Learn About Viking Life at the Trelleborg Museum | Slagelse, Denmark

A Visit to King Harald Bluetooth’s Viking Ring Fortress and Village
STEP BACK IN TIME AND LEARN HOW THE DANISH VIKINGS LIVED AT TRELLEBORG

When you hear the word “Vikings” what instantly jumps to mind? Maybe long-bearded axe-wielding warriors. Or seafaring explorers in longboats wearing horned helmets? Or maybe you conjure Ragnar Lothbrok? From the HBO series The Vikings? Or Thor. And Odin. Or just Chris Hemsworth? Nah. He’s Australian. How about Harald Bluetooth? Who? Harald Bluetooth. If you’re from Denmark you might. King Harald Bluetooth was the son of the original Danish King, Gorm the Old. Bluetooth claimed all of Denmark and Norway for his kingdom in the second half of the 10th century. Jump forward a 100o years and the current reigning Danish monarch, Queen Margrethe II can trace her family line back to old Gorm making Denmark the longest running monarchy in Europe. Gorm and Harald were Vikings. But what was Viking life like 100o years ago?

Denmark, like all the Scandinavian countries, is proud of its heritage and happy to share everything they know about their Viking history. All over the Danish country and throughout the landscape, evidence of the mighty Viking society can still be found. And you won’t need to know how to read the runestones to get a feel for how the Vikings lived in the Middle Ages. At the National Museum Trelleborg, you can walk the ramparts of a real Viking fortress and learn about village life in the idyllic Danish countryside.

FROM VIKING SHIPS TO RING FORTRESSES

In Roskilde, you can learn all about the Vikings’ seafaring ways and nautical nature at the Vikingeskibs Museet or Ship Museum. But what about the Viking settlements and structures set up to protect and defend interests on land back at home? What was life like for Vikings 1000 years ago here in Denmark? Lucky for you, you can walk through one of the best-preserved examples of a Viking fortress at Trelleborg in Western Zealand, an hour from Copenhagen near the town of Slagelse.

Trelleborg Ring Fortress from above | Photo Credit: Thue C. Leibrandt, Wikimedia
A LITTLE DANISH VIKING HISTORY

Carbon dating from wood excavated at the Trelleborg site puts construction here around 980 AD,¹ definitively during King Harald Bluetooth’s reign. Harald made his mark in Danish history as the first Christian King of Denmark. Now before you get confused and wonder where Thor, Odin, Loki and the rest of the Norse gods went, scholars are still debating whether the conversion was made for faith or for strategic reasons. It might have kept powerful Christian kingdoms to the south less inclined to attack and convert, if the Danes took care of it themselves. Or maybe it afforded a common ground for bargaining with Christian Kings of Europe. There is plenty of evidence that the former pagan religion and the new Christian doctrine were blended going forward. Not uncommon throughout history and around the world. The fact that Danes celebrate Christmas and call it Jul is a perfect example and draws a direct line from the old pagan winter traditions. If you’re visiting the Jutland side of Denmark, you can learn more about King Harald’s proclamation which was set upon a huge rune stone, known as The Jelling Stone. So named from the nearby town Jelling where the stones were sourced.

King Harald ordered these [stones] made in memory of Gorm, his father, and in memory of Thyra, his mother; that Harald who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian.”  965 CE
Jelling Stone Museum

DID YOU KNOW? The modern “bluetooth” technology many of us know and love is indeed named after King Harald and the iconic symbol is a combination of the two runes that make up his initials. Read more here.

TRELLEBORG IS A CLASSIC VIKING RING FORTRESS

Claiming all of Denmark (and Norway) under one ruler was not an easy feat and local chieftains often challenged King Bluetooth. As an attempt to set up defenses and exude power, he orchestrated a series of ring fortresses stretching from the Danish mainland of Jutland across the islands of Fyn and Zealand and even into Southern Sweden. Trelleborg was one of these. Others can be seen at Fyrkat near the Mariager Fjord in Jutland, Aggersborg near the Limfjord also on Jutland and the most recently discovered Borgring near Køge, still being excavated.

