Nyhavn was constructed by King Christian V from 1670 to 1673, dug by Swedish war prisoners from the Dano-Swedish War 1658–1660. It is a gateway from the sea to the old inner city at Kongens Nytorv (King’s Square), where ships handled cargo and fishermens’ catch. It was notorious for beer, sailors, and prostitution. Danish author Hans Christian Andersen lived at Nyhavn for some 18 years.
The first bridge across Nyhavn opened on 6 February 1875. It was a temporary wooden footbridge. It was replaced by the current bridge in 1912.
As ocean-going ships grew larger, Nyhavn was taken over by internal Danish small vessel freight traffic. After World War II land transport took over this role and small vessel traffic disappeared from the Port of Copenhagen, leaving Nyhavn largely deserted of ships.
In the mid-1960s, the Nyhavn Society (Danish: Nyhavnsforeningen) was founded with the aim of revitalising the area. In 1977, Nyhavn was inaugurated as a veteran ship and museum harbour by Copenhagen’s Lord Mayor Egon Weidekamp. In 1980 Nyhavn quay was pedestrianised; it had been used as a parking area in the previous years which had coincided with a dwindling of harbour activities. Since then it has become a popular spot for tourists and locals alike, serving the function of a square according to architects Jan Gehl and Lars Gemzøe.
The northern side of Nyhavn (odd numbers) is lined by brightly coloured townhouses built with wood, bricks, and plaster. The oldest house, at No. 9, dates from 1681.
The southern side of Nyhavn (even numbers) has lavish mansions lining the canal, notably Charlottenborg Palace at the corner of Kongens Nytorv.
Nyhavn Veteran Ship and Museum Harbour, occupying the inner section of Nyhavn, between the Nyhavn Bridge and Kongens Nytorv, is lined with old ships. From the foundation of the heritage harbour in 1977, the south side of the canal has been reserved for museum ships owned by the Danish National Museum, which received a donation of carefully restored ships from A. P. Møller, while the northern side of the canal was put at the disposal of the Nyhavn Society and privately owned, still usable wooden ships. Harbor ships include:
Lightvessel XVII Gedser Rev – lightvessel built in Odense in 1895, in operation until 1972, then acquired by the National Museum and now serving as a museum ship.
Svalan af Nyhavn – galease built in Jungfrusund in 1924
Anna Møller – galease built in Randers in 1906
MA-RI – purpose-built smuggling ship built in 1920; boarded by custom authorities off Elsinore with smuggling goods aboard in 1923, then confiscated and sold on auction, then operated both as a fishing vessel and as a ferry between Poland and Bornholm, again as a smuggling vessel.
Mira – two-masted schooner built in Fåborg in 1898, considered one of the finest ships of the Danish small vessel traffic of the time. For many years it transported chalk from Stevns. The first ship on the north side of Nyhavn, coming from Kongens Nytorv.
The Boat Theatre – a lighter-type barge built in Copenhagen in 1898, since 1972 operated as a theatre boat.
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