Viking ships seem saved after all

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Norway’s newly expanded government has specifically mentioned in its new platform that a new museum to house the country’s famed Viking ships will indeed be built. There’s still been no specific funding allocation for the project, but University of Oslo officials are relieved.

The Viking ships are located in the existing museum building at right, while the circular addition will become a “living” museum with exhibitions, a research center, a museum park, gift shop, restaurant and facilities for special events. ILLUSTRATION: AART architects

“We’ve known for a long time that we have to do something to secure (the Viking ships) in a responsible manner for the future,”  said Håkon Glørstad, director of the existing Viking Ship Museum (Vikingskipshuset) on Oslo’s Bygdøy peninsula.

“The fact that the government is now going along with that is fantastic,” Glørstad added.

Anything else would have been all but scandalous, given the alarms that have been ringing internationally over the current condition of the priceless vessels, and a lack of funding in the state budget to preserve them. Glørstad and other experts have warned that the three Viking ships, the first of which was found on a farm near Fredrikstad in 1867, were literally in danger of falling apart.

Glørstad, however, called Friday “a joyful day” after it became clear that a new government platform states that the government will begin work on construction of a new Viking era museum at Bygdøy. “That means we can secure and preserve the ships and the collections around them for the future,” Iselin Nybø, the government minister in charge of higher education and research, told reporters. The Viking Ship Museum is part of Norway’s Museum of Cultural History (Kulturshistorisk museum), which in turn is part of the University of Oslo.

Slow follow-up
The platform was hammered out over the past few weeks after the small Christian Democrats party decided to join Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s Conservatives-led coalition. The expansion gives Solberg the majority in Parliament that she’s long sought, with her new cabinet due to be presented on Tuesday.

The government had already given the project a nod back in 2015, when an architectural competition was launched to design a new home for the three Viking ships called Oseberg, Gokstad and Tune. A winning entry was selected the year after, but even though the government had allocated development funding for the project, there hasn’t been any allocation to actually build the new museum.

The plan has long been to improve and expand the existing museum, which was purpose-built for the ships and opened to receive the refurbished Oseberg ship in 1926. Additional wings for the Gokstad and Tune ships opened in 1932. The museum building itself is a landmark and experts have determined that the ships are far too fragile to be moved.

The Oseberg ship was found on a farm at Vestfold, about an hour’s drive southwest of Oslo. It was excavated over just three months in 1904, but its full restoration took another 21 years before it could carefully be moved to the then-new Viking Ship Museum on Bygdøy. PHOTO: Kulturhistorisk museum, UiO/ Olaf Væring

The Oseberg ship is the most elaborate, found buried at a farm in Vestfold in 1903 with excavations beginning the year after. It dates from around 820AD, features elaborate carvings, and the Viking grave where it was found also contained many treasures including a carved sled. An adjacent hall built to display the Oseberg treasures didn’t open until 1957, delayed by World War II and the immediate post-war recovery period. The museum’s collection also includes objects found at Borre.

The Gokstad ship was found in a Viking grave on the Gokstad farm in Sandefjord in the fall of 1879 and dates from 890AD. The Tune ship was found on another farm at Rolvsøy near Fredrikstad in 1867 and dates from 910AD. That’s not far from where yet another Viking ship is believed to be lying near Sarpsborg, with its discovery making international news just last fall.

Calls immediately went out, though, that Norway needed to take care of its three Viking ships already excavated before excavating more.  An uproar over a perceived lack of willingness on the part of Solberg’s government to save its Viking ships likely prodded the reassurance in the new government declaration.

‘Irreplaceable’
“It (all the concern over the Viking ship’s future) was an important reminder that they are an absolutely irreplaceable cultural heritage, and among the most important things Norway manages on behalf of the international community,” Glørstad told newspaper Aftenposten over the weekend.

If all goes as planned now, the new museum will be finished in 2024 and in full operation in 2025. It has a budget of NOK 1.7 billion (USD 200 million at current exchange rates) and will cover 13,000 square meters, of which 5,000 will be display space.

Nybø, the government minister in charge of the university and its museums, doesn’t seem concerned that there’s still no new funding for the museum in this year’s state budget. “This is our world heritage, and we will take care of that,” Nybø told Norwegian Broadcasting (NEK). “I’m extremely glad that all the doubt can now be set aside. A new Viking era musum will be built.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund