Swedish Heritage Sunday: Hovgården

In the west, the word Viking usually bring to mind Norsemen heading west and leaving their marks on Ireland and England, such as the city of York, once known as Jorvik, a very Norwegian name indeed. They colonised Iceland and Greenland, and were even the first Europeans to discover North America.


The Swedish Vikings are not as well known. Perhaps because they travelled east, which when you look at the map, seems reasonable. They went to the Baltics, to Russia and to Constantinople. Were the more obscure Swedish Vikings markedly different? I doubt it. They focused more on trade and less on pillaging – not because they were less aggressive than the Norsemen, but because the countries to the east were rich and much better defended.

I was curious to see Birka and Hovgården, described by UNESCO as being

an important archaeological complex illustrative of the elaborate trading networks of Viking Age Europe and Scandinavia and their influence on subsequent history. It is also important as the site of the first evangelization of this part of Sweden.

Birka is located on an island in Lake Mälaren and the oldest town in Sweden. For two centuries, it was among the most important centres of the Viking Era. As it was, however, I arrived at Adelsö late in the day; too late to catch the boat to the island.


Hovgården  Hovgården, the other part of the site, is more accessible, through a free and fairly frequent shuttle ferry (un-manned).

After Birka was abandoned, a royal estate (Hovgården) was established on Adelsö. Alsnö Hus, the last castle, was destroyed in the late 13th century, so ruins, meadows and grave mounds are mostly what you can see today, in addition to Håkansstenen, (meaning Håkan’s Stone) the intricately carved rune stone in the first photo.

Adelsö Hovgården

That, and apparently there’s a chance of seeing – or even hitting – the occasional wild boar. I didn’t see one, but as I stumbled through undergrowth, I was a bit wary.

I suspect Birka might the more interesting part of this complex. But there’s more in the works here at Hovgården, too. A group of idealistic locals, calling themselves Alsnö Vikingar, plans to recreate a Viking Era environment near the ruins of the old castle; a farm, boats, handicrafts, trade. Construction is under way.


This is one heritage site I might have a closer look at later.

This is part 3 of Swedish Heritage Sunday, a weekly series here on Sophie’s World this winter.


unesco logo

Birka and Hovgården together form a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites we’ve visited around the world.

16 Responses to “Swedish Heritage Sunday: Hovgården”

  1. Maria Falvey 19 January 2014 1854 #

    Sophie, beautiful setting and that carved stone is incredible.
    Maria Falvey recently posted..Unconditional Love

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 19 January 2014 1934 #

      There is that :)

  2. Ha Nguyen 20 January 2014 0331 #

    What a wild and beautiful scenery. Thanks for sharing a part of the world that I’ve never had a chance to see.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 January 2014 1857 #

      It is a bit out of the way.

  3. Leigh 20 January 2014 0353 #

    Don’t really think of Sweden and Vikings at all s a good history lesson and quite the rock.
    Leigh recently posted..A Guide to Getting the Most out of Your Visit to Montreal

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 January 2014 1858 #

      You’re not the only one :)

  4. Renuka 20 January 2014 0832 #

    Well, the place looks like a blend of both history and nature.
    Renuka recently posted..Charminar And The Charming Surrounds – A Photo Essay

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 January 2014 1859 #

      Two for one :)

  5. Gil 20 January 2014 2034 #

    Interesting and the pictures are beautiful. Thanks~

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 January 2014 1859 #

      Thank you.

  6. Muza-chan 21 January 2014 0946 #

    Muza-chan recently posted..Japanese garden aesthetic principles, Miniaturization

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 January 2014 1900 #

      Interesting place to stumble upon indeed.

  7. Corinne 21 January 2014 1756 #

    An unmanned ferry? Love the stone…still more to see…always with my ever-lengthening list!
    Corinne recently posted..Göbekli Tepe – The World’s First Cathedral?

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 January 2014 1901 #

      Oh, I know. My list is forever lengthening, too.

  8. Mette 21 January 2014 2002 #

    Too bad I don’t like tattoos or I would have that stone copied on my shoulder. And interesting to hear they are planning a working viking village. In Denmark such initiatives are hugely popular.
    Mette recently posted..Chieti travel tips

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 January 2014 1903 #

      That would be a cool tattoo. And yes, both Sweden and Denmark are quite good with these things. In Norway, not so much. We have these fabulous finds – like the amazingly well-preserved Viking Ships – but not a great sense of marketing, I’m afraid.

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