The discovery of this greater network of fortress sites thus helps to elucidate how King Harald Bluetooth exercised control over the landscape. It is clear that such building work had major symbolic implications and practical value. As much as it was a preparation for actual conflict, a large fortress was also a statement of power and longevity, demonstrating the King’s ability to maintain control in the event of future conflict. The system of fortifications centred around the Trelleborg-type ring fortresses displayed Harald Bluetooth’s ability to command and organise significant manpower and resources, while offering major strategic benefits.”²

– “Borgring: the discovery of a Viking Age ring fortress,” Antiquity, August, 2017 Volume 91,Issue 358

ARCHITECTURALLY UNIQUE VIKING RING FORTRESSES IN DENMARK

The Viking fortresses, all erected in the late 10th century, were unique architecturally. There was nothing like them in Northern Europe. Built in giant rings, they were all perfectly circular with openings or gates set at precise right angles like a giant compass. The fortresses were also placed strategically in the landscape for defensive purposes, inland and away from any potential attacks by sea. The effort was massive and evidence of Bluetooth’s organized central power structure.

Trelleborg was well situated at the confluence of two small Danish rivers and then surrounded by an outer wall as well as a moat. Meant to be seen and intimidate from afar, the large ring structure was formed of timbered outer walls would have been covered with turf to create the ramparts. Today, you can still walk atop the ramparts here at Trelleborg and play watch like Medieval Vikings scanning across the now idyllic Danish landscape.

RECONSTRUCTED VIKING LONGHOUSE

Besides roaming the around the ring fortress, Trelleborg has a reconstructed Viking Longhouse to show what the buildings would have looked like inside (and outside) the ring here 1000 years ago. Unfortunately, you can’t enter the longhouse, but it does offer great perspective at the size and beautiful details of the Viking construction.

LEARN ABOUT VIKING VILLAGE LIFE

Want to really immerse yourself in Viking Life? Head to Trelleborg mid-July for their annual Viking Festival where a marketplace of over 60 stalls will feature demonstrations and Viking crafts for sale. Activities like archery, wood carving, weaving, horseback riding will be available daily from 10.00 – 16.00. Costs vary. Taste Viking food from vendors and the Museum cafe. Witness a reenactment of the Battle of Trelleborg with 200 warriors. For a taste of what it was like last year, check out this video from Skjalden.

VIKING FESTIVAL DETAILS

Saturday, 14 July – Sunday, 22 July, 2018
Open daily from 10:00 to 17:00
Try-yourself activities every day from 10:00 to 16:00 (additional cost)

Battle of Trelleborg:
Thursday 19 July and Friday 20 July, 2018 at 13.00
Saturday 21 July and Sunday 22 July, 2018 at 15:00

Admission: 
Adults 120 DKK
Children (under 18) 30 DKK

NOTE: Admission to Trelleborg site and museum are free at all other times of year. Museum is open every day except Monday.

Can’t come during the Festival? You can still wander through the village. Summer season runs from 30 June to 2 September with a varying range of activities in the Viking Village daily.

STEP INSIDE THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF DENMARK AT TRELLEBORG

See artifacts, learn more history and learn the whole story inside the Danish National Museum here at Trelleborg. Just don’t visit on a Monday. When the museum is closed. You’ll still be able to wander the grounds and read about the site’s history from displays out by the fortress.

HOW TO GET TO TRELLEBORG

Viking Fortress Trelleborg
Trelleborg Allé 4, Hejninge
4200 Slagelse

We rented a car, but you can take public transportation. There are regional trains to Slagelse and then you can catch bus 439 to Trelleborg Allé (Hejningevej) and walk the 500 m to the museum. It was about 1 hour to drive from Copenhagen, and public transportation would take about 1.4 hours for reference.

We visited Trelleborg on a Monday in early June and practically had the place to ourselves. And while we would have loved to do some of the activities and perused the artifacts, it was a peaceful and pretty day out in Denmark. Hard to picture the fierce battles of yesteryear as we watched the wind sway in the grass and listen to it rustle leaves on the trees. Easier to imagine were quieter moments of village life; people tending sheep, planting in the garden and weaving linen. Whatever your picture of Vikings may be, Trelleborg is a beautiful place to learn more about life in Denmark so long ago.

