Copenhagen Fire of 1728
The Copenhagen Fire of 1728 was the largest fire
Fire is the rapid oxidation of a material in the chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light, and various reaction products. Slower oxidative processes like rusting or digestion are not included by this definition....
in the history of Copenhagen
History of Copenhagen
The history of Copenhagen dates back to the first settlement at the site in the 11th century. From the middle of the 12th century it grew in importance after coming into the possession of Bishop Absalon, and the city was fortified with a stone wall during the 13th century...
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...
. It began on the evening of October 20, 1728, and continued to burn until the morning of October 23. It destroyed approximately 28% of the city (measured by counting the number of destroyed lots
Lot and Block survey system
The Lot and Block Survey System is a method used in the United States and Canada to locate and identify land, particularly for lots in densely populated metropolitan areas, suburban areas and exurbs...
from the cadastre
A cadastre , using a cadastral survey or cadastral map, is a comprehensive register of the metes-and-bounds real property of a country...
), left 20% of the population homeless, and the reconstruction lasted until 1737. No less than 47% of the section of the city, which dates back to the Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...
, was completely lost, and along with the Copenhagen Fire of 1795
Copenhagen Fire of 1795
The Copenhagen Fire of 1795 started Friday the June 5, around 3 p.m. at the Navy’s old base at Gammelholm in the fleets warehouse for coal and barrels...
, it is the main reason that few traces of medieval Copenhagen
Copenhagen is the capital and largest city of Denmark, with an urban population of 1,199,224 and a metropolitan population of 1,930,260 . With the completion of the transnational Øresund Bridge in 2000, Copenhagen has become the centre of the increasingly integrating Øresund Region...
can be found in the modern city.
Although the number of dead and wounded was relatively low compared to the extent of the fire, the cultural losses were huge. In addition to several private book collections, 35,000 texts including a large number of unique works were lost with the University of Copenhagen
University of Copenhagen
The University of Copenhagen is the oldest and largest university and research institution in Denmark. Founded in 1479, it has more than 37,000 students, the majority of whom are female , and more than 7,000 employees. The university has several campuses located in and around Copenhagen, with the...
library, and at the observatory on top of Rundetårn
The Rundetårn is a 17th-century tower located in central Copenhagen, Denmark. One of the many architectural projects of Christian IV, it was built as an astronomical observatory...
, instruments and records made by Tycho Brahe
Tycho Brahe , born Tyge Ottesen Brahe, was a Danish nobleman known for his accurate and comprehensive astronomical and planetary observations...
and Ole Rømer were destroyed.
Wednesday, October 20The exact time that the fire started is unknown. Various sources mention times between 6:00 and 8:00 p.m., and 7:30 p.m. is the best estimate. However, the exact location of the origin of the fire is known. Almost directly across the street from Vesterport (the West Gate) was Lille Sankt Clemens Stræde. On the corner facing Vestervold, there was a small house on lot "Vester Kvarter 146" (according to the cadastre of 1699) owned by Signe, widow
A widow is a woman whose spouse has died, while a widower is a man whose spouse has died. The state of having lost one's spouse to death is termed widowhood or occasionally viduity. The adjective form is widowed...
of Boye Hansen. The lot is almost identical to the one on the corner of present day Frederiksberggade (the western end of Strøget
Strøget is a carfree zone in Copenhagen, Denmark. This popular tourist attraction in the centre of town is the longest pedestrian shopping area in Europe....
) and The City Hall Square. Among the widow's tenants were restaurant
A restaurant is an establishment which prepares and serves food and drink to customers in return for money. Meals are generally served and eaten on premises, but many restaurants also offer take-out and food delivery services...
manager Peder Rasmussen and his wife, Anne Iversdatter. It was on the second floor of the restaurateur's apartment that the fire started. At the inquiries held after the fire was over, both he and his wife stated that their seven year old son had started the fire by accidentally upsetting a candle, but it is more likely that it was the result of carelessness on behalf of the parents while casting candles and that they blamed the child to avoid punishment.
The watchmen were quick to sound the alarm, but given the fire department
A fire station is a structure or other area set aside for storage of firefighting apparatus , personal protective equipment, fire hose, fire extinguishers, and other fire extinguishing equipment...
