Birka – Sweden’s “First City”

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Earlier this month Boyface’s brother was visiting, his first trip across the pond, and after a couple of weeks venturing Eastern Europe they returned to Stockholm where we had some Swedish fun times. Aside from the mandatory (to me at least) visit to the Vasamuseet and some other wanderings, we decided to finally make the day trip to the viking village of Birka. All I knew was that it was recently uncovered, was a two hour boat ride from Stockholm (each way) and was, well, vikingy.

The ticket for the ferry includes tours in both Swedish and English, as it is on a very small island, Björkö, and the purpose seems to mainly consist of either highlighting the things found for tourists or, funding permitting, archaeological digs. In fact, the guides themselves were archaeologists. We also learned that only 2% of Birka has been uncovered, and they are attempting to find Sweden’s first church (and maybe have, the dig hopefully starting this fall!).

Birka was a strangely mixed experience. Going in with limited information, as I assume most people do, the guide even said that he would watch our disappointed faces after leaving the burial mounds and heading to the city, as people probably expect an actual ruined village. Not exactly what they would find. There are in fact tons of burial mounds there, the most in Sweden, which has the most of Scandinavia, and most are untouched as they have learned all they can and don’t want to destroy more than necessary, which is very refreshing. They have a small museum nearby, and the Historiska Museet in Stockholm has many of the more valuable stuff. They also learned a lot of interesting things about Vikings in general. Well worth the visit for the fascinating history lesson, and they do have a small working village near the museum that I suppose mimics life in the Viking Era, but is of course a modern construction.

But beyond the burial mounds and towards the farms where the inhabitants of the island (all seven of them) work and live, in the far off distance lay the remains of Birka. I’m not sure if you can go down there. I thought I saw some people, but they could have been workers given how little has been worked and is still being worked. But the city itself was wooden, so naturally only foundations remain. Lots for scientists, not so much for the untrained eye. That being said, the hill back towards the museum and dock has a massive cross that was raised in monument some time ago and provides one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen. Sweden in general is full of these fantastic views.

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In general it was a lovely place to visit, and as someone who loves history I found it well worth it. Plus, like any ferry trips out of Stockholm, the boat ride was very relaxing and enjoyable. It was also full of history provided by the guide on the way! But if you only want to go to see the remains of a viking village, it will probably be a very long time before there’s much for you to see. Even then it probably won’t be what you usually expect from an ancient village in Europe. I guess it depends what you expect for 395:- (about $48USD/$60CAD). All things considered I felt it was a good day trip for that amount, taking my personal preferences and interests into account. Just be warned if you are expecting to find something more permanent in Birka’s stead and that’s your only interest in going; it’s beautiful, but it’s not a terrain of ruins.

 

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