August 10, 2020: Vikings at Last
Roskilde was the viking seat of power and powerful city during the early Christian era of Denmark.
Roskilde is one of the easiest places to reach from Copenhagen. Nearly every train headed west (towards virtually every other city in the country) stops in Roskilde. I saw trains leaving every 10 minutes. The ride is about 30 minutes to reach Roskilde.
The city has two star attractions: the Viking Ship Museum and the Cathedral. I saw them both.
My first stop was the Viking Ship Museum- located about a 15 minute walk from the train station on the water. The museum contains multiple buildings, but the main building contains the five historic Viking ships.
The ships are about 1200 years old and have an unusual story. The ships were actually deliberately sunk. Roskilde is protected by three channels. In order to defend the city from a naval assault, the Vikings sunk the ships in two of the channels. This not only created just one way in/out from the town but also created two decoy channels to stymie invaders.
After Roskilde lost its power, the ships became forgotten and eventually got covered in mud. They were discovered and excavated in 1962. Since then more ships have been discovered including the longest Viking warship ever found. But there are only 5 in the museum: 4 smaller transport ships and one warship.
In addition to the info about the ships themselves, there are fantastic exhibits about the Vikings and their incredible worldwide domination. They had influence all the way from Canada to Iraq. A theory for their incredible desire for travel and war is strangely enough…women. The Vikings were polygamist and there weren’t enough women in Scandinavia. The drive for sex made the men do riskier things than other men of the era and therefore they were better fighters and more daring explorers.
While nobody will truly know what drove the Vikings to explore, one thing is for certain: they had some terrifying rituals. One panel described a funeral of a powerful man. As part of the funeral, one of his female slaves was beaten and then gang raped by six men. Then they stretched her using ropes while an old woman stabbed her to death. Then they laid her next to her former master and burned them both in a pyre. How terrifying is that!?!?!?!?
The museum also has an outdoor section. There are replicas of all five boats.
There are also modern Viking shipbuilders. The process is very impressive to see.
Now it is time to see the other main attraction in Roskilde: the UNESCO World Heritage Site cathedral.
The cathedral is a beautiful brick Gothic structure, but it is best known for its funerary art: nearly every monarch of Denmark since the 900’s.
The oldest burial in the cathedral is of Harold Bluetooth. He united the Danish tribes under one kingdom and under Christianity. He is the namesake of Bluetooth technology. Just like he united the tribes, Bluetooth technology will unite all devices. His Runic initials H B form the Bluetooth logo.
The Danish monarchs have their tombs in a series of magnificent side chapels. Each chapel is magnificent and of a different architectural style: from Dutch Renaissance to Gothic to Neoclassical. In total 40 kings and queens are buried in the cathedral.
The current monarch, Queen Margrethe II, is obviously still alive, but she just completed her tomb. At the moment, the only thing visible is a pink covering/bench that looks straight out the London restaurant Sketch- VERY weird for a Gothic cathedral. Underneath is the tomb, which is an architectural masterpiece. It is both glass Scandinavian minimalist but also traditional. A few tabloids have pictures of it. The tomb will be revealed once she dies.
Her late husband, Prince Consort Henrik, is not buried in the cathedral with her. He was so upset that he was only given the title of Prince and not King or King-Consort that he wanted his ashes dumped into the ocean instead.
After the cathedral, I walked through the lively town center and back to the train station.
Both attractions can be done in a half-day or you can add a lunch and more walking around to stretch it into a full day. Due to the quality of both attractions and the easy train connections, I would rate this as one of the best things to see in Denmark. If I was in Copenhagen for a long weekend, this would be part of the itinerary.