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Living by the wadden sea - before


The most northern terps in the Wadden Sea area made up the village Misthusum in Ballummarsken. The architecture along the Wadden Sea is characterized by the many well kept older homes and settlements. Especially interesting are the terp farms in Tøndermarsken, the many timber framed and gabled houses in the towns and the well-preserved village environments. During the Neolithic period, man started to settle along the Wadden Sea, but on the elevated Geest to be protected from storm surges. The first, scattered farms were built at the close of the Bronze Age and slowly villages developed. Most of the settlements along the Wadden Sea have roots going back several thousand years and by the beginning of the 8th century, Ribe functioned as the area’s marketplace.

The Middle Ages

Around the year 1200, marshland farms were built on natural moraine boulders and, later, in the southern part of the area, on so-called man-made terps. Today, there are 60 terps in the Danish Wadden Sea and one of the earliest terp areas is located by Ved Åen in Tøndermarsken with ten farms. On most terps there was only one farm, while Ubjerg and Rudbøl are village terps. The most northern terps in the Wadden Sea area made up the village Misthusum in Ballummarsken. The village was settled in the 13th century, but was later destroyed by the storm floods in 1634 and 1720. Shortly after 1800, the village was abandoned, but the terps are still evident in the landscape.

Experience buildings & architecture SPRING




The churches along the Wadden Sea The churches on the edge of the Geest along the Wadden Sea are generally larger than the medieval churches further inland, which is likely a reflection of the somewhat greater prosperity and denser population in the coast parishes. The churches in Skærbæk, Brøns, Ballum, Hviding, Vester Vedsted, Vilslev by Kongeåen, Janderup, Alslev plus Hostrup by Varde River originate in the 11th or the 12th century. In Ribe, Sankt Catharinæ Abbey and the Cathedral are examples of well-preserved religious buildings from the Middle Ages.

To the north, the settlements are situated on hill islands going all the way out to the coast, and in the river valleys lie the old farms, like pearls on a string, and safe from flooding along the five meter elevation contour line. Sønderside by Ho Bugt is a good example that a storm flood could suddenly change everything. This was once one of Denmark’s most significant fishing villages, where during the spring and autumn fishing

Elsemarie Dam-Jensen, Museum Sønderjylland & Mariann Ploug, Museet for Varde By og Omegn Translation: Nanna Mercer, Sirius Translation

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Living by the wadden sea - before

Special features of the Geestharden House, includes the red bricks and the dormer above the entrance door. season more than 1,000 people lived. Sønderside was destroyed by the storm flood in 1634 and never regained its former position. The market towns, Tønder and Varde were settled during the Middle Ages and their location was closely linked to ships sailing the then large and sailable rivers. Before the dyke building started, Tønder had easy access to the sea, while Varde was dependent on the staple-rights by Janderup, Hjerting and Ho.

From timber framing to brick construction

From the 18th century, brick building became the norm in the Wadden Sea area. Brick building spread from Holland and up along the Wadden Sea coast especially after the storm flood in 1634, but town fires also destroyed many of the timber-framed medieval houses in Varde and Ribe. The characteristic farm in the south Jutland area was a Geestharden House that became very common sometime in the 18th century. The farms were originally thatched and usually built with locally produced clay stone, fired in local brick-ovens; a tradition that gained acceptance in the north near Kjelst and Janderup from the mid-18th century. The farm usually consisted of one main wing with barn and living quarters separated by a transverse room, but there could be several outbuildings. A very special feature was the interior load-bearing girders that

Kommandørgårdene Kommandørgårdene are very characteristic farms on the Wadden Sea islands. They can still be seen on Rømø and on the German Wadden Sea islands. These farms were built by wealthy captains (kommandører), pilots of the whaling ships that sailed the North Atlantic Ocean. The one belonging to the National Museum was built ca. 1750, and is the oldest and best preserved of its kind in Denmark.

made the construction more resistant to storm surges. The dormer, arkengaf (arch) above the main entrance door was another distinctive feature. Many farms in the northern area also had an arkengaf. Here, timber framing was common through the 18th century, after which just about all buildings were made with brick construction. As a rule, the main building was modernized first and then the other wings. The ideal was the four-sided farm with a closed court-yard area, but most farms had two or three wings, while smaller farms had just one wing with barn and living quarters in opposite ends. For timber framed farms, the main building generally faced the north, while for brick constructed farms it was placed to the south.

