Viking stone ships and tricky labyrinths.
Hello! I’m back after my month-long break with a historical post from Sweden and a new motivation for writing and reliving old memories, because as you know, absence makes the heart grow fonder and that goes for hobbies as well. My boyfriend and I are currently renovating our future home together (no more rental places, woo!), so my blogging activity may be even more erratic than usual, but don’t worry, my blog is not going anywhere in the near future. 🙂
I’ll be honest with you, besides a rather small old town and a wild hare I encountered there, Västerås was not a particularly interesting place. It felt like one of those working class cities full of immigrants and daily commuters and just didn’t have a very nice vibe for me, but the city itself is not the main attraction, particularly if you’re a history nerd.
Impressions of Västerås
What draws visitors to Västerås is its proximity to Anundshög, one of Sweden’s most important ancient sites. The entire site is essentially a Viking memorial ground, with 12 burial mounds, 5 stone ships, a runestone and over 20 stone circles and monoliths. Its name is associated with Anund, a mythical 10th-century Swedish king from the House of Yngling, although it has likely been taken from the central runestone, where the name Anund is only mentioned. The runestone marks Anundshög as one of the stops of Eriksgata, the traditional journey that newly elected medieval Swedish kings had to make to survey the land and get confirmed by the local authorities, so it isn’t as old as the rest of the monuments.
Whether it is Anund’s or not, Anundshög boasts the largest burial mound in Sweden with a diameter of about 60 meters. It was created sometime between 400-1050 AD and the oldest monuments at the site date back to the 3rd century. The entire countryside was a cultural centre and a trading hub for western Mälardalen region at the time, so it is no wonder that Anundshög is such an important site.
Much like the Egyptian pyramids, burial mounds were a way to honour the rulers and other important dead and were believed to facilitate passage to the afterlife if the rituals were done right. They can be found allover Scandinavia and even in other cultures, but what I found even more interesting were the stone ship settings. The people of Scandinavia, particularly in what are now Sweden and Denmark, used to set large stone slabs in the outlines of ships to use as places of worship or burial grounds in the Bronze Age. Apparently the large stone ships were used as ritual places, where archaeologists found evidence of burnt offerings, and the largest stone ship out there is about 354 meters long, which is huge. The smaller ships like at Anundshög were usually used for individual cremation burials as a possible substitute for real ships on land and this type of burials persisted up until the arrival of Christianity around 1000 AD.
When I was visiting Anundshög, I got caught in a storm and had the whole site almost to myself and it was quite easy to imagine a Viking burial or a religious ritual taking place in the sombre weather. Afterwards there was even a full arch rainbow to add to the mythical vibe, so perhaps the old Norse gods were flexing their muscles for me a bit. 🙂
The area around Anundshög is obviously full of relics and interesting bits of history, so on the way there I stopped at another one, the Tibble labyrinth. As you probably know, there are lots of ancient 2D rock labyrinths on the ground across the globe, spanning cultures and ages and this one is over 2000 years old. Their purpose is not fully understood and likely never will be, but it might have been used in ancient spring rites where the boys had to walk the labyrinth to reach the girl in the centre without touching the stones. I tried it, of course, and it’s not as easy as it looks! There was also a small statue of two people dressed in white robes hugging stuck in a nearby tree, but I don’t know where that came from.
The Tibble labyrinth
All in all, Anundshög is among one of the more impressive ancient sites I’ve seen and, like Sigtuna, it’s absolutely worth a visit if you’re the least bit interested in Scandinavian history. It’s open and free to visit by yourself, or you can join a guided tour during the summer. There are some limited information signs around the burial mound and a small cafe where you can also get an audio guide.
You can easily reach Anundshög via public transport by taking the bus from Västerås and it’s possible to walk to the Tibble labyrinth along the road, although having a car would be useful if you want to visit any other nearby sights as well. Also, to be totally fair to Västerås, it does have another cool attraction that I only discovered after my visit: the Historical ship museum, which is a privately funded museum with about 25 Viking age ships. Some of them are originals and some are replicas, all a passion project of the Frosakersbrygga hotel owner who also built some buildings on the beach to go with the vessels (apparently there’s a functioning bathhouse). They even let you rent the ships to sail on the lake for a true interactive experience and that’s definitely among my goals for any future visits.