's relatively primitive equipment, the fact that the streets of Vester Kvarter were too narrow for the fire pumps, the strange dispositions of those fighting the fire, and a series of unlucky events, the fight was nearly hopeless. The wind blew from the southwest that evening, carrying the fire along Lille Sankt Clemens Stræde, Store Sankt Clemens Stræde, Vombadstuestræde, Antiquitetsstræde and Hellig-Kors Stræde. By 9:00 p.m the main street of Vestergade was burning on both sides. From here the fire spread along Store Lars Bjørns Stræde, Lille Lars Bjørns Stræde and Studiestræde.
Later that evening, the fire reached Sankt Peders Stræde, where the Valkendorfs Kollegium
Valkendorfs Kollegium is the oldest dormitory in Denmark and was founded on 26 February 1589 by the nobleman Christopher Valkendorf. The building he purchased was originally a monastery. The dormitory suffered a great deal during the Great Fire of Copenhagen in 1728. Though most of the brickwork...
dormitory (lot "Nørre Kvarter 122") was engulfed in flames. Professor Peder Horrebow
Peder [Nielsen] Horrebow was a Danish astronomer. Born in Løgstør, Jutland to a poor family of fishermen, Horrebow entered the University of Copenhagen in 1703. He worked his way through grammar school and university by virtue of his technical knowledge: he repaired mechanical and musical...
, who lived at the dormitory, lost most of his possessions. Presumably simultaneously, the fire also reached Professor Hans Steenbuch's room on Studiestræde (lot "Nørre Kvarter 60"). Around midnight, the fire reached the priest's residence by the church Sankt Petri Kirke.
On Nørregade, another fire started at a brewery Wednesday evening – possibly between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. Just prior to that the original fire had reached Gammeltorv
Gammeltorv is the oldest square in Copenhagen, Denmark. With adjoining Nytorv it forms a common space along the Strøget pedestrian zone. While the square dates back to the foundation of the city in the 12th century, most of its buildings were constructed after the Great Fire of 1795 in...
, where people fought keep the fire back. For that reason, help was sent late to deal with the new fire. Around midnight the wind shifted to the west, and the situation on Nørregade turned critical as the fire was driven towards the street along a wide front. At first people sought to keep the fire on the western side of Nørregade, but nevertheless it spread to the eastern side during the night. Simultaneously, the fire moved from present day Nørre Voldgade towards Nørreport (North Gate).
ThursdayEarly Thursday morning, a final desperate attempt to keep the flames from spreading was made at Gammeltorv. Already-burning houses were fired upon with cannon
A cannon is any piece of artillery that uses gunpowder or other usually explosive-based propellents to launch a projectile. Cannon vary in caliber, range, mobility, rate of fire, angle of fire, and firepower; different forms of cannon combine and balance these attributes in varying degrees,...
s to make them collapse. When that did not work, an order was given to blow up the houses with black powder charges. The building housing the wine cellar known as "Blasen" on the corner of Vestergade and Nørregade was to be the first demolition, but this dangerous undertaking failed when the gunpowder blew up while men were still carrying in the charges. While the building did go down, people were killed and injured and the explosion ignited nearby buildings, including the church Vor Frue Kirke
Church of Our Lady (Copenhagen)
The Church of Our Lady is the cathedral of Copenhagen and the National Cathedral of Denmark. It is situated on Vor Frue Plads and next to the main building of the University of Copenhagen....
. By 9:30 a.m. the church spire had fallen into the street, and soon after the whole church was engulfed in flames; the personal property that people had brought to the church to keep them safe from the fire was lost.
At Nørregade, the fire reached Sankt Petri Kirke around 8 a.m. By 9 a.m., the flames reached bishop Christen Worm's residence (lot "Nørre Kvarter 112"), which burned to the ground. The bishop who was travelling, was left with the clothes on his back and three prayer book
A 'prayer book' is a book outlining the 'liturgy' of religious services.In this sense, it may carry the following specific names in various religions:*Breviary or Missal, in Roman Catholicism*Agenda , in Lutheranism...
