There are many great cities to visit in Europe. However, to visit city after city can be all so tiring for a country squirrel like me. That is when a side detour to a small and hidden gem can be so refreshing. One such place is Ribe which is the oldest town in Denmark. It was founded in the early part of the 8th Century AD and was at that time a very important merchant port in Scandinavia.
Today, it is a small and quaint town without the plague of tourists that crowd the larger and better known cities. Nevertheless, a quick walk through its quiet and narrow streets reveal several interesting things about the town.
Located in south-west Jutland, this coastal town is surrounded by low sand dunes and serviced by canals. Tied up along the canal and near the middle of town is the ex-merchant ship which has been converted into a floating museum (below).
Ribe has a beautiful cathedral. I had just had my fill of the obscene opulence of some of the churches in Germany and by contrast, the simple elegance of Ribe Cathedral was refreshing. This looked like a living, serving church of God rather than some over done monument to man’s wealth instead of God’s glory. Below is a picture of the Cat’s Head Door which actually is one of the oldest bronze doors in Denmark. On the door is the image of a lion’s head surrounded by four dragons. It depicts the strength of the church in the midst of a hostile world.
Perhaps the highlight of a visit to Ribe would be Ribehaus Castle Hill. The castle is long gone but what remains is a wild, windblown rise which is surrounded by a moat. As you wander the small island amidst the tall grasses, you will come across a strange and powerful statue of Queen Dagmar (below).
Queen Dagmar’s statue shows her on a boat perhaps the boat ferrying her to the afterlife as the back of the statue shows a relief depicting her on her deathbed. Note that someone has put fresh flowers in her arms. Queen Dagmar is known to be a popular queen according to tradition and is clear that her popularity amongst the population remains even to this day.
Margaret Dragomir of Bohemia was the daughter of the Bohemian king, Premysl Ottokar I, and Adela of Meissen. In 1205, she was shipped to Ribe in great splendour to be married to the Danish King Valdemar the Victorious. In Denmark she was given the name Dagmar.
In 1209 she gave birth to a son, Valdemar den Unge (Valdemar the Young). In 1212, seven years after her arrival in Denmark, she died, and was buried in St. Bendts Church in Ringsted on Zealand.
However there are many traditional stories of her which paint her as a foreign woman who became the Queenand won the hearts of the Danish people through acts of kindness and charity. The legends tell of how the King rode with haste from a town 130 km away to be by her side at her deathbed in Ribe as soon as he heard that she was seriously ill. In his passion and grief, he outrode all the hundred soldiers escorting him and arrived in Ribe alone.
Alas, the story tells us that he arrived too late for she had died. However, she somehow mysteriously re-awoke to ask three promises of the King. The first was to release all the prisoners in jail. The second was that their youngest son should succeed him as King and the third was that he should not under any circumstances marry Berengaria, the daughter of King Sancho I of Portugal.
Legend tells us that he immediately set all the prisoners free. Unfortunately, history tells us he married Princess Berengaria two years later.
Ribe is rich in history and is a pleasant spot to wander around and to get away from maddening crowds. This squirrel recommends it.
(All photos by LGS)