Oregon Girl Around the World
CulturedKids

38 thoughts on “Learn About Viking Life at the Trelleborg Museum | Slagelse, Denmark

  1. bavariansojourn

    What an amazing place. My older two were obsessed by a similar Viking Museum near Ribe. My son would have stayed with the “vikings” forever if he could. Apparently the actors turn up at the beginning of summer and live for around 8 weeks exactly like the vikings did! Trelleborg looks a bit more comprehensive! Definitely one for my DK list! 🙂 Thanks so much for joining in with #culturedkids

  2. This is so cool! I am increasingly more interested in Viking history since I found out that it’s likely a lot of Scots come from Vikings. One day I’ll try and trace my family to see if it’s true for me! ha. I would love to go to Denmark and learn all about them! #Farawayfiles

  3. annette @afrenchcollection

    My imagination runs riot when I think of the Vikings 🙂 Thanks for sharing the peaceful ring fortress photos, what an ingenious idea. #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      I think most of the history we know of the Vikings is from the countries that they invaded! I have enjoyed learning about the art, community and legacy they created and left here in Scandinavia. Modern Danes are much less fierce. Until you do not put down the divider at the grocery store or when they are getting on a busy bus. Ha! Cheers from Copenhagen.

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      I had never seen before either – so very impressive. And the one at Trelleborg is not the largest!

  4. Clare Thomson

    It is SO cool that the Queen of Denmark can trace her ancestry back to Gorm! How amazing – I did not know that. This looks like an amazing place to visit. We’re fairly sure my father’s side of the family (Scots one and all) are descended from the Vikings so that’s an extra incentive to make the trip. #FarawayFiles

  5. The ring fortresses remind me a lot of some of the forts we have visited here in the US, particularly at Fort Raleigh. I’m sure your’s are a lot older than the ones we have here, but it is interesting to see the similarities! #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      I just looked it up. I can see why you’d think that. Probably a bit older. This was built around 980 AD. Thinking it was only Native Americans in NC at that time! Thanks for reading , cheers from Denmark!

  6. This looks like such a lovely day out! Fascinating to learn about the origins of Bluetooth, I had NO idea! Your photos are stunning, and I love the detail shots of the longhouse. #farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Yes – that is Kastellet – I don’t live too far from there. Built in 1600’s by Christian the IV who built half of the modern city you see today. (Feels like it anyway). Not Viking, but still cool.

  7. Did you know that there is a Trelleborg Sweden too? And they also have a viking museum. Fascinating folks those vikings. They tell you about Bluetooth on the Copenhagen boat tour and our guests are always shocked. 🙂 #farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Funny! I never heard that – and I’ve been on at least three of those cruises! It’s been awhile though!

  8. It’s a really interesting piece of history and evokes a lot of thought into how life was then. It’s important these museums are kept alive. #farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Denmark does a good job of preserving their historic places and histories. It is impressive to see.

  9. Wow, Trelleborg looks like an increduble place to visit. So nice to be able to fully understand Viking history and culture in this way,, I hadn’t appreciated that there was a Christian Viking King – I had only ever heard of the Norse Gods – we really must try to get to Denmark one day #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      You could probably even bicycle here! I think you would love Denmark. IF, you could pull yourselves away from Provence come summertime! Happy to have given you a new perspective on the Vikings. Cheers from Copenhagen.

  10. Ladies what travel

    What an interesting place to visit, and just an hour from Copenhagen makes it a great choice for a day trip! I have to add though, given the chance I always want to think about Chris Hemsworth… #FarawayFiles

  11. I want to go to the Viking festival! And I’m slightly disappointed that you can’t go into the longhouse. It looks so awesome! I’m off to read about Bluetooth now, because I had no clue that the technology was named for him and I’m intrigued.
    My fiance is all about Vikings. He made me watch that HBO series with Ragnar, and it was great, but far out, life back then was brutal. #FarawayFiles

  12. Thanks for sharing the ancient history of the Vikings – to be honest, I don’t much about the history of Denmark, let along the Vikings except that they are fearless, seafaring explorers and warriors…and Thor (sorry!). I like that I’m having a peek into their history through your posts, increasing my knowledge each time I read about Denmark and the region 🙂 #FarawayFiles

  13. We actually visited Trelleborg many moons ago on a day trip from Copenhagen, and I remember it well. It was on a beautiful summer day too, and the place was so peaceful. I didn’t know half of the facts and information you give in your post, so thank you for filling me in.
    Commenting belatedly from #FarawayFiles

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