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Roskilde: Denmark’s Viking and Royal Heritage

Roskilde, Denmark

The waterfront town of Roskilde has two impressive claims to fame. The stately 12th-century cathedral is the resting place of 39 Danish kings and queens. The Viking Ship Museum displays five 10th-century ships, raised from the sea in 1962.

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Denmark's roots, both Viking and royal, are on display in Roskilde. Eight hundred years ago, this was the seat of Denmark's royalty — its center of power. Today after fires and recent development, the town is mostly modern. The place that introduced Christianity to Denmark back in 980 is most famous today for hosting northern Europe's biggest rock festival each July.

Roskilde's centerpiece is its imposing 12th-century cathedral. It's a stately old church with fine wood carvings and a great 16th-century organ. Some paintings survive from before the Reformation.

The cathedral is the resting place of 39 Danish kings and queens. Side chapels are filled with ornate royal tombs. After the Reformation gutted the church of its saints and Marys, more space around the high altar was freed up for more royal tombs — these date from the 16th century. The oldest tomb, from 1397 is Queen Marguerita the First. Through strong leadership and clever negotiating, she united the three Nordic Kingdoms.

For five hundred years St. George has marked the hour by killing the dragon — reminding the people how the Church is their bastion against the evil of the world.

A short walk takes us to Roskilde's waterfront. The word Vik means "shallow inlet," so "Vikings" are the people who lived along those inlets. Roskilde, strategically located along one such inlet, is home to Denmark's Viking Ship Museum.

This museum is a hands-on center for people who want to experience Denmark's seafaring heritage. Traditional boat building techniques are demonstrated. And the museum's archaeological workshop employs the latest technology in conserving and better understanding remnants that survive from those fabled 10th century masters of the sea.

The main hall displays five different Viking ships. These ships were deliberately sunk a thousand years ago to block the entrance to the strategic and rich city of Roskilde. In 1962 they were raised from their salty grave.

This was a 10th century ocean-going freighter. A ship like this likely carried Viking emigrants — with their families and the entire farm — to Iceland and later on to the New World. Leif Eriksson made it all the way to America a thousand years ago in a little ship like this.

Warships were skinnier and faster. This one was powered by 26 oarsmen. Fearsome boats like this terrorized much of Europe back when people dreaded those rampaging Norsemen.

And like so many sights in Denmark, there's fun for the kids. This hands-on corner brings out the Viking in young Danes.