Architecture in the 20th century

At the end of the 19th century, Esbjerg City was

Elsemarie Dam-Jensen, Museum Sønderjylland & Mariann Ploug, Museet for Varde By og Omegn Translation: Nanna Mercer, Sirius Translation

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Living by the wadden sea - before

Ballum Slusekro is a good example of the ’homestead style’. foun­ded. The new historicist style houses built in Esbjerg reflected a mixture of earlier trends. In 1870, a city plan was created using classic city planning principles with rectangular blocks in right-angled street grids aimed at creating a city centre of the harbor, the railway and the market. The Art Nouveau style combining architecture and decorative art can be seen in the architecture along the Wadden Sea, with the house on Lundvej 39 in Varde as a fine-looking example. Art Nouveau style houses and details can also be found in the countryside and the small villages - with Hjerpsted as a good example. Around the year 1900, the first summer cottage area was built in Lakolk on Rømø Island. Thirty seven log cabins resembling mountain huts with carved rafters were built and some of them still exist. In the beginning of the 20th century, a homestead style characterized by good materials and solid workmanship gained ground. The local land agent for Møgeltønder and the surrounding country designed homes in this style, among them the pumping stations in Tøndermarsken. In Denmark, this style was developed by the National Association for better Architecture (Bedre Byggeskik). Danish architecture students had been inspired by simple and solid country architecture while on geological survey trips to Møgeltønder and along the Wadden Sea coast.

The Wadden Sea architecture today

There are still many beautifully preserved older houses along the Wadden Sea coast. In Ribe, the medieval town center is characterized by timber-framed and brick-constructed houses dating from the end of the 16th century to the beginning of the 19th century. The houses lie close, often in blocks and with the gables facing the street. In Tønder, the town center is also characterized by medieval town planning with narrow lots and gabled homes, where especially the back streets, Spikergade and Uldgade are worth seeing. In Varde, the only building left from the Middle Ages is Jacobi Kirke. Two town fires in, respectively 1779 and 1821, each laid claim to a part of the medieval town center. However, the medieval street pattern is still in evidence. Many country villages have older architecture. For example, in Møgeltønder the houses along Slotsgaden and Sønderbyen are especially well-preserved. In the cities, preservation societies have been a contributing factor, while in the countryside a contributing factor is that many of the better preserved houses have become holiday homes. An unusual example would be Ballum Vesterende and Østerende where a donation of DKK 20 million by the A.P. Møller Fonden started the renovation projects.

Elsemarie Dam-Jensen, Museum Sønderjylland & Mariann Ploug, Museet for Varde By og Omegn Translation: Nanna Mercer, Sirius Translation

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Living by the wadden sea - before

Things to do

Learn about buildings & architecture here ...

The country villages, Møgeltønder, Rudbøl and Janderup have characteristic village environments

Varde Museum

In Varde, Ribe and Tønder, the typically winding, medieval street pattern is in evidence, while Esbjerg City is characterized by its modern, right-angled streets Misthusum, Ubjerg and Ved Åen in Tøndermarsken have good examples of terp building Examples of homestead style architecture can be found by Ballum Slusekro and on Sønderbyvej in Møgeltønder Around Hjerpsted you will find examples of Art Nouveau, but the building on Lundvej 39 in Varde is an especially lovely example.

Kirkepladsen 1 DK-6800 Varde

T: +45 75 22 08 77 E: W:

Fiskeri- og Søfartsmuseet Tarphagevej 2-6 DK-6710 Esbjerg V. T: +45 76 12 20 00 E: W:

Esbjerg Museum

Torvegade 45 DK-6700 Esbjerg T: +45 76 16 39 39 E: W:

Museet Ribes Vikinger Odins Plads 1 DK-6760 Ribe

T: +45 76 16 39 60 E: W:

Ribe VikingeCenter Lustrupholm Lustrupholmvej 4 DK-6760 Ribe

T: 7+45 5 41 16 11 E: W:

Museum Sønderjylland - Højer Mølle Møllegade 13 DK-6280 Højer

T: +45 75 44 61 61 E: W:

tips for further reading


The archaeology of the Wadden Sea The Atlantic Wall by the Wadden Sea Life on the Wadden Sea Islands The marsh - its use, nature & culture Navigation, ships and trade

About Vadehavets Formidlerforum... Vadehavets Formidlerforum is a partnership of visitor centers that mediate the Wadden Sea’s natural and cultural heritage. VFF’s main activity is to coordinate projects that highlight the nature and culture heritage of the Wadden Sea.. Learn more at

Elsemarie Dam-Jensen, Museum Sønderjylland & Mariann Ploug, Museet for Varde By og Omegn Translation: Nanna Mercer, Sirius Translation

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Buildings and architecture along the Wadden Sea coast