I found I’m a Viking!
Advantages: Interesting displays with a lot of interactive possibilities.
Disadvantages: the Journey of Yorvik streets are short and could be slower.
During my four days trip to York I would like to say Jorvik Viking Centre was the most interesting and enjoyable place I visited. I’m comparing it to sites, such as Clifford’s Tower, National Railway Museum, York Castle Museum, and York Minster, etc.
Jorvik Viking Centre is located within the Coppergate Shopping Centre, just by St. Mary’s Square and surrounded by many shops. The building itself looks like an ordinary shop too. In fact most of the building on the ground floor is a gift shop as well as exit from the Centre. Since it first opened in April 1984 it has been hugely popular. Without noticing the long queue at the entrance to the centre you would not consider that it is a tourist site.
Originally the site was a buried city of the Vikings, who were sea-borne warriors from the Scandinavian area and invaded the North of England in medieval ages. During their stay on these lands they built a small city with houses, streets and it had a population of around 10,000. By the way Jorvik is a name that comes from old English and Scandinavian languages and eventually morphed into York.
From 1979 to 1981 archaeologists supported by York Archaeological Trust excavated the remains left by Vikings around these area. Like the proverbial Roman City, Jorvik Viking Centre was not built in a day. The original Centre was open in 1984 and refurbished in 2001. This re-opening reflects the wealth of detail recovered from the excavations by archaeologists and specialists from many countries. The displays of their achievements at the centre brought history alive permanently.
Jorvik Viking Centre is open daily except for the Christmas period. In summer it opens from 10am to 5pm. In winter it closes one hour earlier.
It’s free for York Pass holders. If you are a member of English Heritage you are qualified for 15% discount. Currently there is a charge of 8.50 for adults, 6 for children and 7 for concessions. Do remember you are entitled to free entry to the centre at any time over the next 12 months.
What you can see
Jorvik Viking Centre is on the very site where archaeologists discovered the remains of Viking York and your trip will tell you what life was like 1000 years ago. You can see, you can hear and even smell the life when you travel through a reconstruction of Viking streets.
1. Time Machine
It is the first stage of your journey. A staff member outfitted in Viking style stands at the entrance to a small room named the Time Machine. Entering the room you can see a few rows of benches and a big screen in front of you. After sitting on the benches the staff briefly explains about your journey and how you would be taken back in time. You can see a couple on the screen, dressed in typical costumes of the appropriate time period as you travel back in time. You can feel your benches jolt back and forth until you finally reach your destination: AD 975.
2. Journey of Yorvik streets
At the end of your journey back in time there is an open pod-type contraption waiting for you, which will take you on a ride through the streets of Jorvik. Every pod has 2 rows of seats holding up to 6 people. You can push a button in front of your seat to choose an appropriate language to listen to a commentary about what you see.
Slowly you will pass by two children, who are playing a popular Viking board game called Hnefetafl. Then you will come across the blacksmith’s home, an example of an old, simpler, single storey building made from wattle and daub, which suffered from severe dampness. Next you pass the woodturner’s home, a brand new cellared building made entirely from oak. Don’t be surprised when the speakers by your ears become rowdy because you are just encountering the woodturner at work as well as an afternoon chat between two men and a woman. The woman is their neighbour in the opposite street and just leans over on her wall. Also don’t panic if you smell some unpleasant odours in the air, such as rotting fish or even worse than that, in particular when you see a man sitting on a Viking cesspit. Yorvik was home to 10,000 people and covered in filth and muck. Proper sanitation was a long way in the future.
When you ‘ramble’ around Coppergate Street, which was just one of many streets in Yorvik, you will see that people could buy anything they wanted in the market because the Vikings traded goods from across Britain, as well as Europe and Asia.
Granted that the previous smells are not very nice, but when you see a Viking hearth, which was the centre of home life, and the fire was used for light, heat and cooking, you cannot help guessing and smelling what’s cooking for dinner tonight.
As you come to the end of your journey through Yorvik streets you will be introduced to the some of the original house foundations, which were discovered exactly where you see them. You also can see how they reconstructed the faces of the Vikings using the skulls they found on the site.
All in all a remarkable journey back through time to AD 975.
3. The Exhibition Hall
In the Exhibition Hall you can get a big picture of Viking life, death, disease and battle, etc. There are many interactive displays for you such as talking with Viking people, trying on a Viking helmet or having your own replica coin struck by a Viking coin merchant. You can also complete a short survey on a touch-screen kiosk to find your ethnical connection with Vikings. Last but not least you can investigate bones including a full skeleton, which were found on the land where you are standing. The skeleton is thought to be that of a warrior, who suffered many serious injuries in battle.
I enjoyed my visit very much. So don’t laugh at me when I tell you I travelled on the Time Machine twice. I tried my best to catch every detail during those two visits. For me the idea of the Time Machine was not very attractive, but the performance of the actors on screen made the show very eye-appealing.
The first visit I was sitting in the second row of the pod. I was struggling to understand the explanation, which was in English, coming from the speakers by my ears, so I missed a lot of the scenes. Luckily on my second visit I managed to sit in the front row, so the view was open and fantastically clear. I was very surprised by what I saw. Viking life was so basic at that time yet in AD 980 the Song Dynasty was established in China and the social system was already highly developed. Don’t misunderstand me. It was just that here we are a thousand years later and the roles have been reversed, not that I am saying China of today is backward, but it is now trying to catch up with the West technologically speaking.
Incidentally I completed the survey I mentioned earlier and found I’m a Viking! How could it be? The Vikings’ favourite daily drink was beer instead of my beloved Adam’s ale.
Summary: Such an impressive site attracted me to visit twice.