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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Viking ships to stay berthed at Bygdøy

Norway’s famed Viking ships won’t be moved to a new museum that some historians and city officials have been promoting for years. A new study declared the ancient wooden ships to be too fragile to withstand transport from their longtime museum berth on Oslo’s Bygdøy peninsula.

Oslo's famed Viking ships can't be moved more than a centimeter, according to a new report by experts. PHOTO: Views and News

It was a day of news involving some of Norway’s greatest national treasures. First came reports of the record price paid for one of four versions of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch’s painting Skriket (The Scream). Just hours later came news that more than 15 years of debate over a new home for the Viking ships was permanently parked.

“The discussion about moving the Viking ships from Bygdøy to Bjørvika (the waterfront area now under redevelopment on Oslo’s east side) is now definitely over,” Education Minister Kristin Halvorsen told reporters on Thursday. Experts, she said, have concluded that the ships simply wouldn’t tolerate a move.

Nor would around 15 other national treasures found along with the ships when they were excavated from a Viking burial mound south of Oslo and moved to the Viking Ships Museum at Bygdøy in 1914. The experts, including a team of historic preservationists and professors from outside Norway, fear the ancient wooden objects like an ornately carved sled and a wagon, would crumble if exposed to even the most careful of transport measures.

Other items at the Viking Ships Museum, like this ancient carved wooden sled, can't be moved, either. PHOTO: Cultural History Museum

The team was led by Jesper Stub Johnsen, preservation chief of the National Museum in Copenhagen, who was hired by the state to evaluate a move. The idea behind the entire moving proposal, launched in the mid-1990s, was aimed at providing more space for the display of the precious Viking ships and for all the thousands of people who come to see them every year.

Advocates of a move also argued that the Bjørvika area was the site of Oslo’s own original Viking settlements, and it would be historically correct to locate the three vessels and other items there.

But Johnsen said it all needs to stay at Bygdøy. He called the wooden items found with the ships “so fragile that they mustn’t be moved as much as a centimeter more than necessary.” He said that X-rays and other examination revealed a “real danger of disintegration.” His team’s report advised new, immediate preservation measures where the vessels are, and expansion of the Bygdøy museum facilities.

While several historians at the University of Oslo had promoted a move to new, more modern quarters, university dean Ole Petter Ottersen said he was “relieved that we now have a document that shows the urgency of preservation and that the state accepts responsibility.”

Halvorsen said the state was already in negotiations with the university to finance necessary measures to ensure the ship’s longevity.

“As responsible for the Viking ships, I can’t move these fragile and iconic objects,” Halvorsen said. “We have to do all we can to secure them where they are.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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