Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Viking Stonehenge (Kåseberga, Sweden)

Fifty-nine huge sandstone boulders in the shape of a large ship stand proudly in a grassy green headland that pokes into the chilly waters of the Baltic Sea in the southern-most part of Sweden. Scientists are undecided as to the real purpose or timing of these rocks but the most popular theories suggest a construction date of around 500 – 600 A.D. just before the start of the Viking period. Some claim it is a burial monument (though no evidence of bodies have been found) while others claim it is an astronomical clock. As for a number of monuments around the world from such early times, this one highlights the remarkable affiliation and comprehension that older civilisations had with the cosmos as the stones aligns with the summer and winter solstices. Mid-summer dawn is highlighted by the sun streaming directly over the largest stone in the ship.

Ales Stenar (Ale’s Stones) is in the tiny fishing village of Kåseberga (population around 100), a scenic and comfortable bike ride over flat farmland of around 18 kilometres through flat farmland from the historic town of Ystad (bike hire is easy from Ystad). The medieval Ystad is probably best known as the home town of Henning Mankell’s fictional police detective, Kurt Wallander and boasts a lively town square and beautifully preserved houses, churches and buildings.

Almost 70 metres (220 feet) in length, the height of a person and 20 metres (65 feet) across, in true Scandinavian spirit this unusual travel wonder is open for all to see – no fences, no entry charges, no souvenir stands and no tacky trinkets. Reassuringly, there was no graffiti on any of the stones. Probably horrifying to local archaeologists, children climb on the rocks for that ultimate family photo while cattle graze contentedly on the rich pastures.

Near to Ales Stenar in the small harbour area overlooking a pebbly shoreline is the irresistible offerings of the local smokehouse and fish-shop. It is difficult to imagine anything more relaxing than feeding on super-fresh fish or sampling the traditional flavours of smoked mackerel, salmon or pickled herring while watching the impossibly long summer days meander into the evening. They even sold knäckebröd, a kind of crisp rye bread which was supposedly eaten by the Vikings, as it stayed edible for the length of their voyages. A chilled beer would have been perfect but there was sadly none to be found (though probably a good thing from the viewpoint of the 18 kilometre return ride!).

Whether fascinated by the capabilities of ancient civilisations to construct complex calendars or host ornate burials or you’d simply enjoy a pleasant afternoon eating and drinking to the sounds and smells of the Swedish foreshore, Ales Stenar is a worthwhile diversion in travelling southern Sweden.


Martin in Bulgaria said...

Another world mystery wrapped up in time, will we ever know the truth? Sweden always looks clean to me, never been there but did learna bit of Swdish when I was younger, mainly to chat up Swedish women in London!!
Nice post, pictures and commentry, but then we have been treated by this many times before.:)

Nomadic Matt said...

gives me something to go check out when i go to sweden. looks very cool.

iWalk said...

I love these mysterious place!

I'd rather believe that's an astronomical clock too. But it's also said that's some signals left by Extraterrestrials.

GMG said...

Hi Mark! With a 48h day I would have time to enjoy your blog more often; shame on the time controller… ;))
Amazing pictures of this Swedish monument and village! Beautiful Nepal and lovely Pedjama photos!

Meanwhile Blogtrotter will be departing Tunisia 2007 soon, but managed to keep the delay in posting on twelve (12) months only. Great achievement… ;)) Enjoy and have a great weekend!

Mark H said...

@martin: Thank you for your kind comments. In my useless skills basket, I can count to 10 in Swedish! I suspect we'll never crack some of these mysteries.

@nomadicmatt: I love the Scandinavian countries. Check out the west of Norway especially.

@iwalk: I suspect some kind of astronomical tool as well.

@GMG: Thank you

jasperjugan said...

hmmm... stonehenge in sweden! wow!

Mark H said...

@jasperjugan: Haven't heard from you in a while. I guess a lot of these older countries had stone monuments.

eunice said...

I thought Stonehenge is in England. so Sweden also has it! My friend and his family have just flown to Sweden to visit a relative. The flight ticket and airport taxes are so high now. Airport taxes cost them USD600+/pax from Singapore. I have not been to Scandinavia before.

Quickroute said...

I've been to Stonehenge in the UK but never heard of this one

Mark H said...

@eunice: A nick-name but several European countries have strange stone circles.

@quickroute: This isn't publicised at all. Simply lies in a field around grazing cattle. Still remarkable to see.

BarbaraW said...

Fascinating. Makes me wonder how some sites, like Stonehenge, gain such notoriety, yet others like this one lie in sleepy obscurity, despite the fact that it is just as interesting.

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