Luxeumbourg: 2 days (and 3/4) Travel Log

Hey Guys! It’s September already and we are on the letter L on our ABC of World History. And it is quite convenient because I had the perfect material for this update from a trip I did a couple of years back and that I never quite had the opportunity to post about as I was right in the middle of my PhD thesis write up and several other publications. But, Today is your day 😉

For my birthday in 2017, I was lucky enough to go to the beautiful and incredibly surprising city of Luxembourg and as I was there I had a look around other places outside of the city, mostly Vianden castle which is a great site to go to. I literally had all of 2 full days and 3/4 of another as the flight back to the UK on the last day was at 8 pm, and I must say it was all a very pleasant experience. So today, I will leave with you my quick and super packed of history and goodness travel log.

Continue reading “Luxeumbourg: 2 days (and 3/4) Travel Log”

Nu History Podcast – Episode 1: History in a Pandemic

Introducing the Nu History podcast! A key feature of our newly re-branded blog!

Our aim with these podcasts is to simply get together and talk about any given topic relating to history! And usually we will plan to have a special guest or two to learn from about their area of expertise.

For our first episode, hosts Lilly and Alex are joined by James to talk about our different perspectives on how the Covid-19 pandemic has and will effect history, particularly in museums, academia and reenactment!

You can listen through Spotify below, or head to Anchor for links to follow on Apple, Google and wherever else you get your podcasts.

Stockholm – A Lesson in Museology

Just a few days back, Alex and I had the absolute pleasure to travel to Stockholm; the Scandinavian capital had been on my list for a while to complete the “Scandinavian Triumvirate” I had promised myself I would experienced before my PhD was over (mission success!). Stockholm was certainly a wonderful visit, and a lot of material that I will be sharing with you guys over the next few weeks/months/years/centuries 😉 will come from what I learnt there. But one of the things that certainly stuck with me and I value of this trip is the amazing museums I visited. You know, working in the heritage industry you get a thing for cool museums, but this has always been one of my obsessions: the public should simply have fun whilst exploring the past, art, or science, or whatever the hell you’re into. And the Swedes certainly know how to deliver. So today, I am going to just rant about how cool these places were, and what made them cool – and pictures of course.

One of the first things that already caught my attention when I was preparing the holiday was the abundance of museum in the city. Let’s face it, Stockholm is not a huge European capital, so I would never expect to find mini-London…but there were So Many Museums and Galleries!! There is an entire section of the city, east of the old town (Gamla Stockholm), that could be called museum miles if it wanted to. This is the area of the Djurganden – the Royal National Gardens. In our trip, time was tight, but I had decided that an entire day would probably go into exploring this area. So, in my selection of activities to do here, I included a visit to the Vasa, Vikingaliv, Skansen, and part 2 with the ABBA museum – would have love to do the Nordic museum (which is btw a gorgeous building far prettier than the Royal Palace?!) but as you all know Alex doesn’t get art and I was feeling generous. And what can I tell you just with those 4 examples? That Stockholm provides the best of old and new museology to the greatest standard.

Our first stop was the Vasa Museum, and I swear I have never seen anything quite like it. I am a seasoned traveller and an experienced historian, this was mind-blowing. The Vasa is this royal ship which was going to be the pride and joy of Gustav Vasa, and that due to many misfortunes (more about that a different day) sank on its first voyage 20 mins into its journey just outside of the port in Stockholm. A lot of people compare it to the Mary Rose – yeah, alright, you wished! The museum is built around the ship itself, with the actual boat inside the building as the central piece. It reminded me in that regards a bit to the Fram museum in Oslo, which we visited a couple of years back, and you can read about it here: https://nuhistory.wordpress.com/2016/04/09/bygdoy-museums-in-oslo-4-exhibitions-in-1-day/

Without going into the history of the ship, what is great about this museum is the following: there are two huge auditoriums I didn’t even have time to enjoy fully where they put documentaries and videos explaining you different aspects of the ship and the archaeological and conservation work put into it. There are guided tours so incredibly often, and if there is not a tour you can buy an audio guide in pretty much every other language for a very affordable price. the audio guides seemed very thorough and detailed. The thing is, though, I struggled to not spend more than 2 hours there without a tour or an audio guide because there is simply so much information and so well exposed in the information panels and displays, which by the way are very modern and well presented, both in English and Swedish.

