Ribe flourished as a centre for trade until the 16th century, where the Reformation, the sanding up of the river, the plague, fires, flooding and war, irreversibly changed its circumstances. Today's Ribe is characterized by a large number of 16th century houses, many of which had to be rebuilt after the fire that in 1580 swept through the centre of town and burned down 213 houses.
That these houses still stand is due solely to two facts: no large outbreaks of fire have occurred in Ribe sind 1580, and the town lost its economic importance from the middle of the 17th century. There were no finances available nor need for building new houses on a grand scale.
Ribe oplevede sin storhedstid som handelscentrum indtil 1500-tallet, hvor Reformationen, tilsanding af åen, pest, bybrand, stormflod og krig uundgåeligt ændrede billedet.