Ribe redux

The last time I was in Ribe in western Denmark there was a magnificent hoar frost. The little North Sea port seemed to be lost to the white mists of a Grimm fairy tale. Founded by the Danish king Ongendus in the early 8th century, it attracted the bold missionary Ansgar, who made a cathedral here. Today this huge high medieval building of Westphalian stone and brick dominates the town. Around Ansgar’s mission grew the medieval town, separated by a river from the early Viking emporium.

Ribe - a North sea port

Much has happened since I was last here. Not only has the archaeology taken wonderful new turns, the little town has been transformed.

The archaeology has been blessed by the Northern Emporium project – its focus being a 2-year research-driven excavation of the very highest calibre. That is the purpose of my visit. Forget the Vikings, though, I cannot but be affected by how Ribe has found a glorious new personality. Cars are now prohibited from the old city centre and all of it is pedestrianized. The impact is immediate and liberating.

Downtown Ribe

Car-less attracts throngs of tourists, ambling cheerily along the cobbled streets. Notwithstanding the drifting North Sea rain, the town’s watchman, dressed in 19th-century formal garb, draws a large and eager crowd. Staff in hand, in two languages, he sing-songs a tour through Ribe’s principal hotspots and history.

Ribe and Asgar

I stay in the Dagmar Hotel as I did twenty-something years ago. Not one floor is level, like the car-less streets it’s discombobulating. The restaurant’s menu and wines are exceptional. And being one of Ribe’s oldest landmarks, we are honoured by the craggy watchman who regales us with dark tales. Ribe, whatever this lugubrious siren recounts of murders and executions, feels blessed, and that is before I visit the extraordinary excavations and the Viking Museum which first drew me here in that hoar frost and back again now.

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