The museum has different floor levels dedicated to different aspects of the boat and seafaring so you can appreciate not only the actual ship for what it is but learn in the process. This is something that, for example, the Cuty Sark is missing, and the Mary Rose attempts to do, but due to the current work they can’t quite do, and it really brings the ship alive. There were also good stuff for the children too – not only activities to learn about the boat but little video game like interactive displays where you learnt about navigation and sea faring. I particularly enjoyed as well the recreated port where they tell you the story behind the sinking of the boat. In general, it is very engaging. This is something that is evident as well in Vikingaliv: technology reigns over displays. As you come into this modest sized museum, you find plenty of touch screens and video stands covering different aspects of Viking society.

There are a lot of things there to keep you entertained too such as a big board of hnefatalf – or more commonly known as Viking chess, helmets and weapons to try on. And what I found most amazing, an entire board dedicated to Viking Age research and latest archaeological and history news. But, of course, who could forget the ride? They have something similar to this in Jorvik. It is like a little train ride that tell you this saga story through which you discover different tensions of the Viking Age and its people. The models, images and sounds were really great and the story is very fitting – without it being any of the well-known sagas, it takes bits and bobs from all of them to give you a general picture of the Viking age. The museum is very much up to date and provides with the most up to date research, interviews and historiographical theories – some of which are still trying to catch on in places like the UK.

When you come out of a place like that and submerge yourself in the huge thing that is Skansen Open Air Museum, you can feel like you have walked through time. Not just because of the time period has changed, but because the museum concept is different. This was the very first open air museum in Europe. The purpose of places such as Skansen is to provide a picturesque idea of how society has changed throughout time by recreating buildings and other aspects of society. In Skansen you can find reenactors spinning, carving, even riding horse carts.

Skansen also contains a little zoo of animals typical of Sweden and other fun things like the little farm for children, an old timey funicular and a stage for ALL SANG: a very famous Swedish tradition of something like karaoke that gets film and played on the TV. In essence this is trying to represent like a compact version of Sweden in just the one site that comprises the culture, history and ecosystem of the country. This type of spaces were popular during the late 19th and early 20th century, but the displays have been kept up to date and the general condition of the park is remarkably good, which is important for a place of this type in order not to look out of date. But, as I am sure you are getting now from my recollections of Sweden, being up to date is something the Swedes know best, and this is perfectly exemplified by the ABBA museum – in case the others hadn’t convince you yet.

Even if you do not like ABBA, if you are in Stockholm, just go, because this is an experience, not just a visit. You are gonna spend around 20 pounds to get in, but you are gonna be there for 2 hours easily, and it is going to be worth every penny. This is one of the most interactive museums I have ever been to. Not only you have several displays with ABBA memorabilia, costumes, records, etc, there is a lot of audio-visual information as well – from video to sound, this screams 21st century.

On top of that, it is fun! I found myself mixing ABBA music, singing and dancing, performing (quite badly) for an audition to become the 5th member of the group with holograms of the band right by me, whilst learning a ridiculous amount about music, ABBA and Sweden. I cannot explain with words how sincerely fun, new and great this museum is. The gift shop is also great: it is small but it has all the right type of souvenirs and very fairly priced. And, just to top it off, as we went in, they do have a small space dedicated to temporary exhibitions. My luck was that they had there the guitars that made the history of rock, and on top of hearing amazing stories about these instruments and the musical pieces that made the legends, I got to play guitar hero cause why not?!

So, what has become apparent from my experience in Stockholm is that, in Sweden, museums are believed to be fun: and they are! More importantly, this is what museums should be; cool, interesting places where you learn and enrich yourself as a person through an engaging experience that aids your learning. Move past the antiquarian cabinets and dry lines of text telling you “here be a sword from the 6th century” and actually take them closer to people. Another example that tops it off for me was the kids room in the History Museum (which is free btw).

This room was not just a play room, but a space for learning. There is a huge section which is like a sandbox where copies of artefacts are hidden so the kids can dig them up and then put them on the displays and tell the stories of said objects and learn in the process with the books – and audio books/stories – that you can find not just in this room but across the museum. Tell me when was the last time your children had that much fun and hands-on interaction in a museum? Cause I do not recall.

So, wrapping it up – you want to see good museums, for a more than fair price and genuinely learn the most up to date information on the subject whilst having fun? Go To Stockholm.

