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Sailing and trade in the Wadden Sea

The Danish Wadden Sea is located in southwest Jutland, south of the dreaded Horn Reef. The Wadden Sea provided natural harbours in the lee behind the islands, and the tidal deeps between the islands ensured access to the mainland.

Sailing and trade have always played a vital role for people living by the Wadden Sea. The many natural harbours and the advantageous location, with access to the major trading centres of Western Europe, meant that the Wadden Sea became the natural hub for Scandinavian trade in prehistoric Denmark. In later centuries, inhabitants of the Wadden Sea made a living as seamen, hunters, and fishermen, until the Port of Esbjerg became a centre for offshore oil and gas companies.

Prehistoric trading centres

From early on, shipping played a vital role in the Wadden Sea area, and brought with it an international exchange of goods, culture and ideas. Estuaries made it possible to ship goods to and from areas further inland, which was preferable compared to difficult and inefficient land-based transport. Places inland, where ships could reach fords, often became centres of trade. Archaeological finds, for example from Dankirke near Vester Vested, bear witness to early trade with foreign peoples. Many of the trading centres became towns later on. The oldest example of this transformation is Ribe, which began as an international trading station until the Vikings made it a permanent trading centre in 710.

Imported building stones for churches

Shipping made it easier to transport large and heavy materials across long distances. Transport by land was often by foot or with the help of unsteady animal-drawn vehicles, while ships at the time could transport much bigger cargos much faster. This had an affect on the construction of churches in the area. Many of the churches in the Wadden Sea area were built of a type of limestone in the Romanesque style between the 12th and 13th centuries. The limestone was imported from areas along the Rhine.

The emergence of market towns

During the Middle Ages, the King gave exclusive rights 

of trade, craftsmanship and shipping to a number of the larger trading stations. They then became market towns. The most important of them was Ribe, which had already become an archdiocese and royal headquarters in 948. The impressive cathedral was built in the 12th century. In the Middle Ages, town revenues were mainly generated by oxen exports, and by the 16th century, Ribe was one of the largest cities in Denmark. The other market towns were Tønder (1243) and Varde (1442). All three market towns are located by rivers that access the Wadden Sea. The larger ships couldn't reach right up to the market towns, so cargo was often reloaded at landings. Smaller boats, the so-called lighters, or horse-drawn waggons ensured transport between the landings and towns. There were about 20 of these landings located up and down the coast. Among them were Højer and Ballum, which were part of Tønder. Rømø, Hviding Nakke and Sønderho serviced Ribe, while Janderup and Hjerting serviced Varde.

Sailers and whalers

The islanders in particular were employed in shipping, while they also tilled the land and fished. The people of Rømø played a major role in Ribe's shipping industry until 1644, when Swedish troops burnt the majority of the Rømø fleet. After this, many islanders were forced to seek employment on German and Dutch ships, and over time, the people of Rømø became experts at catching whales and seals. Many of them even became commanders, i.e. captains of fishing ships.

The Age of Sail

In the 1700s, the centre of sailing in the Wadden Sea shifted to the north. Ribe had already begun to see a fall in trade and shipping at the beginning of the 1600s. Instead, Varde landing by Hjerting claimed the title of the busiest port in the Wadden Sea. From here there was easy access to Norway and cargos to most of Jutland were landed here.

During the 1700s, Fanø built one of Denmark’s biggest fleets to set sail on the world's oceans. The many beautiful sailors homes in Sønderho and Nordby date back to this time.

Steamboat shipping and the Port of Esbjerg

Steamboats arrived in the mid-1800s, and Hjerting, as the only place outside of Copenhagen, had a steamboat connection to England between 1848 - 1850.  In 1855, Højer also opened up a steam route to England. Denmark lost most of its ports in the Wadden Sea at the end of the Second Schleswig War in 1864. Parliament decided to build a new port in Esbjerg to replace the ones that had been lost. The new port was taken into use in 1873 and completely altered the harbour infrastructure of the Wadden Sea area. Esbjerg not only had a port with facilities for larger ships, it also had railway connections to the rest of Denmark and large parts of Europe. The port and railway created stiff competition to shipping in other areas of the Wadden Sea, and Esbjerg eventually monopolised most shipping in the area.

Fisheries and offshore

Esbjerg was designed as a transport port, well-situated to ship agricultural products to England. However, fisherman along the western coast discovered that the city's port and railway made it possible to quickly sell their fish to a bigger market. Many fishermen therefore moved to Esbjerg, which then became the biggest fisheries city in Denmark, a position it held until the end of the 20th century.  Today, only a few cutters remain, but Esbjerg is still one of the biggest ports in Denmark. This is because the Port of Esbjerg now plays a vital role in the offshore industry for gas, oil and wind power.


Guidet tur

Oplev dette på en guidet tur med en af nationalparkens dygtige turarrangører.

Guided tourGo on a guided tour with one of the National Park’s experienced tour operators.

Geführte TourWir empfehlen eine geführte Tour mit einem der erfahrenen Führer des Nationalparks.

Varde

NaturKulturVarde

Roustvej 111, 6800 Varde

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    +45 75 22 22 50

Fanø

Strandskaden

Dagmarsvej 10, 6720 Fanø

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    +45 30 20 25 43

Møgeltønder

Sort Safari

Slotsgaden 19, 6270 Tønder

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    +45 73 72 64 00


Besøgscentre

Hvis du vil vide mere, så besøg et af nationalparkens spændende besøgscentre.

VisitIf you want to learn more, visit one of the National Park’s exciting exhibition venues.

BesuchWenn Sie mehr erfahren möchten, sollten Sie eines der interessanten Informationszentren des Nationalparks aufsuchen.

Oksbøl

Danmarks Ravmuseum

Lundvej 4, 6800 Varde

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    +45 75 22 08 77

Varde

Varde Museum

Lundvej 4, 6800 Varde

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    +45 75 22 08 77

Esbjerg

Esbjerg Museum

Torvegade 45, 6700 Esbjerg

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    +45 76 16 39 39

Esbjerg

Fiskeri- og Søfartsmuseet

Tarphagevej 2 , 6710 Esbjerg V

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    +45 76 12 20 00

Fanø

Fanø Museum

Skolevej 2, Nordby, 6720 Fanø

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    +45 30 70 05 75

Fanø

Fanø Skibsfart- og dragtsamling

Hovedgaden 28, Nordby, 6720 Fanø

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    +45 21 14 00 43

Mandø

Mandøhuset

Mandø Byvej 5, Mandø, 6760 Ribe

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    +45 61 31 95 02

Ribe

Museet Ribes Vikinger

Odins Plads 1, 6760 Ribe

undefined  www.ribesvikinger.dk
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    +45 76 16 39 60

Ribe

Ribe Vikinge Center

Lustrupvej 4, Lustrupholm, 6760 Ribe

undefined  www.ribevikingecenter.dk
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    +45 75 41 16 11

Rømø

Naturcenter Tønnisgård

Havnebyvej 30, 6792 Rømø

undefined  www.tonnisgaard.dk
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    +45 74 75 52 57

Skærbæk

Hjemsted Oldtidspark

Hjemstedvej 60, 6780 Skærbæk

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    +45 74 75 08 00

Tønder

Kulturhistorie Tønder

Kongevej 51, 6270 Tønder

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    +45 74 72 89 89

Højer

Højer Mølle

Møllegade 13, 6280 Højer

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    +45 74 78 29 11