In April 2021 I visited the Strandhavet Viking Museum, curated and operated by Katia (katia Martinek) and sitting within Second Norway, the estate which has been “home” for the last few years. At the time, I enjoyed my visit (see Strandhavet Viking Museum in Second Life). Unfortunately, life being what it is, Katia had to close the museum for a time and relinquish the half island on which it stood. However, it appears that Odin himself may have appreciated Katia’s work, because when she felt she wanted to re-establish the museum, the entire island on which it originally stood was available for rent, allowing her to both return to the museum’s roots, so to speak, and make use of the increased space to revamp it entirely, expanding the exhibition spaces. So when she dropped a note to me explaining all that had happened I knew I’d have to make a return visit.
Visits commence at the southern end of the north-south oriented island, where a wharf (landing point) sits with a ferry alongside, as if the latter had just disgorged visitors. A broad paved walkway runs north from here, passing outdoor exhibit spaces before reaching the imposing form of a Viking long ship sitting outside the museum’s new main hall.
It is not unfair to say that the Viking culture and society has (notably from the 18th century onwards) tended to be romanticised, leading to the popular – if incorrect – conceptions that Vikings were predominantly violent, piratical heathens driven by a need to plunder and subjugate; attitudes which also happened to drive them to intrepid acts of seamanship and exploration. In the 19th century and during the Viking revival – which also saw attempts in Scandinavia to put the Vikings on a correct historical footing – this romanticising of myth and legend particularly came to the fore in the United Kingdom and in Germany; for example: the idea that all Viking men tromped around wearing horned helmets owes more to opera by one Wilhelm Richard Wagner (and perhaps, by indirect extension, the influence of Warner Brothers cartoons on young minds in the mid-20th century!) than anything factual.
Whilst the Vikings did wage war where necessary (who didn’t in those times?), their society was actually highly structured, with laws and codes of conduct, own art and architecture, writing (runes) and religion (later subsumed by the rise of Christianity – easily as bloody a religion as Viking paganism)/ The majority of Viking men tended to be craftsmen, fishermen, builders, farmers and traders first, and warriors second. In this regard, it was – like most civilisations – the desire to trade and explore that led Vikings to spread out from their Scandinavian homelands and achieve an impressively expansive presence right across Europe to Asia, Iran and Arabia in one direction, and the continent of North America in the other.
This desire to trade and explore is recorded in one of Viking-style structures sitting alongside Strandhavet’s broad path. Within a two-roomed house of typical Viking design, visitors can learn about the extensive travels of Viking ships and Viking traders. through a series of maps and charts. These trace the routes taken through The Baltic, down through Europe and onwards and eastward, via and and river. They also chart westward travels to Iceland and onwards to Greenland and then what we now call Canada and the United States, and the voyages that sent Vikings to Britain, France, and down and along the Mediterranean. From the settlement formed by many of these expeditions arose the Normans, Norse-Gaels, Rus’ people, Faroese and Icelanders. Of course, conflict inevitably arose from this expansion, and some of this is also recorded with the “Map House” as well.
Across the path from the “Map House” and standing within a cobbled, open-sided courtyard between the excavated Viking long ship mound and the museum’s main hall, can be found a slideshow open for anyone to use. It offers further insight into one of the elements of Viking society – its spread across Europe as far as Miklagard (or Miklagarðr, from mikill ‘big’ and garðr ‘wall’ or ‘stronghold’) – the city also known as Byzantium or Stamboul or Constantinople, and which we today call Istanbul. This slideshow is just one of several interactive elements to be found within the museum.
Within the expanded main hall of the museum there is much to be admired and appreciated. The lower floor has been divided into a series of topic-based exhibition areas through which visitors can amble. These cover subjects such as Viking mythology, Norse heroes, the role played by magic / ritual / religion, the use of runes, a timeline of the Viking era, insights into the Viking lifestyle, laws, beliefs, and the legacy left by Viking society.
Superb use is made of the increased floor space within the building, and Katia should be congratulated not just on the wealth of information she has drawn together (available through note cards obtains by touching individual display plinths and stands), but in the way she has brought together items from multiple Second Life content creators and use them to create miniatures and models, together with artefacts we might imagine to have been uncovered by archaeologists. These help to give the museum a mix of authenticity and immersion that builds on the legacy of original whilst also broadening it.
On the upper floor of the museum is what might be rotating displays related to Vikings. At the time of my visit, these included representations of the Överhogdal tapestries – textures dating back 1,000 years and in remarkably good condition, and which appear to incorporate both pagan and Christian influences within them. The actual Överhogdal tapestries are carefully preserved and displayed at Jamtli, the regional museum of Jämtland and Härjedalen in Östersund, central Sweden – and the reproductions within Strandhavet are nicely annotated as being “on loan” from that museum!
Also on display on the upper level is Viking Women, presenting the opportunity to learn about 12 actual Viking women of extraordinary stature in Viking society down the years.
Richly expanding on its original concept and build, Strandhavet Viking Museum’s return to Second Life is both welcome and deserved; the love and care put into it by Katia can only be admired, and a visit to the museum by any and all with any interest in medieval history is to be highly recommended (and do consider a donation towards the museum’s continued existence should you pay it a visit!
- Strandhavet Viking Museum (Strandhavet, rated Moderate)