historic buildings, drawings + documents, historic maps, streetscape

the City gates


Vesterport, the West gate, in 1857

The embankments, bastions and moats that defended Copenhagen were extended and rebuilt in the late 17th century. To enter or leave the city there were four gates that were built or rebuilt as part of that work. 

Vesterport, the west gate, was at the end of what is now Frederiksberggade - the position of the gate was in the centre of what is now Rådhuspladsen, the large square in front of the present city hall, but then was a much smaller open area that was the Hay Market. The north gate, Nørreport, was at the end of Frederiksborggade, close to the present Nørreport station, and the east gate, Østerport, was then just beyond the Nyboder houses, close to what is now the open area at the entrance to Østerport railway station. All three gateways were demolished in 1857.

Embankments and bastions around the south side of the city survive although the south gate, Amagerport, was also removed in the 1850s.

Although the gateways do not survive there are prints and drawings of the gates and some very early photographs. The engravings show that the outer sides of the gates were ornate with pilasters, niches, pediments and carved stonework including coats of arms and dates.

The gateways were approached by timber bridges so, presumably they could be destroyed before an attack. The bridges were also set at an angle and there was a break on the approach on an intermediate island bastion so that attackers would not have a direct line of fire through the archway of the gates.


A drawing of Vesterport showing the outer and inward facing arches and the plan showing the tunnel through the embakment 

Each gate had a long internal barrel-vaulted tunnel through the earth embankment with an inner gateway facing the approach from the city. These inward facing archways were all much simpler in design.

All the gateways had guard houses both inside and on the outer side beyond the moat.


A view of Halm Torv, the Hay Market, from the south with Vesterport and the guard house. This was probably the busiest gate into and out of the city ... the road here was the route to Roskilde.


This view of Nørreport, the North gate, shows the sloping paths on either side of the gate that went up to the top of the embankment. Clearly, citizens used this to promenade and presumably to cut around the city quickly by avoiding the bustle and crowds of the city streets. Note also the form of the guard house. There was a reasonable amount of space between the embankment and the fronts of the nearest houses so that soldiers could be deployed rapidly to any part of the defences when there was an attack.

Old maps provide crucial evidence about the position of the gateways and for the form of less substantial structures such as the bridges and the guard houses. A series of surveys completed by Christian Gedde in the 1760s is particularly important for the map he produced is given the appearance of an aerial view. Below is a detail of his map showing the Amagerport or south gate.


On the east side of Torvegade, just inside the south embankment, is the Customs House built in 1724 on the city side of Amagerport.

Although the city gates were demolished more than 150 years ago, it is still possible to get a strong impression of how they worked and what they looked like from the two surviving gates at the Kastellet, the fortress that was constructed in the 1660s to defend both the north part of the city and the approach to the harbour.


The bridge from the city to Kastellet and the Zealand Gate


The Zealand or South gate from inside the Kastel. Note the guard house and the sloping path set at an angle to reach the top of the embankment,


The North or Norway Gate from the inner side. Again note the form of the two guard houses and there are pathways up to the top of the embankment on each side.


Leaving the Kastel by the Zealand or South Gate


The slightly later gate to the fortress of Kronborg at Helsingør gives a very good idea of just how grand and how imposing the gates of Copenhagen must have been in the 18th century.