277km (172 miles) SW of Copenhagen; 77km (48 miles) S of Esbjerg; 85km (53 miles) SW of Kolding; 195km (121 miles) SW of Århus
Tønder, on the banks of the River Vidå, is called the capital of the marshland, the oldest town in Denmark holding official town rights, with a municipal charter granted in 1243. In medieval times, it was an important port and a place of disembarkation for horses and cattle. Its surrounding marshland, even Tønder itself, was often flooded by the North Sea. By the middle of the 15th century, townspeople started to erect dikes. But the end result was that Tønder lost its position as a port. The sea eventually receded, leaving Tønder landlocked.
In the 17th century, the townsfolk turned to lacemaking, and eventually 12,000 lacemakers were employed in and around the town. The many rich lace dealers built the beautiful patrician houses adorning the streets today.
From 1864, Tønder and the region of North Schleswig were part of Germany. But a plebiscite in 1920 led to the reunion of North Slesvig with Denmark. Even so, Tønder is still influenced by German traditions, as it is only 4km (2 1/2 miles) north of the German frontier. The town still has a German school, kindergarten, and library, and a German vicar is attached to Tønder Christ Church.