Skagen, occasionally known in English as The Scaw, is Denmark's northernmost town and the area surrounding it. Situated on the east coast of the Skagen Odde peninsula in the far north of Jutland, it is part of Frederikshavn Municipality in Region Nordjylland. It is located north of Frederikshavn and northeast of Aalborg. With its well-developed harbour, Skagen is Denmark's main fishing port and also has a thriving tourist industry, attracting some 2 million people annually.
Originally the name was applied to the peninsula but it now usually refers to the town itself. The settlement began in the Middle Ages as a fishing village, renowned for its herring industry. Thanks to its seascapes, fishermen and evening light, towards the end of the 19th century it became popular with a group of Impressionist artists now known as the Skagen Painters. In 1879, the Skagen Fisherman's Association was established with the purpose of facilitating the local fishing industry through the Skagensbanen railway, which opened as a narrow-gauged railway in 1890. The modern port of Skagen opened on 20 November 1907, and with the railway connections to Frederikshavn and the rest of Denmark, tourism began to develop.
In the early 1910s, Christian X and Queen Alexandrine often visited Skagen and brought friends from other European monarchies. They built the summer residence Klitgården, completed in 1914. Between the 1930s and 1950s the town grew rapidly, with the population more than doubling from 4,048 in 1930 to 9,009 in 1955. Skagen reached a peak population of 14,050 in 1980, after which it gradually declined. As of 1 January 2014 it has a population of 8,198. Thanks to the artistic community which still remains in Skagen, the local arts and crafts trade remains important to the income of the town with its numerous crafts shops and galleries. Chains such as the international jeweller Skagen Designs have branches in the town, and given the abundance of fresh fish coming in at the port of Skagen, seafood forms a staple in Skagen's restaurants.
St Lawrence's Church was built just outside the village at the end of the 14th century, but after it was buried in drifting sand it was replaced by Skagen Church in 1841 designed by Christian Frederik Hansen. It was redeveloped in 1909–10 by Ulrik Plesner who also designed a number of other buildings in Skagen, including Klitgården and the railway station. Several landmarks in the town are closely associated with the Skagen Painters who used to frequent them, including Brøndums Hotel, Skagens Museum, Michael and Anna Ancher's House, and Drachmann's House.
Skagen's first school was the Latinskole, a grammar school, which was in operation from 1549 until 1739. By the end of the 19th century, three schools had been established in Skagen, and in 1921, Skagen's Skipper School was opened to train navigators for both fishing boats and merchant ships, and in 1955, the public school Ankermedets skole was opened on Skagavej. The primary gymnasium of the town, Skagen Kultur- og Fritidscenter, opened in 1972, and was later expanded with an aquatic centre and a number of smaller training facilities. Skagen's Sportscenter was completed in 1974, primary to accommodate badminton and tennis. The local football club, Skagen Idræts Klub, was founded in 1946 and plays in Jyllandsserien, one of the lower divisions in Danish football. The Hvide Klit Golf Club is located some south of the town.
Skagen station is the most northerly railway station in mainland Denmark and is the terminus of the Skagensbanen. Nordjyske Jernbaner operates the local train service between Skagen and Frederikshavn with onward national connections by DSB. From Frederikshavn, there are ferries to Gothenburg and Oslo. Aalborg Airport with flights to destinations across Europe is located some southwest of Skagen. As in other Danish cities, cycling is popular.
Skagen was mentioned as far back as the first century AD by Pliny the Elder:
This is the only time the name Tastris is mentioned but Skagen itself, first documented as Skaffuen in 1284, simply means narrow promontory.
The first building in the area, dating from the 12th century, was in Højen on the west side of the peninsula. It belonged to Tronder, a shepherd who also became Skagen's first fisherman. Around 1340, Vesterby, on the east coast (to the south west of today's harbour), developed into the main village. Further to the south west, St Lawrence's Church was built at the end of the 14th century. In 1413, Erik of Pommern granted Skagen the status of market town with the result that for a time it became Vendsyssel's largest community with up to 2,000 inhabitants.
In 1549 a grammar school was opened (closing again in 1739), and in 1561 Skagen's first lighthouse was constructed. In 1568, some 350 fishing boats and merchant ships were wrecked off the coast of Skagen. In the 1590s, successive storms led not only to numerous drownings but to flooding, destroying many of the houses. In 1591, 22 died in a flood and in 1593, 14 houses were washed away. In 1595, 25 farms in the area were covered in drifting sand. As a result, new housing was built in Østerby to the north east, away from the rapidly accumulating sand.
