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The Vikings head
the vikings sail

The Vikings were seafaring north Germanic people who raided, traded, explored, and settled in wide areas of Europe, Asia, and the North Atlantic islands from the late 8th to the mid-11th centuries. The Vikings employed wooden longships with wide, shallow-draft hulls, allowing navigation in rough seas or in shallow river waters. The ships could be landed on beaches, and their light weight enabled them to be hauled over portages. This period of Viking expansion, known as the Viking Age, constitutes an important element of the medieval history of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Great Britain, Ireland, Russia, and the rest of Europe. Norse mythology consists of tales of various deities, beings, and heroes derived from numerous sources ans numerous gods are mentioned in the source.

The Vikings explored the northern islands and coasts of the North Atlantic, ventured south to North Africa and east to Russia, Constantinople, and the Middle East. They raided and pillaged, but also engaged in trade, settled wide-ranging colonies, and acted as mercenaries. Vikings under Leif Ericson, heir to Erik the Red, reached North America and set up short-lived settlements in present-day L´Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, and Labrador, Canada.

THE VIKING SHIP

The Viking Ship, one of the world´s most spectacular sports halls, has become an internationally famous landmark. The Viking Ship is the building most people associate with the 94 Olympics. With its radical support construction and daring design inspired by the graceful Viking ships of old, it has become a "sports cathedral without equal". The Viking Ship is a multipurpose hall with a surprising range of activities - summer sports. exhibitions, concerts, dances, giant parties and so on. With a capacity of up to 10,000 guests there are few, if any, localities in the country that can compete with the Viking Ship when it comes to organising and hosting major events.

THE KINGDOM OF THE VIKINGS

1000 years ago Vestfold was the starting point for the Vikings roaming the world. The districts around the Oslofjord were an important home base of the Viking society. Other Viking sites in Vestfold are near by, such as Norway´s first market place at Kaupang near Tjodalyng. The Gokstad ship is a Viking ship found in a burial mound at Gokstad farm in Sandar. The Oseberg Ship was found at the Oseberg farm in Slagen, and the orway´s first market place at Kaupang near Tjodalyng. The Borrehaugene are burial mounds of local chieftains near Borre Church with the Midtgard building.

TØNSBERG

The Oseberg ship is a well-preserved Viking ship discovered in a large burial mound at the Oseberg farm near Tønsberg. The Oseberg burial mound contained numerous grave goods and two female human skeletons. The ship´s interment into its burial mound dates from 834 AD, but parts of the ship date from around 800, and the ship itself is thought to be older. It was excavated by Norwegian archaeologist Haakon Shetelig and Swedish archaeologist Gabriel Gustafson in 1904-1905.

After the excavation in 1904, the Oseberg ship and the other artefacts were brought to Oslo for conservation and restoration. They are on show at the Viking Ship Museum at Bygdøy, along with the ships from Gokstad and Tune. A fourth Viking ship, the Klåstad ship, can be viewed at the Slottsfjell museum in Tønsberg.

BURIED TREASURE

oseberg ship

For a number of years, farmer Oskar Rom at the Oseberg farm had wondered at the huge mound in one of his fields. People used to say it was haunted, while some believed victims of the Black Plague were buried there. Yet others whispered of hidden treasure. In the summer of 1903, Oskar Rom decided to investigate matters. He had only been digging a short time when he discovered a piece of beautifully carved wood. He realized that this was a most unusual find and decided to pay professor of archaeology Gabriel Gustafson at the University of Oslo’s Department of Antiquities a visit. The excavations began on June 13 in 1904 and were soon to show sensational results. In the course of just three months professor Gustafson and his team uncovered the ship, the grave goods and the other contents of the mound.

The ship was placed in a ditch and strange things were happening in the months that followed. At some point two dead women were carried carefully on board the ship and placed in made-up beds in a newly built burial chamber mid ships. To accompany them in the grave were various household goods and other daily necessities as well as sleds, beautifully woven tapestries and even a richly decorated wagon.

Some time during that summer the rear half of the ship was covered by a hemispherical grave mound. The front of the ship remained uncovered. We can only wonder at the ceremonies taking place around the ship and the women. Animals were sacrificed and both horses and dogs were placed in the grave with the women, before also the fore ship was covered by the mound in the course of the autumn. Who were the two women who were given such a magnificent funeral? We don’t know this. However, new examinations of their remains have revealed that one woman was around 50 when she died, the other about 80. The older woman has been very short and severely arthritic and probably very hunchbacked. A hormonal imbalance may also have given her a lot of facial hair (beard).

Thanks to the outstanding conditions much of the grave’s contents were very well preserved. The carvings on the ship and the many artefacts were just as fresh as when the mound was built over them; even though the ship and its fittings had been pressed together and contorted from being weighed down under tonnes of earth, rocks, clay and turf. The Oseberg find is one of the most significant archaeological finds of all time. When it comes to understanding Scandinavian Viking times the find may well be compared to the significance the Tut-Ankh-Amon’s untouched grave had for Egyptologists a few decades later.

