The Viking Island

Patricia Cleveland-Peck visits Gotland, the Baltic island where the Viking and medieval pasts are to be found round every corner.

The Baltic isle of Gotland, forty-five kilometres from Stockholm, is indeed almost another little country. It is an unspoiled island with pine and spruce forests, hay meadows full of wildflowers, wide deserted beaches, old farmsteads, a profusion of country churches and a capital city, Visby, with charming medieval houses and one of the best preserved ring walls in Europe.

What makes it special, however, is that it offers an unparalleled way to experience a sense of history while still benefiting from the twenty-first century’s conveniences and comforts. Here on Gotland, for example, the same beer is brewed as was drunk all over Europe in the Middle Ages while at the same time you can find locally produced art and craft items of modern, cutting-edge design.

A brief overview of the island’s history explains why you can feel as though you have stepped back in time. That it is a very ancient land as is evidenced by discovery of fossils, some over 400 million years old. There are traces of the Tjelvar, or Palaeolithic, people who arrived 7,000 years ago. From the Bronze Age there are almost 400 cairns and 350 stone ship-settings (boulders set out in the shape of a ship symbolizing death as a voyage to the unknown) together with large numbers of prehistoric grave fields, house foundations, hill forts and rune stones – an incredible total of 3,100 registered sites make this the richest archaeological region in Sweden.

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