Capital of Ribe county, on the west coast of Denmark; population (2001 est) 8,000. The River Ribe flows through the town, and dykes have been built to protect the town from flooding. The oldest city in Denmark, Ribe was an important port during the Middle Ages, and part of the medieval town still surrounds the cathedral.
A market place was founded beside the river in 700. It became an international meeting place for trade between the Viking north and Western Europe. In the mid-9th century a ditch was dug to mark the boundaries of the new settlement, and this was extended in the 10th century with fortifications built around a larger area. Excavations of this area showed that the settlement was home to many artisans and craftspeople who worked with leather, glass, and amber. Ribe became one of the most important medieval North Sea ports of the Viking era, and Denmark's gateway to Western Europe. The principal trade was the export of agricultural produce to Flanders and the import of clothing and luxury goods. By the mid-17th century trade had found other routes and the river silted up. The fortunes of the town were lessened, and it never regained its initial prosperity or centrality.
Ribe Cathedral (1150), St Catherine's Church (1230), and a number of stone and half-timbered houses are the only buildings that remain from the Middle Ages. There are also a large number of 17th-century houses. The town has a Town Museum, an Art Museum, and a Toy Museum, as well as the Museum of the Viking Period and Middle Ages.