THE NEW OSEBERG SHIP

replica Oseberg ship

Foto: Jørgen Kirsebom

After having been absent for more than 100 years, the Oseberg ship is about to return to Tønsberg – and in better shape than she has been for the last 1200 years!

MØLEN

A few minute´s drive south of Larvik lies the the happy little summer town of Stavern, a pearl full of life and laughter the whole season. Further west lies Mølen where the Vestfold Ra, the gigantic moraine from the ice age, meets the sea. Great stone mounds from the iron age have made Mølen famous. In addition the area has its" own unique nature, geology and botany. Mølen is Norway´s largest beach of rolling stones, and is a part of Vestfoldraet: the terrain left behind after the end of the most recent Ice age around 10,000 years ago. The cultural landscape of Mølen, with its total of 230 cairns, is one of the most majestic in Norway. The area has 16 large cairns, many up to 35 meters in diameter, with almost 200 small cairns in rows parallel to the shoreline. In one of the cairns, burnt stones were found; this could be the result of a cremation dating back to the 5th century A.D. The small cairns may symbolise warriors who fell in battle or were shipwrecked together with their captain.

The cairns furthest down towards the sea are from the Late Iron Age and Viking times, while those on higher ground are probably older; theoretically, they could be from the Late Bronze Age, as was previously assumed. However, recent research shows that all the cairns of Mølen are probably from the Iron Age. Almost all the cairns have one or more depressions from plundering or so-called "haugbrot". "Haugbrot" refers to ritual removal of the dead; the reason why this was done is not clear. The low boat-shaped stone setting was excavated in the 1970s. It is a grave where a ship had probably been burnt. Iron nails and carbon were found, and these have been dated to approximately 30/250 A.D.

The cairns, which were clearly visible to shipping, not only signalled prosperity but probably also served as "sea markers" along the shipping lanes between different trading centres. The question is whether Mølen and its bay could have been one of several transit sites in Eastern Norway, with goods from here being exchanged and conveyed to the surrounding settlements. A nice way of approaching Mølen is to walk along the North Sea Trail from Nevlunghavn or Helgeroa.

Viking Route in Vestfold

Vestfold is the county in Norway boasting the most traces of our proud Viking heritage. The region between Mølen in the south and Borre in the north has many places worth visiting.
  Borrehaugene

BORRE

Borre National Park is situated between Horten and Åsgårdstrand. Borrehaugene is Norway´s first National Park and has the largest Viking graveyard of Scandinavia with significant discoveries from ancient times. The Midgard Center has all available information on the seven big barrows as well as 30 smaller barrows and graves. Legend tells that in the early mornings, while morning dew still rests over the meadow, you can hear the elves play on "The fiddler´s mound" (Spelemannshaugen) on the vicarage field.

The site provides important historical knowledge and can be seen as evidence that there was a center of power here in the Viking Age. The excavations also uncovered an unusually good selection of craft work, much of which is on display at the Viking Ship Museum at Bygdøy. This style has become known as "Borre style" and is, today, known for its beautiful animal and knot ornaments, which were often used for decorating harnesses. The finds also confirm that there was a Viking ship buried at Borrehaugene.

The Borre mound cemetery at Borre National Park contains graves of kings dating back to the Migration Period. The park covers 180,000 m2 and has the largest collection of kings" graves in Scandinavia. These burial mounds may represent North Europe´s most extensive collection of graves of the old Scandinavian Yngling dynasty.

Midgard Historisk Senter

Midgard Historical Centre in Borre lies next to Northern Europe’s largest assembly of monumental grave mounds from the Iron Age and Viking Age. The Centre opened in 2000 with the primary task of creating and spreading knowledge about Viking Age in the Vestfold County.

HAUGESUND

The town is situated on a strategically important sound through which ships could pass without traversing heavy seas. In the early years the coastal waters off Haugesund were a huge source of herring, and the town grew accordingly. Despite being barely a village back then, King Harald Fairhair lived at Avaldsnes, very close to the modern town of Haugesund. In the last decades, the town, like its neighbours, has been turning towards the petroleum industry, the herring being long gone.

In the early years, the coastal waters of Haugesund were a huge source of herring, and the town grew accordingly. Despite being a fairly young town, the areas around Haugesund were lands of power during the Viking Age. Harald Fairhair, the first king of Norway, had his home at Avaldsnes, very close to the city. Fairhair was buried at Haraldshaugen, a burial mound adjacent to Karmsund. This site is the namesake of the town and municipality of Haugesund. The national monument at Haraldshaugen was raised in 1872, to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the Battle of Hafrsfjord in 872. The Battle of Hafrsfjord has traditionally been regarded as when western Norway was unified under a single monarch for the first time.

