Birka and Hovgården
Birka And Hovgården
Cultural Sweden Europe And North America Stockholm County (region Of Uppland)

Birka is one of the most complete and undisturbed examples of a Viking trading settlement of the 8th-10th centuries AD. The Birka-Hovgården complex bears exceptionally well-preserved testimony to the wide-ranging trade network established by the Vikings during the two centuries of their phenomenal economic and political expansion.

Birka-Hovgården is 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. As the most extensive and complex prehistoric site in Sweden, Birka is unique as a well defined proto-town, mentioned in Frankish documents as early as AD 870, on the island of Björköin Lake Mälaren, is uncertain. The earliest known Christian congregation in Sweden was founded when the German monk Ansgar (later to be canonized) went there in 829 from Denmark, where he had been sent by the Emperor Louis the Pious to evangelize the Danes. His successful mission is recorded in the Vita Ansgari written shortly after his death in 865 by his successor, Rimbert. The chronicler Adam of Bremen, writing around 1070, records later missions in the 930s and the 1060s, and Birka is referred to in an interpolation in the Anglo-Saxon translation of the Geography of Orosius prepared at the request of Alfred the Great of England in the second half of the 9th century.

Its location on a small island had preserved the entire site from modern development and exploitation. The conservation work that has been in progress continuously since 1931 and its historic relevance make it a well-known tourist site. The historic connection with Birka and the historical events since the medieval period at Alsnömake the ensemble of AdelsöHovgården and Birka unique in Swedish history and of great significance in European history.

During the two centuries of its occupation, Birka was one of the dominant emporia of the northern world, which extended from Russia in the east to Ireland to the west, through important centres. The size of the Birka settlement and the fact that it had the status of a quasi-town, with its own thinq (council) and law, suggests that it was pre-eminent in this part of Scandinavia. It appears to have succeeded and replaced the earlier trading settlement at Helgö, 10 km to the south-east, which flourished between AD 400 and 800.

Judging from the archaeological finds, Birka began to lose its importance in the 970s or 980s, when its role was taken over by Sigtuna. With the decline of Birka, a royal estate was established on the neighbouring island of Adelsö. There are documentary references to associations between this area and the 11th-century King Håkon. In the 13th century a royal palace was built from brick and became a favoured location for meetings of the Royal Council. It was here that the momentous council meeting was held in 1279 at which the Swedish feudal system was given shape.

The proto-town of Birka occupies much of the western part of the island of Björkö. The surface evidence is confined to the ramparts of the hill fort, used as a refuge in times of danger, the long ramparts of the town wall, structures that existed formerly, with gaps where timber gate were located, traces of harbours and stone jetties along the shore, and some 3,000 burial mounds and stone settings surrounding the area of the main settlement. There are no standing remains of the settlement itself, with its timber buildings, but its location is vividly indicated by the so-called 'Black Earth', composed of the layers of human occupation and the remains of wooden structures that are common on other sites of the period, such as Anglo-Scandinavian York as revealed by excavation over the 20th century.

This Viking Age and medieval royal estate is centred on Adelsöchurch, and the visible remains include the foundations of the 13th century brick palace, several large burial mounds, and an early medieval harbour.