Visit: 1st March 2015
The site of the Jelling Mounds, in central Jutland (the peninsular on which much of Denmark – but not its capital – is situated), was a sacred area for the Viking King Gorm the Old. The father of Harald Bluetooth, Gorm reigned from AD 936 to 958. He was the last of the pagan Viking kings, because his son Harald took the step of introducing Christianity into Denmark. To my mind the most significant element of this WHS is the carving on the rune stone below of Christ on the cross. The significance derives from the fact that it is the earliest representation of Christ in all of Scandinavia, and it serves as a marker for the region’s transition from Viking paganism to Christianity. It is pretty hard to make out, but trust me it’s there.
The two rune stones were primarily carved as memorials to Harald’s father (Gorm) and to his wife. They stand in glass cases to protect them from the weather, but you can walk all around them and see them from any angle. The inscriptions are very feint compared to the much earlier Greek carvings I saw in Athens, but I believe they become quite visible when lit up at night.
They would originally have been painted in bright colours, as this replica from outside the museum demonstrates. This is something that is easy to forget when looking at old carvings from many civilisations (do the Vikings count as a ‘civilisation’? – I’m not sure they do). You can see another coloured replica of the stone in London if you like, at the Danish Church, 4 St. Katherine’s Precinct, Regent’s Park.
The north mound contains an oak burial chamber (the south mound does not). You can climb up on top of the mounds to get a good view of the church (like in the first pic above). The church is relatively recent, though a church has stood on the site since Harald Bluetooth’s day. Archaeological work has identified the remnants of three previous churches, each destroyed by fire before being rebuilt.
Natalie and I visited Denmark for just one night, flying early doors on Saturday out of Stansted and returning (to the usual Stansted chaos) on Sunday night. We flew to Billund airport, which is basically in the middle of nowhere but serves as the main airport for most Danes living on the west coast of Jutland. Billund is a small town, though it has one attraction of note, for kids at least: it is the global headquarters of Lego, and as such features a LEGOLAND. We are a little old for that kind of thing, but it was amusing to see a Lego shop in the airport selling custom sets like a kit to build a replica Billund airport.
We hired a car and drove southwest to the coastal area known as the Wadden Sea. This is a transnational WHS that covers the intertidal mudflats and islands on the coast of the North Sea stretching from midway up Denmark down along the German coastline to halfway down the Netherlands. I’ll wait until I’ve visited another part of the Wadden Sea – famous for its birdlife – before writing it up fully, but I will say that the parts we saw were very pleasant.
The four pictures above come from the Wadden Sea. Clockwise from top left: me on the long causeway that connects the island of Rømø to the mainland; typical Danish village of Ballum; flock of migratory birds above the marshland; Natalie on the beach at Rømø.
We stayed a night in Esbjerg, the headquarters of the Danish offshore oil and gas industry, where we ate a very nice meal at the dockside Restaurant Gammelhavn. We managed to grab on our journey three of the six Danish geographically protected foods (Esrom cheese, Danish blue and Lammefjord potatoes) as well as ticking off one and a third World Heritage Sites. For a 33 hour trip I think that was pretty good going.