-track history that Odense offers.

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