There is not much left of Birka today, at least not visible for the eyes. But there is a lot, old Viking graves, fields, remainings of old houses and markets that archeologists find all the time. The latests discovery is that about 30% of old Birka is under water and there is so much more to discover. Fiest for marine archeologists as well.
But what is Birka? Birka was an old Viking town that was populated from 8:th to 10:th century. It is called the first city in Sweden, but there might be even older towns, but not as known as this one. I leave this question for historians to fight about. Back to Birka. We visited it in August this summer. It is situated on Mälaren lake not far from Adelsö. There is a tourist boat going there from outside the City Hall. That’s the best transport, unless you have your own boat, so we chose it.
The boat trip takes about two hours. Under the trip a guide was telling us about the different historical places that we passed and about Birkas history of course. We passed a Hat-island, Kungshatt, among others. There is a hat there on islands highest point. There is a story told that long time ago a legendary king visited the island and people put up a hat as a memory, but nobody knows how much truth is there in this story.
We passed many islands and finally arrived at Birka. We went for a guided tour and were told its history, about old rules, abot merchant point, abot missionaries that visited this place and about viking that were supposed to get the new religion without abandoning thier old one. The most important reason of Birka was its market and trading point.
We walked around the island and watched places that were old graves. We were told how the archeologist work and what kinds of things they were finding. Even if there were many people in the group it was good to hear someone tell us about this place. There is not much that a person that don’t know so much about this place could identify. There are green fields, some hills and not much that shows the islands former role and importance.
We went also to the hill where people have built a big cross to memory of and old German missionairy, Ansgar. He stayed here on the island during his lifetime and brought Christianity to these regions. Although old Viking jewlery are find in the old gravs, there are also Christian symols, like crosses, as well.
There is a church on the island, but we didn’t have time to visit it. Maybe next time. Another thing that we didn’t see are the runic stones. They are saud to be here as well and are an old viking stones that were raised as memory of those who are not with us any more. They have beautiful carvings in old runic alphabet. The text is simple: “Eric raised this stone to memory of his father Thorvald, who was a merchant and…” Some of the text is usually missing.
We walked to the reconstucted Viking village with tree houses. It seemed very cold for me. Don’t forget that our winters are cold and snowy. I imagine how cold these people must have been. Brrrr. There were also some boat in the harbor in the village showing that these people were good sailors. Well, the Vikings spread all aver Europe or even the world using their boats.
We visited the museum on the island as well and saw a model of the town as it might have been once upon a time. There were some old jewlery there as well. It could have been interesting, but everything had too much kindergarden approach. I understand the importance of making the information easy for kids, but there should be more stuff for grown-ups (without being beurocratic, thanks).
Birka was a nice and peacefull place nowdays, but it must have been very vivid and busy when it was still an active town. The guided tour gave us a bit of this world.
Birka became a world heritage in 1993. Link to the site: Birka and Hovgården.
My grade for this site is three out of five.