Nytorv is a public square in the centre of Copenhagen, Denmark. Together with the adjoining Gammeltorv it forms a common space, today part of the Strøget pedestrian zone...
, the flames consumed Det Kongelige Vajsenhus (The Royal Orphanage) (now the location of the Copenhagen District Court). The City Hall of Copenhagen
Copenhagen City Hall
Copenhagen City Hall is the headquarters of the Municipal Council as well as the Lord mayor of the City of Copenhagen, Denmark. The building is situated on The City Hall Square in central Copenhagen....
– then located between Nytorv and Gammeltorv – was now in peril. Around 10 a.m., the flames had taken hold of the building and it was soon added to the list of buildings lost. From Gammeltorv the inferno made its way down Klædeboderne, Skindergade
Skindergade is a street in central Copenhagen, Denmark. Running roughly parallel to Strøget, to which it is connected through Jorcks Passage, it extends for approximately 400 metres from Gammeltorv to Købmagergade....
, Skoubogade and Vimmelskaftet, heading towards Amagertorv
Amagertorv , today part of the Strøget pedestrian zone, is often described as the most central square in central Copenhagen, Denmark...
, while from Nytorv
Nytorv is a public square in the centre of Copenhagen, Denmark. Together with the adjoining Gammeltorv it forms a common space, today part of the Strøget pedestrian zone...
the fire found fuel on Rådhusstræde towards Frederiksholms Canal and Slotsholmen
Slotsholmen is an island in the harbour of Copenhagen, Denmark, and part of Copenhagen Inner City. Bishop Absalon constructed the city's first castle on the island in 1166-67 at the site where Christiansborg Palace, the seat of the Danish Parliament lies today...
New fires were reported: Count Adam Christoffer Knuth's house in Pustervig, a cellar in Købmagergade (Market Street) and a haystack at Nørreport (Northern Gate) all broke out in flames; the latter likely ignited by embers carried by the wind.
When the fire had consumed Vor Frue Kirke, the University of Copenhagen saw one building after another burn. The Community Building (Kommunitetsbygningen), which was used to help support students by giving them free meals; the university's head building (Studiegården/The Study Courtyard), at the same location as the current head building; and the Anatomy Building (Domus Anatomica) and Anatomy Theatre (Theatrum Anatomicum) were all lost. Aforementioned, Professor Hans Steenbuch had sought refuge at Professor Hans Gram's home, where both he and his possessions found temporary safety. But now the fire reached Gram's home next to Vor Frue Kirke (lot "Klædebo Kvarter 245"), and there was not enough time to save Steenbuch's possessions, although Gram saved most of his own from destruction. Along Kannikestræde, one by one University of Copenhagen professors' homes fell prey to the flames. Several more student dormitories were lost but along Købmagergade a wing of buildings were saved including the church Regenskirken.
The next notable victim of the fire was the church Trinitatis Kirke, which housed the University Library in its attic. The flames got a hold the church around 5 p.m. and when the ceiling gave around 10 p.m., the entire library's collection was delivered into a sea of flames. Rundetårn was left for the most part undamaged, but the observatory at the top burned out.
From Gammeltorv, the fire spread out to Ulfeldts Plads, now Gråbrødretorv
Gråbrødretorv is a public square in the centre of Copenhagen, Denmark, just off the pedestrian street Strøget.-History:Gråbrødretorv takes its name from a Franciscan friary, which was located at the site from 1238 to 1530 when it was demolished...
, around 4 p.m. The monument that shamed traitor Corfitz Ulfeldt
Corfitz Ulfeldt (1606-1664)
Count Corfits Ulfeldt , Danish statesman, was the son of the chancellor Jacob Ulfeldt. After a careful education abroad, concluding with one year under Cesare Cremonini at Padua, he returned to Denmark in 1629 and quickly won the favor of King Christian IV...
lost a few letters in the heat. A few hours later, the fire closed in on the church Helligåndskirken
Church of the Holy Ghost, Copenhagen
The Church of the Holy Ghost in Copenhagen, Denmark, is one of the city's oldest churches.-Background:The first abbey in Copenhagen was a Franciscan monastery founded in 1238, just 12 years after the death of Francis of Assisi. Prior to that, Archbishop Eskil had founded two Cistercian...
and at 8 p.m. its carillon
A carillon is a musical instrument that is typically housed in a free-standing bell tower, or the belfry of a church or other municipal building. The instrument consists of at least 23 cast bronze, cup-shaped bells, which are played serially to play a melody, or sounded together to play a chord...
bells came to life as they did every half hour – playing Thomas Kingo's Vreden din afvend, herre Gud, af Naade (Eng. Turn your anger, Lord, by mercy) – just before they crashed into the fire below.
