Thursday, April 24, 2008

ROSKILDE - About Town...

It turns out the early Viking Age history of Roskilde is a bit vague, and not well represented in the artifact record. Looking to the geography explains this a fair bit. Roskilde is at the base of a long twisted inlet. The last ice age basically straped the region to the granite, but as the glaciers retreated, a layer of sand and rock was left behind. Most of Denmark is basically a huge sand bar and bog network. Old Roskilde is centered on a hill with one side that slopes down to the salt water. As might be expected, this leads to a gentle sloping beach, which has moved outwards steadily over the centuries. The shore is a roughly V shaped pocket to the north of the hill area. The hill falls off in a quite gentle slope to the inland (south). This elevation, combined with the sand subsoil and the ever present bogs, means that a lot of natural springs seep out on the north sid. Some of these are quite large still, and in early times created a small river that roughly cut the V of the beach in two halves. So the town developed on three related locations. There was an original port - market area on either side of the river along the shore. The western side has a low hill, with its one side falling off into the shore. Ideal for early period defensive works, which is exactly where the oldest 'Medieval' part of town is. It may be that the original ancient port complex was to the lower eastern side. The hill further inshore commands the area, so was the obvious site for latter royal and church structures.

It turns out that the earliest references to Roskilde run from roughly 1030 - 1050. The earlier settlement remains have never been found. For this reason, there were few objects in the museum from the core part of the Viking Age. From this late Viking Age period, through the Middle Ages, Roskilde served as and important centre for trade, political and religious power. The Catholic Church established a number of buildings here, centered mainly on the tall hill.
In the period bracketed roughly 1500 through to the 1600's, Roskilde fell on hard times. The port, with its shallow sloping beaches and low tides, was ideal for Longships. As shipping changed to the larger and deeper draft Medieval types, the need was for a deep water port. So the bulk of the shipping moved to Copenhagen, which eventually also became the capital and centre of political power. Roskilde was heavily damaged in wars with Sweden in the 1600's, and also was sweapt several times with devistating fires which leveled huge sections of the remaining town.
The oldest surviving buildings are down towards the harbour on the west side. There are a lot of thatch roofed (still!) cottages on narrow winding lanes. Mostly these go back to about the 1600's. The modern town centre had many of its original buildings destroyed, and other than the major chuch buildings, most of what is seen today 'only' dates to the 1700's. These are mainly brick buildings, but there are a good number of timber framed ones still in use. The layout of the town centre shows its medieval origins. The streets are short, often narrow, and quite chaotic. Many of the houses are sort of 'plunked down' with twisting laneways obviously put in after the fact to join the houses up. (The place I am staying for example, is surrounded on all sides by other house yards. You can only access it down a path too narrow for a modern vehicle - there is no car parking here.)

The house I am staying at (highly recommended!) is 14 Lille Højbondstræde. Thats about 3 blocks due west of the town square. This means I'm maybe 5 -10 minutes walk from the Viking Ship Museum. I have been able to borrow a bicycle, and this has greatly extended my working range. As might be guessed, I'm still keeping my 'farmer's hours', so I'm awake pretty early. This gives me time to run e-mail and write pieces like this. Mostly the museums open in late morning, so by 10 - 11 I have been doing research. After four or five hours, I'm getting pretty worn out. I grab some kind of late lunch, then have been touring around the bike and doing a bit of shopping. Normally have diner about 6 - 7 pm. Then have chance for maybe another couple of hours on the computer or just reading while the sun goes down.

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February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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