Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Roskilde - a Viking town

Roskilde
A thirty minute train trip from Copenhagen is the picturesque town of Roskilde, population approx. 49,000.  From the moment I arrived I loved its pretty, laid back ambience, even going so far as to declare that I thought I could live there   Charming and all as the town was we were here on a mission to visit the Viking Museum,   so after a quick stroll through the wide pedestrianised main street we made our way down a verdant tree lined country lane to the museum set on the edge of the fjord.

Roskilde Fjord
My small grandson had been reading about Vikings and imagining their lives and battles so was very excited but, in fact, we were all full of curious anticipation.  The Museum is in two halves, the Boat Yard, a living museum  where traditional crafts from the Viking era are practised, and the Viking Ship Hall, where recovered Viking ships are on display.


Boat building using Viking tools and methods
It was fascinating to watch the craftsmen and women at the  Boat Yard making ropes, basket weaving, textile making, working the black smith's forge and, of course, boat building, all using traditional methods and replica tools from the Viking era. I love crafts, especially traditional crafts, so was very happy whiling away quite some time there. The Boat Yard harbour is home to many replica Viking craft as well as small fishing craft from the Faroe Islands and my grandson was beside himself with delight when allowed to board a full sized replica Viking Ship tied up at the jetty.

My grandson beside the replica Viking ship



Inside the Viking Ship Hall
Near by, at the Viking Ship Hall,  five full sized Viking ships are on display.
Built in 1997 the building itself is listed as a fine example of late modernist architecture but, be warned, baby buggy access is exceedingly difficult and appears not to be encouraged. It was well worth the effort it took to get our buggy into the museum, however, as to actually see real Viking ships was a first for us and quite amazing.  The five ships are known as the Skuldelev ships and are stunningly displayed in an austere hall with large windows overlooking the fjord.  Late in the 11th century these ships were scuttled in the entrance to the fjord to form a barrier to protect Roskilde from attack by enemies.  They were raised from the sea in the 1960s and a long and arduous preservation and repair process was undertaken before they were put on display.  They  represent five different types of ships; an ocean going trader, a great longship, a coastal trader, a small longship and a fishing vessel.  There is much of interest in the shipping hall, apart from the ships.  There are displays of artifacts, information on the Vikings and a childrens' role playing area where my grandson got in the spirit of things dressing like a Viking and happily waving a toy sword around.


Roskilde Cathedral or Domkirke
Eventually we retraced our steps back to the township stopping in at the Roskilde Cathedral, or Domkirke, almost as an afterthought and we were so pleased we did.  The Cathedral, built in the 12th to 13th centuries in red brick gothic style is a UNESCO world heritage site and the burial place of Denmark's monarchs and bishops.  The interior is light and starkly white since the original brightly coloured frescoes were painted over at the time of the reformation, although there are a couple of very small areas which have been uncovered to show how colourful it must once have been.


Tomb of Frederik 5, died 1766
 Sadly the original stained glass windows were lost in a major fire in 1443 and were replaced with clear glass.  The tombs of the Kings and Queens of Denmark are worth seeing as they reflect the different styles and attitudes of their eras.  We were all rather taken aback to see the tomb being prepared for the current Queen, Margrethe 2.  Apparently it will take a couple of years to prepare and they want to be ready! Her tomb will be stunning and very modern.

Ornate tomb, Roskilde Cathedral
And so to the  heart of  town again for tea and cakes at a delightfully pretty little café and gift shop and then, too soon, we were reluctantly leaving Roskilde,  happy, nevertheless to be returning to Copenhagen.

I highly recommend a visit to Roskilde.  Not only is it a lovely town but I consider both the Viking Museum and the Domkirke amongst Denmark's "must sees". It is also a very easy trip by train from Copenhagen.