Copenhagen (Danish: København) is the capital of Denmark and what a million Danes call home. This "friendly old girl of a town" is big enough to be a metropolis with shopping, culture and nightlife par excellence, yet still small enough to be intimate, safe and easy to navigate. Overlooking the Øresund strait with Sweden just minutes away, it is a cultural and geographic link between mainland Europe and Scandinavia. This is where old fairy tales blend with flashy new architecture and world-class design; where warm jazz mixes with cold electronica from Copenhagen's basements. You'll feel you've seen it all in a day, but could keep on discovering more for months.
If you had dropped by Copenhagen in the eleventh century you would have found yourself looking over a quiet, small fishing hamlet, with a flock of lazy cattle gazing back at you while chewing fresh green grass from the meadows around the village. Looking east you would see a host of small islets protecting the small fishing harbour from harsh weather — really not the worst place to found a city. The earliest written accounts date from the twelfth century, when a bearded clerk (or a renowned historian if you will) called Saxo Grammaticus scribbled down a few lines about the place. Portus Mercatorum, he called it, meaning Merchants' Harbour or, in the Danish of the time, Købmannahavn. This has since evolved into København in modern Danish, and the city's English name was adapted from its Low German name, Kopenhagen. Around 1160 AD, King Valdemar handed over control of the city to the archbishop of Roskilde, Absalon, one of the most colourful characters of the Middle Ages — a curious mix of great churchman, statesman, and warrior. As the country's only city not under the king's control, Absalon saw it thrive and erected a castle on what is today Slotsholmen (the remains are still visible in the catacombs under the present day parliament). As a man of religion he also built a great church, and with those necessities taken care of, Copenhagen quickly gained importance as a natural stop between the two most important Danish cities, the old royal capital Roskilde and Lund in present day Sweden. Endowed with an enviable location on the banks of the important Øresund Strait, it slowly but steadily surpassed the old urban centres. Copenhagen's rise was greatly aided by entrepreneurial trading with friends and foes alike and by prosperous fishing which provided much of Roman Catholic Europe with salted herring for Lent. But with prosperity comes envy and in the years to follow Copenhagen was laid waste and pillaged time and time again, mainly by the German Hanseatic League, which at one point completely destroyed the city.