A Pilgrimage In Oslo to See A Viking Ship
The Viking Ship Museum, Oslo
The Viking Ship Museum in Oslo houses three viking ships: three imposing boats returned from Valhalla; three boats that were buried for over a thousand years; three boats that were taken from the water to be used as tombs on the land.
Most visitors to the Viking Ship Museum come mainly to see the Oseberg, a graceful boat with an elaborately carved prow and stern.
When the burial mound was excavated – it is named after the farm it was found on – the remains of two women were discovered, one of these must have held great rank to have such a grand send off.
Underneath the boat a chamber contained the most Viking-era finds ever to be found in Scandinavia.
The Oseberg ship is the first boat you see when you enter the museum. How impressive it looks, sailing on a sea of people: the tourists that ripple around it gazing at the shapely form and lovely carvings.
I was here however to see one of the other ships: the Gokstad. The Gokstad is a bigger, more robust boat that the Oseberg, an oak ship designed for open sea, for carrying people and goods, and for war!
It is highly likely that this ship made raids to Britain or Ireland before it was taken ashore and used as a burial tomb.
The Gokstad is the best preserved Viking ship ever found and the finest existing example of a Viking longship.
The design of the Gokstad is used for replica ships and this is what drew me here – you see, I’ve seen this ship before.
On Britain’s most northerly island Unst there is a full-sized replica of the Gokstad. The Skidbladner stands next to the road just outside Haroldswick, where it can be boarded and explored.
When the Gokstad was unearthed in the 1800s a well-built man was discovered to have been buried with it. The man is unknown but there is some that believe it was Harald Fairhair – the first king of Norway. The burial was certainly worthy of a great king.
Legend has it that Harald Fairhair landed in Shetland, he is the Harold the bay is named after. Seeing the Gokstad in Oslo brought the story for me full circle: Shetland’s intertwined history with Norway and Britain’s Viking heritage brought to life in the lands it originated.
A replica of the Gokstad has successfully crossed the Atlantic from Bergen, Norway to America, proving its seaworthiness.
The third ship on display is the Tune, a less than complete boat that was also discovered in a burial mound.
All three ships were buried with grave goods: treasures and wares sent with the dead to Valhalla. Many of these finds are also on display in the museum including furniture, sleighs, tents and carriages.
Smaller goods include cooking implements, shoes and game boards.
Unfortunately any jewellery was looted centuries ago, but the real treasure here is the carved wood – the ships themselves and the intricately carved wooden objects.
One of the more curious finds amongst the grave goods was a peacock skeleton, found in the Gokstad burial chamber. What an exotic bird to find on a Viking ship, a bird native to India!
The ships are in a fragile state and cannot now be moved, a new museum has been designed for the boats and from what I can establish, will be built on the same site.
The current museum was pretty busy when we visited and its popularity has probably outgrown it. I did love the curved roof and the way the Osebergs coiled prow and stern cast fern-like shadows on the arching wall.
The new museum will be a world-class facility to showcase and protect these Viking ships.
It was a joy for me to see these ships, especially the satisfaction of seeing the Gokstad.
And after getting into the Vikings TV show recently, these boats and artefacts struck even more of a resonance for me – I could imagine them loaded with fierce Vikings, setting sail to raid a far off land…
The Viking Ship Museum (Vikingskipshuset) cost 80 NOK per adult (2016). We drove to it, there is parking behind it (pay at the meter, free to park in winter). The museum is located on Huk Aveny, on the Bygdøy Peninsula, which you can reach on the 30 bus from City Hall, or take the summertime ferry from City Hall to Dronningen.
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