For most people, when you think of Sweden, somewhere in the gallery of your mind, you conjure up an image of Vikings – long pony tails, big, buff, blond, bearded men, buxom women, hats with horns… That, at least is the image I get, and I think I blame it on Asterix, that funny cartoon… However, this is not the true image of Vikings, as we learnt when we headed out to Birka for the day.
Birka is an historical Viking settlement, a boat ride away from Stockholm (for details of getting there, click here). Originally founded in the 9th century, Birka was Sweden’s first real town. Historians have done a great job of preserving/reconstructing this town. There are numerous archaeological sites, from whence a great deal of information has come. You get off the boat and there is the option of a museum guided tour (yes there is a little museum) in English – excellent!
Here we learnt that our images of Vikings are largely misguided, and in fact, most were fishermen, hunters and traders, with Birka being the central hub of all of this activity at the time. Of course, there were wars as well, but I don’t think the Vikings had a monopoly on war. We headed outside a bit away from the museum, and it was pointed out that the humps on the ground were in fact ancient burial mounds. These burial mounds contain anywhere from a single, but more commonly, multiple bodies.
After this short guided tour we were let loose to explore the island that Birka is located on (called Björkö). We walked around for a few hours, and found a little church, sheep (my goodness, no! I thought NZ had dibs on all the sheep?), reconstructed houses and fences how they were built way back in the 9th century, and a sail boat built as per the technology of the 9th century.