Aarhus or Århus is the second-largest city in Denmark. The principal port of Denmark, Aarhus is on the east side of the peninsula of Jutland in the geographical center of Denmark. Aarhus is the seat of the council of Aarhus municipality with 318,757 inhabitants and 252,213 (1 January 2012) in the inner urban area. According to Aarhus municipality, the "Greater Aarhus" area has a population of about 1.2 million people. The city claims the unofficial title "Capital of Jutland".
Aarhus is the main and biggest city in the East Jutland metropolitan area, which is a co-operation in eastern Jutland with 17 municipalities. With more than 1.2 million people living in the East Jutland metropolitan area it represents approximately 23% of the population of Denmark. Aarhus has the second-largest urban area in Denmark after Copenhagen.
The bishopric of Aarhus dates back to at least 951, and archaeological findings date back some 1,300 years to Viking times. The city itself is presumably older than 770 AD, making Aarhus the oldest big city in Scandinavia. The favorable central position of the city within Denmark afforded it trade from Germany, the Baltic countries, the greater peninsula of Jutland and the communities on the many smaller islands in its vicinity, which meant that trade always had a great significance to the town – a significance which is still true today.
The city did not expand outwards until the late 19th century, and Aalborg remained the largest city on the peninsula until the 1920s. The relatively fast, albeit late, growth of the city can be ascribed to the general tendencies of a population moving from rural to urban areas during the industrial revolution. Industrialisation meant that proximity to trade routes became more important, giving the harbour city some advantages over other nearby cities as new industries came into existence.
Viking Age and before
The oldest archaeological findings in Aarhus are glass pearls, which date to the end of the 7th century. Half buried longhouses, used both as homes and workshops for the Vikings have also been found. In the houses and the adjoining archaeological layers, combs, jewelry and basic multi-purpose tools have been found that indicate the settlement is from approximately year 900. Digs in the spring of 2005 revealed a so-called city-ditch from the year 850 which might have marked the trade centre upon which the city is built.
The finding of six runestones in and around Aarhus indicates the city had some significance around year 1000 as only wealthy nobles traditionally used them. The center of Aarhus was once a pagan burial site until Aarhus' first church, Holy Trinity Church, a timber structure, was built upon it during the reign of Frode, King of Jutland, around 900.
During the wars of the 17th century, it is probable that the city suffered in a significant way. Fortifications still exist south of the city as a reminder of the German imperial campaigns between 1627 and 1629. In 1644, Sweden taxed the city harshly and between 1657 and 1659, it was occupied by Swedish troops on several occasions.
In spite of these and other misfortunes, such as plague and city-wide fires, Aarhus was still quite a significant city in Denmark due to its favourable geographical position which was of significant importance for trading. Trade came mainly from the inland of Jutland but also from Norway, Lübeck, Amsterdam, England, France and Spain. In the middle of the 18th century the trade fleet consisted of approximately 100 ships.
In the 19th century, the city gained more independence from the dominance of Copenhagen and Hamburg. While it had been the third largest city in Jutland during the early 19th century, its population surpassed Randers in 1840 and in 1850, Aalborg, thus becoming the largest city in Jutland and the second largest in Denmark.
The city's material prosperity continued to increase as the harbour expanded and the railway network grew. Culturally, it marketed itself as the "Capital of Jutland" and expanded many of its cultural institutions like the national library, universities, the Aarhus Theatre and hospitals.