The rains tumble down as a magic carpet whisks me away on a whirlwind journey from Copenhagen and drops me in a labyrinth of little cobble stone streets lined with half – timbered yellow houses with thatched red tiled roofs. The sun slowly streams in and the breeze waltzes in bringing in the flavours of the ocean from the harbour. But it is the sea of yellow that blinds me. For a moment, it looks straight out of Treasure Island and I wonder if I can be marooned here forever. But Dragor Havn or just simply Dragor is neither an island nor do I find pirates here. Located in the Greater Copenhagen Area, it is a charming fishing hamlet with quaint mariners who narrate quirky legends and stories of hidden treasures buried in the backyard of their homes. I am however not interested in the harbour and the marina, but in the Old Town dazzling with bright yellow houses that give sunflower fields a complex.
Located on the coast of the island Amager and a part of the Greater Copenhagen area, it is barely 12 kms from Copenhagen city. Dragor’s origins began as a fishing village in the medieval era when it was known for its rich herring catches in the Oresund. But it slowly became a Dutch settlement along with the neighbouring village of Store Mageley. The Danish king Christian 11 invited Dutch farmers to grow vegetables for the royal court and even today some of these old farms can be seen in the village close by. As waves of people arrived on these shores, some of them became mariners and settled here. Dragor Havn slowly emerged as the second largest port in Denmark after Copenhagen and a maritime town was born, which is now part of the Greater Copenhagen Area
There are about 350 homes in this historic Old Town, painted in shades of yellow and red and I am invited to one of them for tea – a “Skipper House”. My host Axel Bendtsen , an architect tells me that the 17th century house belonged to a Dutch captain who was related to his wife. The house is a treasure trove of collectibles amassed from old ships ranging from large wooden chests to little trinkets and memorabilia.
Axel is joined by his friend and architect, Jan Engell who take me on an architectural tour of the Old Town. There is a sense of intimacy in this dense cluster of homes, as they lie huddled together, facing each other. The lanes, referred to as straeder run north to south while those called gader are east to west and they form a particular grid.
I am overwhelmed by the passion of these charming old men who along with the community are working on preserving and conserving the entire settlement as a “site of national historic interest. “ “ It has to be a culturally living heritage site. We don’t want it to become another Tivoli,” says Axel who is the Chairman of the Resident Association of the Old Town.
Jen who has lived here for over 30 years explains that a Skipper’s House is slightly larger than the other houses but all of them are painted in shades of yellow and washed with lime. I am fascinated by the woodwork, especially the well panelled doors. The gardens add to the charm and have unearthed quite a few shells and souvenirs brought in by the sea.
Every little street corner tells a story. There is the 300 year old Old Baker’s House or the Bagergarden which is now a private property. The town’s largest square filled with lime trees is named after an erstwhile pond and is called the Badstuevaelen. The Kikkenborg or wooden towers built atop the roofs of the houses serve as a watch towers to see the sailing ships. . I squeeze through the narrowest lane , measuring two metres wide, called the Bjergerlav which refers to a community who look out for ships that have run aground. There are narrower alleys called Fisherman’s Alley or Fiskergangen that lead to the harbour in Dragor Havn. The entire landscape is reminiscent of the milieu of the sea farers as they would have lived here in the 18th century.
I hear a lot of legends and one of them is an old naughty lore about a pair of porcelain dogs. In the days of yore, the lady of the house would place the dogs on her window. If the dogs looked out and faced the road, it was an invitation for the lover to visit her indicating that her husband was out at sea. The rest of the time, they would face the house, serving as a warning to the lover that the husband was at home.
We are still laughing aloud as we head towards the harbour. Walking around the pretty marina, I can see an open air museum of boats scattered away. Axel takes me to a point where the settlers first landed in Dragor Havn. “Dragor probably referred to pull something, maybe a boat. Perhaps it meant to pull your boat on land, from a point from the coast, “ he adds. The harbour is the centre of the town and I hear stories of how Jews were shipped from here secretly to Sweden during the World War 11 and were protected by some of the locals.
Walking around, I can see the old town hall, a half – timbered warehouse which is now a museum. Another small little building is the old pilot station, with its tall wooden tower that is now a symbolic landmark for Dragor. The marina is bustling with activity as we walk to the dock. Old warehouses are strewn around. One of them is the “pitch house.”
We stop at a café to soak in the old world charm of the harbour and town. The breeze comes floating in, carrying more tales from the sea. There is an irresistible pull as Dragor Havn tugs at my heart. As I head back to Copenhagen, I realize that I have left a part of me in this fairy tale land.
A photo series of some more of the yellow houses and lanes of Dragor for you. Which one resonates with you ? There are many places in Greater Copenhagen area and some destinations that can be day trips from Copenhagen, but Dragon Havn will always be one of my favourites.