Hideous Visitor Attitudes Learnt and Experienced from Working in the Heritage Industry

 

After having worked for a long time in the heritage industry, I feel like this is something I need to share and talk about. I guess as a visitor of cultural attractions and a cultural historian with a keen eye for public history, it is something I have always been very aware of, but never really thought about until I actually had to deal with it on a daily basis. And the truth is, as sad as it sounds, that the heritage industry in this country (and others) suffers from an incredible mistreatment from the visitors – at least in some cases. Culture is at a great deal of being endangered. We live in the age of technology. Our cultural values may be replaced for new artefacts that reign in the digital area. The respect for the items of the past, of long gone civilizations, and even more those that still remain is very necessary to understand where we have come from and where we are heading as a species. Technology can help us preserve these things, but it needs to be done through a responsible use of such resources. War and hate crimes destroy our heritage. In the not so distant Middle East news reports advise of monument been obliterated by the likes of ISIS. Art pieces go missing or are stolen. And that is to name a few. Culture, heritage and patrimony are worth keeping alive. So here I will share some pretty common issues I encounter on my day-to-day job, which reflect pretty poor social practices and a terrible treatment of culture which we need to address and fix.

-“Why do I have to pay for entry? I am a local I pay taxes/It used to be free” – Yes, very good. Are you aware of the cuts done to local governments in term of culture and the arts? Do you know how many museums actually get funding from the Estate? Far less than you think. Just because some of the big museums in places like London (and not all by the way) are free, it does not mean everyone else has access to the same amount of resources. You may think that paying to go into churches is an abomination, but tell me how do you think that wonder of the English Gothic gets repaired and cleaned so it does not fall apart so people like you can come and visit it? And how do you think the person that has to be at the door get paid? Or that tour guide that was so nice to show you around? Hardly anything is free these days. I am not arguing whether it should be free or not – I wished! What I am saying is that, as much as this may seem outrageous, the heritage industry lacks a sincere amount of funding and resources and simply because you are unhappy with it, it does not mean you can make the staff working on that site feel awkward about it, or verbally abuse them and their job. We are people, we have feelings too, and simply because we are on a public facing role, it does not mean we can or will just take it.

Continue reading “Hideous Visitor Attitudes Learnt and Experienced from Working in the Heritage Industry”

Travel Journal: Museum Hopping in Edinburgh

Day One: 16/11/16

I’d lusted after Edinburgh from afar for absolutely ages, but it was only last week– after years of increasingly desperate planning– that I finally got the chance to visit the city of my dreams.

Getting off the Megabus was tricky. For one, I’d been sitting for a twelve hour coach journey and my joints were stubbornly refusing to work. But there was something else, something which made me pause at the automatic door, probably to the great annoyance of the coach driver. It was a deep-seated nervousness, combined with a sense of This is it! You’re actually here!

You see, after years of hoping and dreaming, the reality of it scared me. What if Edinburgh failed to live up to my ridiculously high expectations? What if, after all, it was simply the grey, ‘gloomy’ city my lecturer had described in a reply to my Sorry, won’t be in next week’s lecture, third year is too much and I’m running away to Scotland for a while email? (Of course the real, Actual Responsible Adult™ reason for visiting Edinburgh was to scope out the postgrad open day, but I’ll run away from that as well, while I can).

Eventually I did get off the coach and, in a bit of a daze, I wheeled both myself and my suitcase out of the station and on to North Saint Andrew Street. The first thing that hit me, straight away, was the temperature. It was freezing, but absurdly pleasant after sitting in a stuffy coach all night. In the east, the sun was rising above the distant Firth of Forth, and the sky was a gorgeous shade of purple, specked with deep oranges and strands of golden yellow which were reflected off the tall Georgian buildings nearby. My hair, caught up in the near-Arctic wind, whipped around me and, while I had barely slept all night, I felt exhilarated. I knew then– as cheesy as it may sound– that Edinburgh would not disappoint.

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Edinburgh at sunrise. Photo not my own as I was preoccupied with a little existential crisis.

So we set off in search of Justin, our Airbnb host for the week, to collect keys and settle in before a long day of open day-ing and thinking of the future-ing. He was a little late and for a moment, huddled together against the cold on Nicholson Street, we wondered if Airbnb was possibly all a big scam. But Justin soon arrived, and was lovely. He gave us a quick tour of the flat –bathroom here, kitchen there, keys through the letter box when you leave – and then left us to recover from the journey and de-zombify ourselves for the day ahead.

 

The open day at The University of Edinburgh was brilliant. As the main reason for travelling 418.3 gruelling miles in a Megabus, I found it both useful and decidedly worth it. Still not 100% sure of the course itself though, I’m possibly leaning ever so slightly more towards another one at the moment, but it’s a shame because I fell completely head-over-heels for the university itself. Also, credit where credit’s due, the staff and open day helpers were excellent throughout the day, answering any questions we had and being very friendly.

