The Old Fortifications of Copenhagen and how it shaped the city today

Take a look at historic maps of Copenhagen, and you will see that the city was once protected by a bastioned wall. Take a look at Google Maps today however, and you will see that the impressive fortifications stands no longer.

The fortifications were dismantled in the mid 19th Century by Christian VIII. Yet, when we compare the city then and now, interesting details emerge – including, the lasting legacy the fortifications has had on the city’s shape and landmarks today.

Kastellet and Christianshavn

The most noticeable remnant of the fortifications are Kastellet (meaning “The Citadel” in English), and the curious geometry of the southeastern side of Christianshavn and Freetown Christiania. Kastellet, a key structure of the old fortifications, was built to guard the northern coastal port entrance into Copenhagen. It remains largely unchanged from earlier centuries.

Kastellet in 2020 vs. 1728. The buildings today have existed since the 1600s. Today, it is known to joggers and tourists on their way to the Little Mermaid.

And if you ever wondered why the eastern side of Christianshavn and Freetown Christiania is shaped thus, now you know – the triangular extensions are the former bastions of the old fortifications, and the water is the former moat.

Christianshavn in 2020 vs. 1853. The former bastions and ramparts have been converted into a greenspace.

Nørreport, Vesterport, Østerport and Amagerport

Along the fortifications, there were only four entrances into the city – the northern gate (“Nørreport”), the western gate (“Vesterport”), the eastern gate (“Østerport”), and the southern gate that leads into Amager Island (“Amagerport”).

While these gates were dismantled in 1857, their memories are intact. Nørreport, Vesterport and Østerport were located near where the Nørreport, Vesterport and Østerport Stations are today. It is very fitting that these stations are some of the busiest train stations in the city – a waypoint for commuters travelling in and out of the inner city, as it has been for centuries.

Nørreport in 2020 vs. 1853. Nørreport is more busy than ever, with a Metro station, S-train station, buses, bicycles and pedestrians. The lakes at the Botanical Gardens and Ørstedsparken are also remnants of the fortification’s moat.
Vesterport in 2020 vs. 1853. Present-day Rådhuspladsen sits above the former Vesterport. The Tivoli Lake is a remnant of the moat. Vesterbrogade (“Western Bridge Road”) is named after the bridge that used to lead from Vesterport.
Østerport 2020 vs. 1853. The lakes at Østre Anlæg are remnants of the former moat. Østervoldgade (“Eastern Rampart Road”) is named after the rampart next to Østerport.

Even today, cars and bicycles still cross the Amagerport bridge, on their way to and from Christianshavn and Amager Island.

Amagerport 2020 vs. 1853. The bridge linking Christianshavn to Amager, via the former Amagerport, still exists today. The moat here is also largely unchanged.

The City Today

Since the dismantling of the fortifications, the city has evolved and expanded beyond the old walls. While there is no need for fortifications any longer, it is still fascinating to see how the walls has left a lasting impact on the shape of the city – especially at key landmarks that are still very much frequented by locals and visitors today.

Technical Details

Sources of maps:

Georeferencing was conducted by myself using QGIS and