From Trinitatis Church, the fire continued down Landemærket towards Gothersgade. Here, the fire met up with the other branch of the fire which ate its way down present day Nørre Voldgade. Around midnight, the church Reformert Kirke was ablaze. The only place in the city where there was some control over the fire was around Vandkunsten.
FridayFriday morning the wind shifted again, this time to the north. The firefighting finally started to show some semblance of organization, and efforts were waged to stop the fire in the neighborhood around Magstræde. This failed, though, when the fire took the soap factory on Magstræde around noon. The wind was now blowing northwest and the firefighting moved via Snaregade to Nybrogade, Naboløs and Gammel Strand, but failed to save Nybrogade.
Further east, the fire proceeded south to Klareboderne and Møntergade. Poul Fechtels Hospital on Møntergade was drowned in flames with some of the residents still inside. Close by, Professor Ludvig Holberg
Ludvig Holberg, Baron of Holberg was a writer, essayist, philosopher, historian and playwright born in Bergen, Norway, during the time of the Dano-Norwegian double monarchy, who spent most of his adult life in Denmark. He was influenced by Humanism, the Enlightenment and the Baroque...
left his home on Købmagergade (lot "Købmager Kvarter 18"). Around midnight, the blaze was close to Silkegade and Store Regnegade.
SaturdayOver the course of the night the wind settled and stopped the forward march of the fire. Thirty-six homes were selected for demolition to create a firebreak
A firebreak is a gap in vegetation or other combustible material that acts as a barrier to slow or stop the progress of a bushfire or wildfire. A firebreak may occur naturally where there is a lack of vegetation or "fuel", such as a river, lake or canyon...
, which did stop the fire at the corner of Store Regnegade and Gothersgade. Further west, Amagertorv and the church Sankt Nicolai Kirke had been threatened, but the blaze was stopped close to Amagertorv, where only the three houses furthest north ("Frimands Kvarter" lots 8, 10 and 11) were lost.
The fire on Magstræde at the soap factory was still a threat. The fire ate its way along Snaregade. At the end of Snaregade was the house (lot "Snarens Kvarter 2") of the vice mayor, Christian Berregaard, which the people tried to save. The houses around it were torn down, and the houses on the opposite side of the street were blown up with black powder. The outcome was hardly any better than that of the earlier attempt at the wine cellar, though. The gunpowder went off, people had to run for their lives and the vice mayor's house was set afire and burned to the ground. After the failed attempt to save the house, the fire was stopped from spreading further, though, and among other things the weigh station of Christoffer Valkendorf was saved.
In line with Christian
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...
interpretation of the day, the slowdown of the fire during Saturday was seen as a result of divine intervention
A miracle often denotes an event attributed to divine intervention. Alternatively, it may be an event attributed to a miracle worker, saint, or religious leader. A miracle is sometimes thought of as a perceptible interruption of the laws of nature. Others suggest that a god may work with the laws...
. To thank God, king Christian VI
Christian VI of Denmark
Christian VI was King of Denmark and Norway from 1730 to 1746.He was the son of King Frederick IV of Denmark and Norway and Louise of Mecklenburg-Güstrow. He married Sophia Magdalen of Brandenburg-Kulmbach and fathered Frederick V.-The reign and personality of Christian VI:To posterity Christian...
introduced October 23 as a new annual holiday in 1731 on which every church in Copenhagen held a service of thanksgiving. This holiday was abolished at the holiday reform of 1770.
