Rowing a Viking Boat at this Unique Museum
By Jon Brandt
Photos by Paul Shoul
Once you’ve been to the bigger and better-known museums of Europe, you start to notice some trends. Long lines, expensive entrance fees, and art that seems all too similar to the last museum.
Places like the Louvre and the Van Gogh Museum are great, but if you want to get out and see something different, a museum that you can learn a lot in as well as actively participate in, you should head to The Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark. You can even row a replica Viking ship!
Roskilde, the big city on the Danish island Zealand, is a major stop between Copenhagen and the western part of Denmark, and this ancient city has been important since the Viking Age.
Today, though it’s known for the annual Roskilde Festival, it’s also a big stop for those interested in learning about Viking ships.
Test Your Rowing Skills
Not only will a patron get to learn about the creation of the ships, but they can then test out their own rowing skills in a modern-day Viking ship. There are also nine Viking ships on display that were found at Skuldelev in Roskilde Fjord and Museum Island. Museum-goers can take a look at all of the ships which have been dredged from the fjord.
The museum focuses on the ships, seafaring and boatbuilding culture in ancient and medieval times. The oldest part of the museum, the Viking Ship Hall, was opened in 1969. Today, in addition to the five ships, guests can also view temporary exhibitions and a film about the excavation of the ships.
This is a great day trip for people visiting Denmark, not only for young travelers but for families as well. Guests are able to learn about the history of the Vikings, their conquests and expansion, as well as their society and lifestyle. You can put on authentic Viking gear like headdresses, robes and weapons and look funny in front of the camera.
“Japanese Inspired Brutalism”
A lot of thought went into the museum, too. The architectural style has been described as “Japanese-inspired brutalism,” which gives a specific attitude to the historical perspective for the guests.
Another nice thing about this museum is the staff does not wear any Viking Age clothes or try to act gimmicky.
This is a straightforward presentation, and the staff feels that it’s truly important that the guests learn about the history of the Vikings through the actual content of the museum, and not just through the acting of the staff.
In 1997, an extension was made to the museum, called Museum Island. This part of the facility allows patrons to watch shipwrights at work from the island. On the island, you can also find the Activity Centre and Archaeological Workshop.
At the Workshop, ships that are found throughout Denmark are measured and recorded. While Museum Island was being built, nine vessels from the Viking Age and Middle Ages were found. The ships that were found there, as well as the ones found in Skuldelev, are some of the most important ship finds made in Denmark.
One nice thing about this museum is that you truly get an appreciation for the Viking Age and what life was like back then. Though most people learn about it in school, they don’t get a full understanding unless they learn about it on their own.
A Journey on the Open Sea
At The Viking Ship Museum, you find out things like how the Vikings expanded out to England, Ireland, and even Greenland. While there, you learn about how hard the journey on the open seas could be. A typical journey could take anywhere from two weeks to the entire summer.
The five ships you can see on display are named Skuldelev 1, the ocean-going trader; Skuldelev 2, the great longship; Skuldelev 3, the coastal trader; Skuldelev 5, the small longship; and Skuldelev 6, the fishing vessel. All are different in size and usage, but they are all greatly informative about the various ships used by the Vikings.
These ships even have traces of arrows and other damages from battle. Visitors can get up close and see just how big these ships were, and though they are not fully restored, you can get a good idea of what they were like. Drawings also accompany the ships to help your imagination.
The neat thing to do is imagine just how difficult it would have been to go sailing in these boats.
The sails were typically huge squares, which didn’t necessarily help the sailors all that much when compared to techniques that were later developed. As time went on, the shipwrights found better ways to make the ships, but these vessels are especially important in history for their significance.
They allowed the Vikings to expand outward and increase the connection between different cultures.
From the late 8th Century onwards, Europe experienced a wave of Viking excursions. They started out as sporadic and poorly planned, but they soon developed into more organized attacks, which allowed them to take over larger territories, such as areas of the British Isles. Because of these conquests, you can see traces of the Viking influence in places like Dublin and the coast of England.
Recreating the Original
For the shipwrights who work to recreate the vessels, it’s no small feat to put together ancient ships. After finding the wrecks, workers must figure out what type of material is needed and how to correct them.
Shipwrights must often go back to the original ship and study the details in order to get the recreation perfect. There are many subtle differences between certain ships, and though to an untrained eye they might seem minimal, to the expert shipwrights, every detail is important.
In the museum, photography is permitted, granted that it is for personal and not commercial use. Visitors are allowed to get up close, but not allowed to touch the objects. A film on the ships is shown several times a day in Danish, English, German, French, Spanish, and Italian.
The museum also has a gift shop where you can buy replica jewelry from the Iron Age, Viking Age, and Middle Ages. A restaurant also connects to the museum. In the summertime, boat trips on the fjord and guided tours of the museum are available every day. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For more information on The Viking Ship Museum, you can visit vikingshipmuseum.com or email the museum.