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City center with the cathedral in the distance (July 2012)

Denmark might be a small country, but there’s so much more to it than just Copenhagen, its capital. Granted, I didn’t know about any other places in the country to visit, and it wasn’t until my family and I arrived in Aarhus during our ten-day journey through the Scandinavian countries. Although we would only have a few hours in town, we saw a good amount, as well as a little more of Denmark itself.

The second-largest city in Denmark, Aarhus (pronounced “ar-hoose”) is located on the country’s Jutland Peninsula and home to about 340,000 inhabitants. It’s a prominent cultural and economic hub for the Jutland region, as well as being a huge college town with its high-ranking Aarhus University. Historic, modern, and vibrant, it’s also a popular tourist destination for those visiting Denmark.

My family and I were on a week-long cruise through the Baltic Sea as means of exploring Scandinavia in a short period of time. Our ship docked in Aarhus in the morning, and we disembarked for a brief afternoon tour. Along with a dozen or so other passengers, we followed our guide, an elderly lady with a thick Danish accent, around to see the sights and sounds of town.

We first stopped at The Viking Museum, which evidently contains artifacts and information about the Viking Age, dating from the late eighth to 11th centuries. What made this particular museum distinctive was that it was situated underground, as it was built on top of the original excavation site from the 1960’s.

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Viking hut replica at the museum.

It was a dark descent down to the exhibitions, as our guide explained how the Vikings lived, ate, and conquered much of northern Europe. We passed through displays of weapons, clothing, helmets, and replicas of huts in which they lived, along with mannequins of what the Vikings had looked like themselves some 1200 years ago. Although I’m not a fan of museums, I did find the concept of building it over the archaeological site to be quite unique.

Following the visit, we headed next to the Aarhus Cathedral, the tallest in the country at 96 meters (315 feet) in height. It was constructed back in the 12th century and dedicated to Saint Clemens, the patron of sailors. The exterior appears rather dark and austere in nature, but the interior was the opposite of that, painted in white and with well-preserved fresco depicting religious icons that permeated much of the Danish’s beliefs in the Middle Ages (and even today). The gates were elegant, too, and while it might not be as extravagant as cathedrals in Spain or Italy, the cathedral of Aarhus deserves recognition as a noteworthy cathedral in Europe, especially in Scandinavia.

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Aarhus Cathedral.
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Cathedral organ.
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Fresco ceiling.

Our guide brought us to Den Gamle By (“Old Town Museum”), an open-air museum with over 70 reconstructed houses and narrow, winding streets to paint a picture of what Aarhus had been back in time. It was a picturesque place, with cobblestone streets and cute, historic houses that acted as merchant shops or post offices in history. Some sold a few souvenirs as well. What made the quaint area even more interesting was that it was located right in the middle of the city’s botanical gardens! A bit gimmicky, but charmingly so.

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Houses in the Old Town Museum.
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Strolling through the Old Town Museum.
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Half-timbered houses.

We also entered a small courtyard, where our guide showed us an actual house that dated back to the 17th century. A bright, cherry-red color, I was amazed that the building was still standing strong, having survived much of the potential weathering in the three or four centuries that followed, up until today!

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17th century house.

Next stop was at the ARoS Museum, an art museum which houses masterpieces from the Danish Golden Age (19th century) and many rotating, contemporary works. However, it happened to be closed that day, so we didn’t actually go inside. Our guide instead took us to see another, albeit smaller cathedral (which I have no recollection of), and soon after we concluded our visit of Aarhus.

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Last views by the waterfront.

As it goes with many medium-sized cities I’ve visited, Aarhus wasn’t a place that I’d write home about. Then again, much of our tour was concentrated on history and museums, not so much on the actual culture in town. I would’ve loved to have strolled the city center and get the overall atmosphere of the city but, at least from the brief glimpse on our tour, I could get a sense of liveliness and ease that seems to be part of the Danish culture. And that made for a tranquil time during our short visit in the country.

There will be more on Scandinavia coming soon– until then!

 

— Rebecca

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