Property losses from the fire can be accounted for with relative certainty as detailed surveys were made immediately afterwards. City surveyor Søren Balle submitted the first survey on November 1, 1728 and on April 13, 1729 the Magistrate
A magistrate is an officer of the state; in modern usage the term usually refers to a judge or prosecutor. This was not always the case; in ancient Rome, a magistratus was one of the highest government officers and possessed both judicial and executive powers. Today, in common law systems, a...
of Copenhagen finished a second, made according to a royal request of December 12, 1728. The differences between the two surveys are limited to the extent of the damages on 43 lots, so it is fairly certain that 1,227 lots containing about 1,600 buildings were lost in flames. All of Copenhagen consisted of about 4,500 lots (per the cadastre of 1699), so about 28% of the lots were lost. For the medieval part of town the ratio is 47%.
The magistrate also made a survey of the spared parts of town from which it appears that 8,749 former residents of the parts touched by fire had found new lodgings. It is estimated that as many as 15,000 had become homeless. This is about 20% of the population, which is estimated at 70,000. However the number of dead and wounded is unknown. It is possible to deduce some information from parish registers and other sources, but the number remains uncertain. It is probably low in comparison with the extent of the fire, though.
While the human and property losses were staggering, the cultural loss is still felt today. The University of Copenhagen library was without a doubt the greatest and the most frequently mentioned of such. 35,000 texts and a large archive of historical documents disappeared in the flames. Original works from the historians Hans Svaning
Hans Svaning was a Danish historian....
, Anders Sørensen Vedel
Anders Sørensen Vedel
Anders Sørensen Vedel was a Danish priest and historiographer. He translated the Gesta Danorum by Saxo Grammaticus into Danish in 1575, and published the influential "Hundredvisebogen" in 1591.-Biography:...
, Niels Krag, and Arild Huitfeldt
Arild Huitfeldt was a Danish historian and state official, known for his vernacular Chronicle of Denmark.-Life:...
and the scientists Ole Worm
Ole Worm , who often went by the Latinized form of his name Olaus Wormius, was a Danish physician and antiquary.-Life:...
, Ole Rømer, Tycho Brahe and the brothers Hans and Caspar Bartholin
Caspar Bartholin the Younger
Caspar Bartholin the Younger , was a Danish anatomist who first described the "Bartholin's gland" in the 17th century...
were lost. Atlas Danicus by Peder Hansen Resen
Peder Hansen Resen
Peder Hansen Resen was the Danish historian, legal scholar and the president's residence in the city. He was the son of Bishop Hans Hansen Resen.- Youth and education :...
and the archive of Zealand Diocese
A diocese is the district or see under the supervision of a bishop. It is divided into parishes.An archdiocese is more significant than a diocese. An archdiocese is presided over by an archbishop whose see may have or had importance due to size or historical significance...
went up in flames as well. The archive of the diocese had been moved to the university library the very same day the fire started.
Several other book collections were lost as well. Professor Mathias Anchersen made the mistake of bringing his possessions to safety in Trinitatis Church. Árni Magnússon
Árni Magnússon was an Icelandic scholar and collector of manuscripts. He assembled the Arnamagnæan Manuscript Collection.-Life:...
lost all his books, notes and records, but did manage to rescue his valuable collection of handwritten Iceland
Iceland , described as the Republic of Iceland, is a Nordic and European island country in the North Atlantic Ocean, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Iceland also refers to the main island of the country, which contains almost all the population and almost all the land area. The country has a population...
ic manuscripts. At Borchs Kollegium 3,150 volumes burned along with its Museum Rarirorum containing collections of zoological and botanical oddities. The burned out observatory in Rundetårn had contained instruments and records by Tycho Brahe and Ole Rømer. The professors Horrebow, Steenbuch and the two Bartholins lost practically everything. And on top of all that a large part of the city archive of records burnt along with city hall.
When the reconstruction of Denmark's capital was begun a number of changes were introduced. A commission was appointed to regulate the streets. After surveyings among the ruins this commission submitted a suggestion to create 12 to 15-metre wide main streets with 10-metre wide side streets with none of the surrounding houses being half-timbered.
This plan was not followed in the reconstruction. Although half-timbered houses were banned at first, the ban was lifted in 1731 as brick houses were considerably more expensive. Medieval Copenhagen, however, had changed permanently when the reconstruction was complete by 1737. Streets and alleys no longer followed the original paths and some even ceased to exist.