Aarhus — 1300 years ‘In the Making’

Before I launch into this blogpost I’ll briefly introduce myself: I’m Ben, I work as as content marketer here in Aarhus, as well as doing some tour guiding and writing articles for Jutland Station. Although I wouldn’t say I was a ‘maker’ in the same sense as the skilled artists in Aarhus Makers, I do enjoy writing and producing written content like this, so was very flattered when Juan asked me to write some blogposts!

‘Start with what you know’ is the advice I’ve always been given, which is why this first post is looking at the history of Aarhus and the importance of continuing crafts and skills in the present day:

Aarhus has long had an established reputation as a creative hub -hosting brands like Bestseller, Søstrene Grene and world-famous architecture firms such as C.F.Møller. A stroll around the harbour will give you a clue to the city’s earlier industrial past in the 18th and 19th century.

But what if we really step back in time -about 1300 years?

Viking-age Aarhus provides us with evidence of art, craftsmanship and creation taking place on a wide scale, almost unrivaled in the whole of northern Europe at that time.

AM-Ben-1.jpg

Despite their (sometimes deserved!) reputation as raiders and pillagers, the Vikings who founded towns like Aarhus, Ribe and Hedeby were skilled craftsmen in wood, ceramics, textiles, metal, bone and glass. From the town’s foundation in the 8th century AD, Aarhus (named Aros at the time) would have been a production centre for creating and crafting hundreds of beautiful objects and was part of a vast trade network, spanning thousands of miles.

This period is the first time in Denmark we see widespread evidence of craftspeople being able to gain a living income by specialising in producing materials in particular fields in which they are highly skilled.

 Although organic textile materials don’t usual remain from excavations, we can tell from multiple ‘donut-shaped’ stone loom weights (above) that the Viking Aarhusianers were weaving fabrics.

Although organic textile materials don’t usual remain from excavations, we can tell from multiple ‘donut-shaped’ stone loom weights (above) that the Viking Aarhusianers were weaving fabrics.

Since the 1960s Moesgaard museum has carried out several excavations in the inner city of Aarhus, revealing wells, streets, homes and workshops on a industrial scale.

We can even see clues to the town’s productive past in the street names. Pustervig Torv, in the centre of the city, was the place where the blacksmiths’ workshops were — with the bellows needing constant attention to keep the fires burning (Puste meaning ‘to blow’ in Danish).

This busy network of highly skilled blacksmiths produced intricate brooches, necklaces and other jewellery as well as highly decorated swords -often more for show than practical use.

Am-Ben-3.jpeg

Vikings kept their hair and beards well combed and they liked to adorn themselves with glass beads and metal jewellery. Large numbers of these objects and waste from them have been found from excavations in Aarhus.

It wasn’t all for show though. Antlers and bones were skillfully used to make practical tools like needles, stilettos, handles and gaming pieces which were exchanged far and wide.

A decorated bone needle found under Saint Clemens square in Aarhus was found to be made from whale bone, imported from Greenland. This points not only to the importance of Aarhus as a production and trading-centre at that time, but to how the Viking inhabitants were making use of ‘exotic’ materials from Norway, Iceland and Greenland like narwhal, whale, amber and furs to trade with people in the Mediterranean and further afield.

The beautiful goods that were being produced in the ‘Creator City’ of Aarhus made their way on the Viking trade routes across to Russia, Italy, Spain and Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) where they may have been taken on the famous silk road -which formed the link with Europe and the Middle East, China and India.

So Aarhus has a long and proud tradition of producing and trading quality, hand-made goods. That’s why it’s important for present day creators, craftspeople and artists of all kinds to carry on practicing and perfecting their skills and marketing their wares.