Roskilde is surrounded by living history with its unique and beautiful medieval architectures and a museum that gives incredible insight into the world of the Vikings
Stepping out of the railway station in Roskilde, about 30 km west of Copenhagen, three giant ceramic jars greet the visitor. A closer look reveals they were commissioned for the 1000th anniversary of the town and therein lies Roskilde’s charm. A town that goes back to the era of the Vikings, there’s nothing much to indicate its ancient roots until you traverse a network of cobble-stoned streets which eventually lead to the city centre where the stunning and breathtaking Roskilde Cathedral is centre-stage.
Roskilde Cathedral’s twin spires rising into the sky is a rather jaw-dropping sight. But it is even more stunning inside. Built between the 12th and 13th centuries with striking red colour bricks in an amalgamation of Gothic and Romanesque styles, and with construction continuing well into 15th century, the cathedral is massive and has rich and beautifully embellished interiors. But more important is its grand place in Danish history: an astonishing 39 of its monarchs are buried here with some tombs bearing gorgeous and lavish ornamentation and embellishments.
Around it, the area looks more like a fairy-tale town with lovely lanes filled with gabled-roof yellow houses and rolling lawns and meadows interspersed with water bodies. Nearby is the beautiful Roskilde Palace, a Baroque style edifice built in the 18th century in bright yellow, which houses the Museum of Contemporary Art. Round the corner is the beautiful Roskilde Convent. There is also the Roskilde Museum and a host of other ancient churches that make for an interesting visit.
Ships of glory
The Viking Ship Museum, which stands on the Roskilde harbour, is considered the pride of Denmark and is perhaps more famous than the cathedral and other structures. A massive warehouse-like building, it houses five ships that were excavated from the Skuldelev area, which go back an estimated 1,000 years. The ships have been reconstructed on metallic armatures with only the recovered material, leaving the rest bare but adequate enough to point to the magnificence of the vessels.
What makes the museum fascinating is that it is a living museum with a workshop that builds ships to Viking specification and uses prehistoric tools. These ships are then launched for sailing expeditions. Alongside, there are a host of education and awareness activities where visitors can interact with experts and learn how to weave sails, twist ropes and make Viking ship models.
To make the experience more adventurous, the museum also offers boat rides on Viking replicas, which use only oars and sails and is led by an experienced instructor. It is a laborious and strenuous task and brings home the hardships that the Vikings faced and yet ran rampant around the world, conquering new lands and expanding their territory. Despite all this, Roskilde today is an adorable European town.
Words: Anita Rao Kashi