Physical Features of Denmark
"Flat as a pancake" is a description Danes commonly use about their country. It is only a partial truth. Although the highest point in the country reaches no loftier elevation than 568 feet (173 meters), Denmark is a land of scenic variety and beauty. Its landscape shifts from open farmland to beech forest, from lakes to islands, from rolling hills to level plains, from drifting sand dunes to steep limestone cliffs. Nowhere is the nearest coast more than 32 miles (52 km) away.
Denmark presents a classic glacial landscape. While neighboring Norway and Sweden were formed largely by glacial erosion, Denmark was constructed from glacial deposits transported there by moving glaciers and left behind when they retreated northward again. Only the Baltic island of Bornholm was formed by solid granite. Western Jutland was created by meltwater deposits that surrounded and linked old moraine islands; northern Jutland by a combination of raised seafloor, marine foreland, and sand dunes; and the rest of Jutland as well as the islands to the east of it by young moraines, interspaced by subglacial valleys.
The peninsula of Jutland (Jylland), approximately 200 miles (320 km) long and 100 miles (160 km) wide at its broadest point, constitutes two thirds (11,493 square miles, or 29,767 sq km) of Denmark's territory. Its northern tip is almost severed from the rest of the peninsula by the Limfjord, the deepest of the Danish inlets. Lesser inlets dot the eastern coast, providing natural harbors and town sites. Jutland's western coast—storm lashed, inhospitable, and sparsely populated—is formed by an almost unbroken belt of sand dunes stretching all the way from Skagen in the far north to Esbjerg in the south. From there to the German border, salt-marsh plains shape the coastline. Here and there, the winds move sand dunes 6 to 10 yards (5 to 9 meters) eastward each year, but the disastrous sandstorms of former years have been halted by modern control measures. Not only has the loss of land been stopped, but land has been reclaimed from the sea by dike construction and drainage. In western Jutland as well as along the coasts of some of the major islands, more than 2 million acres (810,000 hectares) have been reclaimed and cultivated in the 20th century.
The only part of Denmark left uncovered by ice during the last Ice Age was a portion of Jutland to the west of a line running north for 100 miles (160 km) from the German border on the Baltic coast. This is a region of outwash plains that was covered by heather moor until a century ago. Colonized and cultivated since then, it is now an area of well-tilled farms and conifer plantations. Its poor podzol soil is best suited for growing grass, green fodder, kohlrabi, and beets, and it is a good area for raising cattle and pigs. Its only major city is Esbjerg, a leading fishing port.
East of the glacial terminal line, Jutland offers a scenic picture of hills and lakes, rich farms and picturesque villages, beech, oak, and spruce forests, and bustling coastal cities. Its heavily fertilized brown forest soil sustains cereal and root farming, and the chief crops are barley, wheat, kohlrabi, potatoes, and fodder beets. Many inlets break the coastline from Århus (Aarhus) Bay to the German border, each with a town at its head.
Århus is Denmark's second-largest city and eastern Jutland's leading commercial, shipping, and industrial center. Randers, situated at the mouth of Denmark's longest river, the 98-mile (158-km)-long Guden, is 25 miles (40 km) to the north. To the south lie Horsens, Vejle, Fredericia, Kolding, Haderslev, and Åbenrå, all manufacturing towns, seaports, and commercial centers for their agricultural hinterlands. A short distance west of Århus is the beautiful lake and hill country where Yding Skovhøj, the highest point in Denmark, is located.
Northern Jutland is a region of flat coastal plains, bordered on the west by sand dunes. It emerged from the sea after the last Ice Age and today is mainly farmland. Its chief city, and Denmark's fourth-largest, is Ålborg, a leading industrial center and port on the Limfjord.
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The Danish islands between Jutland and Sweden are in terms of geology and vegetation an extension of eastern Jutland. Crops and animal husbandry are practically identical, with only minor local variations.
The largest and westernmost of these islands is Sjælland (Zealand), with an area of 2,713 square miles (7,026 sq km). It is separated from Sweden by the Øresund, a narrow strait that at one point is only 2.5 miles (4 km) wide. Sjælland and its 23 satellite islands form the most densely inhabited part of Denmark, with over two fifths of the country's population on only one sixth of its territory. A majority of them live in metropolitan Copenhagen. Other important cities on Sjælland are Roskilde, Helsingør, Næstved, and Slagelse. Roskilde, today an important industrial center with distilleries, machine shops, and food-processing plants, was Denmark's capital until 1443 and its ecclesiastical center until 1536. It lies at the head of the Roskildefjord, an arm of the Isefjord, which penetrates from the Kattegat coast almost to the heart of the island.
Fyn (Funen), with an area of 1,152 square miles (2,984 sq km), which is located between Sjælland and Jutland, is the second largest of the Danish islands. It is separated from Sjælland by the Store Baelt and from Jutland by the Lille Baelt. Its main cities are Odense, Denmark's third largest, and Svendborg. Odense has large shipyards, ironworks, distilleries, food-processing plants, and automobile factories. Lesser islands in this group, located to the south of Sjælland and Fyn, include Lolland, Falster, Langeland, Møn, and Ærø. The spectacular white chalk cliffs on the coasts of Møn rise above 400 feet (122 meters).
The island of Bornholm (227 square miles, or 588 sq km) off the southern coast of Sweden has nothing geologically in common with the rest of Denmark. Rocky and semibarren, it supports subsistence agriculture and exports granite and kaolin. Fishing is a major occupation.