Founded in the late thirteenth century, MALMÖ was once Denmark’s second most important city, after Copenhagen. The high density of herring in the sea off the Malmö coast – it was said that the fish could be scooped straight out with a trowel – brought ambitious German merchants flocking; their influence can be seen in the striking fourteenth-century St Petri kyrka in the city centre.
Today, with its attractive medieval centre, a myriad of cobbled and mainly pedestrianized streets, full of busy restaurants and bars, Malmö has plenty of style. Beyond its compact centre, it’s endowed with the stunning and dramatic skyscraper, the Turning Torso, a string of popular beaches and some interesting cultural diversions south of the centre around Möllevångstorget square.
Eric of Pomerania gave Malmö its most significant medieval boost, when, in the fifteenth century, he built the castle, endowed it with its own mint and gave Malmö its own flag – the gold-and-red griffin of his own family crest. It wasn’t until the Swedish king Karl X marched his armies across the frozen Öresund to within striking distance of Copenhagen in 1658 that the Danes were forced into handing back the counties of Skåne, Blekinge and Bohuslän to the Swedes. For Malmö, too far from its own (uninterested) capital, this meant a period of stagnation, cut off from nearby Copenhagen. Not until the full thrust of industrialization, triggered by the tobacco merchant Frans Suell’s enlargement of the harbour in 1775 (his jaunty bronze likeness, on Norra Vallgatan opposite the train station, overlooks his handiwork), did Malmö begin its dramatic commercial recovery. In 1840, boats began regular trips to Copenhagen, and Malmö’s great Kockums shipyard was opened; limestone quarrying, too, became big business here in the nineteenth century.
During the last few decades of the twentieth century, Malmö found itself facing commercial crisis after a series of economic miscalculations, which included investing heavily in the shipping industry as it went into decline in the 1970s. But recent years have witnessed a dramatic renaissance, reflected in the upbeat, thoroughly likeable atmosphere pervading the town today. Since the opening of the Öresund bridge linking the town to Copenhagen, the city’s fortunes have been further improved, with Danes discovering what this gateway to Sweden has to offer, as opposed to the one-way traffic of Swedes to Denmark in the past.