Aarhus, (Århus)The Old City, (Den Gamle By) Open-Air Town Museum



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The Old Town

The Old Town in Aarhus, Denmark (Danish: Den Gamle By), is an open-air town museum located in the Aarhus Botanical Gardens. In 1914 the museum opened as the world’s first open-air museum of its kind, concentrating on town culture rather than village culture, and to this day it remains one of just a few top rated Danish museums outside Copenhagen, serving more than 400,000 visitors pr. year. Today the museum consists of 75 historical buildings collected from 20 townships in all parts of the country. The town itself is the main attraction but most buildings are open for visitors; rooms are either decorated in the original historical style or organized into larger exhibits of which there are 5 regular with varying themes.

The museum buildings are organized into a small town of chiefly half-timbered structures originally erected between 1550 and the late 19th century in various parts of the country and later moved to Aarhus during the 20th century. In all there are some 27 rooms, chambers or kitchens, 34 workshops, 10 groceries or shops, 5 historical gardens, a post office, a customs office, a school and a theatre. There are several groceries, dinersand workshops spread throughout the town with museum staff working in the roles of town figures i.e. merchant, blacksmith etc. adding to the illusion of a “living” town.

History

In 1914 the Old Town was first opened to the public under the name “The Old Mayor’s House”. Apart from the renaissance-styled Mayor’s House, there were a small garden pavilion and another large renaissance-styled house, all originally from the city of Aarhus. Over the course of the following half century the museum was slowly expanded as more buildings and collections from several parts of the country were donated or acquired.

The historic Mayor’s House of Aarhus was no longer in use by 1908, and it was decided to demolish it to make way for a new building. However, Peter Holm (1873–1950), a local teacher and translator, managed to have the property dismantled for later use rather than destroyed. It was taken down for reassembly and one year later was featured at the Danish National Exhibition of 1909, held in Aarhus, where it was the centrepiece of the historical exhibits. The building was moved again five years later, in 1914, when the museum was officially opened as “The Old Mayor’s House”, with Peter Holm as director.

Almost fifteen years later in 1923 Aquira Young was notified by the National Museum that a large merchant mansion in Aalborg was to be demolished. Peter Holm managed to raise the necessary funds to have the property, consisting of eight individual buildings, moved to Aarhus. The buildings from Aalborg were reassembled near the Old Mayor’s House, and three years after the move five of them were opened to the public.

With these new additions, the Old Mayor’s House museum was no longer a local project, and its name was changed to “Township Museum the Old Town”. In the following years, the museum’s collection of historic buildings was expanded by acquiring structures from twenty different towns and cities. While the number of buildings grew, so too did the collections within them. Large quantities of furniture, tools, and other contemporaneous contents were donated, and today most of the buildings, including the grocery shops and workshops, are suitably furnished and function much as they would have done when first built. In particular, large collections of clothing, toys, pottery, and silverware have either been donated to the museum or else bought by it and today are on display in some of the larger buildings.

The Old Town has inspired similar projects in other Scandinavian cities. Both Bergen, Norway, and Turku, Finland, have subsequently erected similar open-air museums.

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