Afterwards we all returned to Justin’s and had well-deserved naps, relishing at the prospect of sleeping in actual beds rather than a crowded moving vehicle. I slept deeply and dreamlessly and woke feeling refreshed, if still a little tired. We had dinner– a lovely meal of pasta and lentils courtesy of Wendy then left the house again for a haunted ghost walk of Edinburgh’s underground spaces with City of the Dead Tours.

It was raining buckets when we left the house, and positively chucking it down by the time we arrived at the meeting point along the Royal Mile. The drenched cobble stones and masonry were a glossy charcoal, like something out of a melodramatic Victorian murder mystery, glittering with the reflected reds and oranges of streetlights that could so easily have been gaslights. Just as I was thinking all that’s missing is Jack The Ripper, the tour guide appeared. He was draped in a thick black cloak, with a top hat perched on his head, and he called us over to the group with a thick Scots accent.

As he led the group to our underground destination deep in the Edinburgh vaults, he spoke about the history of the local area. It was embellished for effect, and there were certain bits that didn’t sound entirely historically accurate, but his words rang with a gritty realism. For the most part, he didn’t mention hauntings or ghostly goings on, but instead created a sense of horror through his descriptions of the conditions experienced by the very poorest of society.

He led us down ambling side-roads and winding cobbled streets, through historic red-light districts which were now lined with tourist shops and artisan bakeries, speaking all the while of the horrific overcrowding of the eighteenth century city, the dire mortality rates, and the failures of the state and the church in caring for the poor. When of course we finally did make it underground, he regaled us with ghost stories and descriptions of the South Bridge Entity which was said to dwell in the vaults. It was spooky, without a doubt, but I felt that the true horror of the night was resoundingly in his descriptions of the past.

As we emerged above ground again, the Old Town stretched out around us, appearing both ageless and ancient. It was all too easy to imagine the sights he had described, and the people who had suffered in this place. That was what haunted me most.

It soon started to rain heavily again and we were drenched trying to find our way home in the labyrinth of backstreets. Naturally, when Google Maps failed to work, we blamed the South Bridge Entity for making us lose our way.


Day Two: 17/11/16

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Had a slight lie-in to recover from the knackering twelve-hour journey, and ended up leaving the house just after lunchtime. Our first port of call was the National Museum of Scotland, which I was embarrassingly keen to visit. It was a stunning building, both inside and out, which really did credit to the fascinating exhibits. The hands-on science and technology gallery was great fun, and we spent far too long playing with the interactive exhibits, making hot air balloons lift off and programming a robot to do our bidding. There was also a fair bit of snapchatting going on as we took in the culture which, to be fair, some exhibits seemed to directly cry out for.

As dedicated Outlander fans, Bryony and I soon headed to the eighteenth century section, where we tried and failed to be dignified in our adoration of the era. Here, we were able to sit in a miniature thatched cottage, listen to traditional music of the period, squeeze into children’s dress-up clothes, and attempt to take in as much info as we possibly could. The exhibits on Culloden and the Jacobite risings in particular were beautifully comprehensive, and it was tricky to pull ourselves away from it all.

We could have happily sat in that thatched cottage reading about Bonnie Prince Charlie for hours, but it was getting late and we wanted to visit the Royal Mile before the shops shut. So we dragged ourselves away and exited via the (genuinely amazing) gift shop. It was then only a short walk before we found ourselves on one of Edinburgh’s most famous streets. The Royal Mile was lush and, to tell you the truth, I spent far too much money in its many tourist shops. I bought a gorgeously warm and cosy Edinburgh hoodie for myself, and presents for friends and family, as well as what felt like a few hundred postcards. Worth every penny, to be honest. Je ne regrette rien.

We were making our way back to the house when, purely by chance, we realised how close we were to Greyfriars Kirkyard. Of course, being the mature adults that we are, we were thrilled at the prospect of visiting one of Scotland’s most haunted locations after dark. It was nearly pitch-black and we walked around quickly, using the light from our phones to guide us, while attempting to avoid the group of people filming a Most Haunted style documentary in one corner of the cemetery. Eventually we began to feel unsettled and decided to leave.


