Ribe’s Night Watchman - a free must-see attraction
The Night Watchman will take you on a free town walk through Ribe's historic streets.
He will both entertain and educate visitors to Ribe on his route through the old, winding streets, while he is singing to alert citizens about bedtime approaching. Along the way he will tell you tales about witches, floods and fires.
Night watchman tours in Ribe 2016
The tour starts from the town square (300 m from Danhostel Ribe).
This free sightseeing tour takes around 45 minutes. Just turn up, tickets are not required.
The history of the Night Watchman in Ribe
As early as the 14th century the night watchmen have made their nightly rounds in Ribe. The most important task for the watchmen was to make sure citizens could walk in the streets at night unharmed. Citizens were also able to sleep without worries, because they could be sure the watchmen would be warning them in case of fires or threatening floods.
It was a tiring job and at winter time a very cold job to walk around the streets in Ribe from sunset to sunrise. Around 1850 sentry boxes were built, where the four night watchmen could rest in between the rounds. However, they were taken down again, when one of the night watchmen fell asleep in a sentry box and didn’t manage to warn citizens in his district about a flood. At that occasion some cattle drowned at the meadow and the warehouse of a merchant called Kolvig was flooded. (Kolvig's Restaurant today)
To keep awake the night watchmen were obliged to sing a verse with certain intervals all through the night.
The night watchman’s song at 10 pm
Master, maid, and boy,
would you the hour know
It is the time that you
to rest should go
Trust in the Lord with
faith – and careful be
of fire and light, for ten o’clock has struck.
Ribe's night Watchman and Night Watchmen from other European cities in Ribe Old Town Hall
Before the first street lighting was introduced in Ribe in the 19th century, it could be difficult to find one’s way in the dark. Assailants could easily hide. Therefore the night watchmen had to make sure that the citizens were not assaulted when they moved around in the pitch-dark streets and alleys.
Although the job as Ribe's night watchman wasn’t particularly well paid, his work was highly valued and the punishment was severe, if anyone should assault a watchman. To defend themselves watchmen were armed with a mace, an awe-inspiring weapon with sharp iron spikes at the top.
Strolling around in the narrow winding streets and alleys of Ribe, it is easy to understand how fast a fire could spread. In the old days open fires were used and the half-timbered houses had thatched roofs as well. An important task for the watchmen was to prevent fires. In 1580 eleven streets and 213 farms and houses were destroyed by a fire in Ribe. After that it was decided to hang up fire ladders and fire-hooks. You can still see some in Kølholt Slippe.
From the beginning of the 19th century the watchmen had to light the 18 oil lamps in the town, except at full moon. In 1854 they had to look after 37 lamps.
The night watchmen also had to keep an eye on storm surges. In case of an impending flood, they should warn the citizens and shout from which direction the wind came.
The night watchman as a tourist attraction
The job of the night watchman was abolished in Ribe in 1902, but in 1935 the watchman round was reintroduced as one of Ribe’s tourist attractions. As in earlier times the Night Watchman carries a lantern in one hand and in the other a formidable spiked mace.