In the 17th century, fishing suffered from a decline in herring stocks. Shortly after the beginning of the Torstensson War, the Swedish army arrived in Skagen in January 1644, plundering the town. Skagen's White Lighthouse with adjoining accommodation for the keeper was built in 1747. In 1775, accumulations of drifting sand made it difficult to access St Lawrence's Church, finally leading to its closure and partial demolition in 1795. Its remaining artefacts were sold by auction in 1810. St Lawrence's was replaced by Skagen Church, completed in 1841 and redesigned in the local style by Ulrik Plesner in 1910.
Hans Christian Andersen visited the town in 1859. During his stay at Brøndums Hotel, the future painter Anna Ancher, daughter of the inn-keeper, was born. In 1871, the author Holger Drachmann and the painters Fritz Thaulow and Karl Madsen arrived in Skagen, the first of the colony of artists which became known as the Skagen Painters. They were followed by Carl Locher in 1872, Michael Ancher in 1874 and Peder Severin Krøyer in 1882.
In 1879, the Skagen Fisherman's Association was established with the purpose of facilitating the local fishing industry through the railway. In 1890, the Skagensbanen narrow-gauge railway from Frederikshavn finally arrived in Skagen, connecting the town to the rest of Denmark. The tracks were widened in 1916 to avoid the need to transfer cargoes of fish in Frederikshavn. Many of the town's typical yellow-plastered houses with red roofs which grew up along Sankt Laurentii Vej from 1890 to 1930 were designed by Ulrik Plesner. He was also the architect behind many other buildings in the town, including the railway station, Brøndums Hotel and Skagen Museum. Skagen Missionshus was opened in 1896.
In 1904-7, the fishing harbour was built with inner and outer sections under the patronage of hydraulic engineer Palle Bruun. It was inaugurated on 20 November 1907, and later additions were made for cold storage and the fish processing industry. The distinctive warehouses next to the harbour were designed by Thorvald Bindesbøll.
In the early 1910s, Christian X and Queen Alexandrine often visited Skagen in the royal yacht Kongeskibet Dannebrog. Occasionally they arrived by train and brought friends from other European monarchies and stayed at the Brøndums and Grenen hotels. They grew fond of the place, befriending many of the artists in Skagen. Christian X bought up land in the vicinity and built the summer residence Klitgården as a gift for his wife. Designed by Ulrik Plesner, with furniture provided by Marie Krøyer, the villa was inaugurated on 11 April 1914, with the town celebrating the royal opening with many flags. Klitgården was further embellished inside by local artists. It passed to Prince Knud and Princess Caroline Mathilde, and after Caroline's death in 1995, it was converted into a villa retreat for scholars in 2000. Composer Carl Nielsen also frequented Skagen in his youth, and he purchased a plot of land on Vestre Strandvej at Vesterby in 1918 with his sculptor wife Anne Marie Carl-Nielsen, using one of the two small half-timbered houses there as a residence and studio. They named it "Finis Terrae", meaning "end of the world". The Nielsen family owned the property until 1957 when they sold it to Frode Jensen, a machinery manufacturer.
In the 1930s, development of the town as a tourist attraction led to the opening of new hotels. In 1931, the residents of Skagen and their famous friends campaigned for a monument to be established on the square in the town, commemorating the fishermen and lifeboatmen of Jutland. Anne Marie Carl-Nielsen was commissioned to erect a bronze statue of a lifeboatman in garb, holding a lifeline. The monument was showcased at the Free Exhibition Hall in Copenhagen in the spring of 1931, before fundraising enabled it to be brought by sea to Skagen on 10 November 1932. In October 1938, lightning struck the Skagens Badehotel, affecting the wing with the salons and music rooms. During World War II, the hotel was taken over by the Germans, until it was demolished in 1943. Further facilities were developed in the 1950s. From the 1960s, housing estates were constructed to the north, forming a built-up area extending to Højen. Anna and Michael Ancher's house was opened as a museum (1967) and the new town hall was completed in 1969. The Skagen Festival was founded in 1971, making it the oldest music festival in the country. The primary genre is folk music. In 1977, Drachmanns House was broken into and four paintings were stolen, and then in 1980, a painting by Christian Krogh was stolen from Skagens Museum.
Several fires and industrial incidents occurred in the 1980s. In 1981, an oil slick affected the coastline of Skagen municipality, and in 1985 a pipe bomb exploded at Ankermedet School. Skagen ice factory was affected by a chemical incident in 1989. A new shrimp factory opened in the industrial area in 1991, while the local cinema was closed in 1993. There was a major fire on the Hulsig Heath dunes in 1996.