From time immemorial, people have chosen to settle at the point where the Strait is at its narrowest – in Helsingborg. But there is one particular day which is usually noted as being the city’s birthday. On 21 May 1085, King Canute the Holy donated ground to the Saint Laurentius Church in Lund, and Helsingborg was mentioned in the deeds.
The city’s strategic position has been historically significant. Landborgen – the ridge above the city – was ideal for controlling the Strait of Öresund, and a simple fortress was built here. In the 12th century, this was replaced by a mighty castle and, in the 1300s, a tower (now known as Kärnan) was added. About a century later, people started settling along the coastline below the ridge, attracted by the abundance of herring.
Helsingborg became an important Danish town, not only a military one but also an administrative centre for the region, and its development continued for about two centuries. In the 1500s, however, along with the Reformation, setbacks started. Churches and the monastery were pulled down and the dilapidated castle was no longer any guarantee for the town’s defence. Instead, Helsingör (Elsinore) grew in importance, with Kronborg as its fortress.
Helsingborg’s strategic location has been a reason for development and prosperity, but also for misfortune. In the mid-1500s, a long period of war started between the neighbouring countries of Denmark and Sweden.
With the Treaty of Roskilde in 1658, Skåne finally became Swedish. But in the Scanian war of 1675–79, the Danes attempted to regain lost lands. Central parts of Helsingborg were destroyed. Kärnan and St Mary’s Church, two of the town’s oldest buildings, both escaped destruction, as did Jacob Hansen’s house, on Norra Storgatan street. At the beginning of the 1700s, the Danes had another try. In 1710, a Danish invasion army of 14,000 men fought against an equally large Swedish army, led by Magnus Stenbock (statue in the Stortorget square) at the Battle of Helsingborg. Sweden won, but the losses were enormous. The town’s buildings were destroyed further, with the castle that had stood on the ridge being ruined; only the Kärnan tower remained. The wars against Denmark, as well as Swedish military losses in Europe, were followed by widespread poverty. The year after the Battle of Helsingborg, the town was hit by the plague, which severely reduced the population. Helsingborg was transformed into an insignificant little town of just a few hundred citizens.
It was to take until the mid-1800s for Helsingborg to recover. But then developments proceeded in a way unparalleled in Sweden. The handcrafts that were predominant were overshadowed by the incredibly rapid industrial development. Factories shot up, the railway and harbour were extended, and there was plenty of manpower available.
This period was often called the Consuls’ era, since the city’s most important industrialists were consuls and politicians.
In the south of the town Helsingborgs Gummifabrik was founded, the rubber company that under the leadership of Henry Dunker was to expand into an empire and make Henry Dunker one of Sweden’s wealthiest men. Helsingborg still benefits from this today, thanks to generous donations to the city.
At the end of the century, a new town hall was built as a manifestation of the successful era. The grand, neo-Gothic building is elaborate with its towers and richly decorated façade. Its beautiful stained glass windows depicting Helsingborg’s history can be admired from the main street, Drottninggatan.
Harbours, factories – and culture
During the 20th century, Helsingborg consolidated and developed its position as a significant shipping centre, with one of the country’s biggest ports. The first steam ferry connection between Helsingborg and Helsingör had opened in 1892 and the ferry traffic increased, particularly after World War II. More factories were also built. Trade and the transport industry flourished and the city grew.
But everything was not about industry and transport. Cultural life grew parallel to this. In 1912, the Northwest Scanian Orchestral Society was founded and, two decades later, Helsingborg’s Concert Hall was inaugurated, one of Sweden’s most celebrated functionalist buildings. Henry Dunker was the main figure behind this project, having contributed a considerable sum of money in order to give the orchestra a roof over its head. The country’s first city theatre had been rolling out the red carpet in Helsingborg since 1921.
Modern town in focus
In 1955 the public eye, both in and outside Sweden, was directed at Helsingborg. On an 800 metre long, 30 metre wide breakwater from 1892, exhibition pavilions and a restaurant were built. This was where King Gustav VI Adolf opened the international homes and art exhibition H55, which during the course of a few warm, sunny summer weeks attracted more than a million visitors and press from all over the world.
The Helsingborg we know today came into existence at the turn of 1970–71 when the city was amalgamated with the municipalities of Kattarp, Mörarp, Vallåkra and Ödåkra. Twenty years later, the primitive shunting of train sets through the city ended with the advent of the Knutpunkten terminal, where ferry, train and bus traffic meets.
Collaboration with Lund University resulted in the establishment of Campus Helsingborg in 2000.
In the spring of 2002, Dunkers Culture Centre was inaugurated, and the region acquired a new, significant cultural arena. Music, art, film and theatre all exist side by side under the same roof with exhibitions on the history of Helsingborg. The Centre is also financed with donations by Henry Dunker to the city. The past is thus linked with the present and industrial production with dynamic culture. And the development continues.