The protective sounds of Smedasund and Karmsund gave the town potential to grow in both fishing and shipping. Even to this day, Karmsund is one of Norway´s busiest waterways. The town is still growing geographically even though the population has increased only moderately the last decade. Today the herring is long gone, and the town is turning more and more towards the petroleum industry, like its neighbour Stavanger.

AVALDSNES

Avaldsnes bas been called Norway´s oldest capital as this was the seat of King Harald Fairhair after his conquest at tbe battle of Hafrsfjord. Today, Olav´s Church whose construction commenced in 1250, is the main monument relating to this great period of Norway"s history. The church is also a symbol of the unification of Norway completed during the reign of King Håkon Håkonsson.

But the history of Avaldsnes dates back thousands of years before the unification. Many stones and sagas are related to the bronze-age barrows and the stone monuments of the iron-age. Future plans for Avaldsnes are that as many as possible shall become acquainted with our history. On Bukkøy near Avaldsnes a Viking Long-house bas been reconstructed and which is used as a camp for school children. You may visit it during the summer. The Viking Festival is an annual gala commencing the first complete week in June.

Avaldsnes

OLAV´S CHURCH

According to legend, Olav Trygvason had a church built at Avaldsnes, apparently as a manor chapel for the king’s residence. This would probably have been a quite small stave church. Construction of the present day church, St. Olav´s Church of Avaldsnes was started approximately 1250 AD, on the order of King Håkon Håkonsson. It was not completed until nearly 1320. Dedicated to St. Olav, it was one of the greatest Norwegian stone churches from the Middle Ages and it was one of only four the royal collegiate churches in Norway. The church was an important station of the Pilgrim´s Route to Nidaros which ran along the coast. Today it is the only one remaining.

A reconstructed Viking Age farm with several buildings located by Avaldsnes. You will find it on a small, forested island, just inside the rocks where king Olav Tryggvason drowned a group of wizards one thousand years ago.

STIKLESTAD

Stiklestad is the battlefield where King Olav Haraldsson fell on July 1030, and he became known as St. Olav. The battle of Stiklestad represents the introduction of Christianity in Norway. The battle and the saint king made it possible for Stiklestad to act as a symbol of both Christianity and the kingdom. "Olav den Hellige" met the Trønder army at Stiklestad in the year 1030 when trying to christen the people of Norway. The Trønder army proved too strong. He failed and was killed in the battle. However, his death became a strong symbol to the people, and contributed to the christening and consolidation of Norway into one kingdom.

Stiklestad Nasjonale Kultursenter

Stiklestad is a great place to see and experience history. Most famous is the largest and the oldest outdoor theater "Spelet om Heilage Olav/The play about St Olav,". During the summer there are daily adventures for young and old. In medieval farm Stiklastadir you can step back 1,000 years in time.

BORG

The sensational excavations of Lofotr, the Viking Museum at Borg, reveals that this part of Norway was a centre of power in the viking period. Close to E 10 situated in and around the largest viking building ever found. 83 metres long and completely restored, you´ll find reconstructions of viking ship, samples of viking crafs, household articles and jewellery. So if you´ve ever experienced a more realistic exhibition of viking life, you´re probably very, very old.

Lofotr Viking Museum

The site of the largest Viking building ever found in Europe. A full scale reconstruction has been built here.

NESS

Visit the second strongest maelstrom in the world, Nesstraumen. If you want to try your luck fishing you can fish from the shore or you can fish from a boat. The archaeological show that there have been big activity at Ness for 1500 years. At Ness they have found 29 Viking graves. The grave mounds in Nesseberget soutwest of the quay, they have located 12 graves. The area is protected because of the large number of nesting birds.

SNARTEMO SWORD

Viking sword is part of Snartemo findings from the farm Snartemo. The famous Snartemo sword from around 500 B.C. was found when land was being newly cultivated in 1933. The site of the find is marked by a stone monument, close to Snartemo Station. Hægebostad also boasts a rich heritage with cultural relics such as the Snartemo sword, the ancient monument museum Tingvatn Fornminnepark and the stone crosses in Eiken cemetary.

KAUPANGER

Kaupanger is a village situated along the Sognefjord and originated as a settlement during the Viking age. Earlier Kaupanger was known as Tingstad. Kaupang was an Old Norse term for a trading or market place. The Kaupanger stave church is believed to have been built in the 12th century and is still located here. The village is located about 10 kilometres southeast of the municipal center of Sogndalsfjøra and about 8 kilometres northeast of the Sogndal Airport, Haukåsen. Kaupanger IL is a sports club located in Kaupanger.

HAMAR

The modern town is the regional centre of trade and commerce, administration and service facilities, but it builds its traditions on the Viking Age settle ments at Aker, the ancient episcopal see, and the flourishing mediaeval marketplace. Two thousand years of settlement and two thousand years of culture have left their mark. At Aker (just outside the present town centre) archaeologists have unearthed Norway´s richest hoard of ornaments.