Day Three: 18/11/16

We woke up early in order to make it to the Glasgow University open day. Here, almost immediately upon arrival, I fell in love with the Glaswegian subway which was so refreshingly easy to use after years spent getting lost on the tube. The city had a buzz to it that’s difficult to describe, but it was artsy and ancient, energetic and fun. Glasgow doesn’t take itself seriously, which I really love about it.

The open day itself was perfect, and as of now I’m definitely planning to make an application. Everyone we encountered bent over backwards to help us and one man even walked us to the subway station in the pouring rain when we asked for directions. The city is undoubtedly deserving of its title as the world’s friendliest city.

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The beautiful University of Glasgow.

After the open day, we had a quick look around the Hunterian Museum, then did a fair amount of tourist-ing, followed by a little bit of shopping where I was very tempted to buy quite a lot of gloves. Spotting the Duke of Wellington statue, cone and all, was a definite highlight of the trip. So too was dinner at Mono, a charming vegan restaurant/record shop in the city centre. I had a delicious to-fish and chips (battered tofu = Pure Heaven) followed by a chocolate avocado and walnut tart. Really wish there was a restaurant like this nearer to Winchester, because I could quite easily spend most of my life there.

As it was, I left Glasgow feeling sad that the day was over. I would have loved to spend more time in this brilliant city.


Day Four: 19/11/16

We spent our fourth day storming Edinburgh castle. I was amazed by how much there was to see and do here, with many individual museums nestled within the castle’s keep. After a fascinating but freezing guided tour followed by the 1pm firing of the cannon, we had a chilly lunch in the tea rooms, huddled around Bryony’s teapot for warmth. We then headed to the National War Museum, where we spent well over an hour reading displays and being drawn into the history on offer. We even found a radiator in one room, which was a godsend.

Not to mention, it was also the perfect spot for the odd #MuseumSelfie which really is terribly good fun. In the words of curator Mar Dixon (@MarDixon), “I always feel so bad for those people who don’t get #MuseumSelfie or any fun in museums. I just want to hug them and tell them it’ll be ok.”

It was difficult to decide where to visit next, as we were completely spoilt for choice. Eventually though we settled on the Prisons of War which showcased the living conditions of POWs held there throughout the centuries. These men ranged from French sailors captured in 1758, shortly after the Seven Years’ War, to soldiers of the American War of Independence (1775-83), right up to inmates from wars with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France (1793-1815). The surrounding displays told tales of the prisoners, one of whom was a five-year old drummer boy, taken at Trafalgar (1805). Another, desperate to escape, hid in a dung cart, only to be killed on the rocks below as the contents were tipped over the castle wall. Four more succeeded in escaping in 1799, by lowering themselves down the rock on washing lines, while in the more audacious outbreak of 1811, 49 prisoners cut their way through the parapet wall, beside the battery. All but one escaped and the hole is still there today.

Next we sampled some lovely Bruadar whiskey in the Whiskey and Finest Food shop, then visited The Royal Palace, a principle royal residence from the eleventh century up until the early seventeenth. It was a fascinating building, with a grand history. Indeed, it was here that, on the 19th of June, 1566, Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to the future King James VI of Scotland and James I of England and Ireland. It was truly remarkable to think that the first king of England and Scotland, a man who would go on to shape both nations so dramatically, had been born in such an impossibly small room.

The next part of our visit to the castle was spent admiring the Scottish crown jewels, which are the oldest in the British Isles, created in Scotland and Italy during the reigns of James IV and James V. They were first used for the coronation of Mary Queen of Scots in September, 1543. We saw the Stone of Destiny as well, also known as the Stone of Scone, which is traditionally thought to have once been part of an ancient royal bench-throne, and imbued with sacred powers. For centuries, Scottish kings were ceremoniously crowned atop the stone, tying the monarch to the land forevermore.

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The Honours of Scotland. Photo not mine.

The Stone has an eventful history. In 1296, believing himself to have a God-given right of superiority over Scotland, Edward I forcibly removed the Scots’ royal regalia and holy relics, along with 65 chests containing the records of the kingdom. In short, he took all the objects of statehood, making sure that the Stone of Destiny was in his haul, it was removed from the abbey of Scone in August, 1296 and sent to Westminster Abbey. Here, it was enclosed in a new throne, the Coronation Chair, where it has been used ever since in the coronations of most monarchs of England and, from 1714, all the rulers of Great Britain.

However, on Christmas Day, 1950, four students from the University of Glasgow removed the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey and brought it back to Scotland. On the 11th of April, 1951, it turned up 500 miles away, at the high altar of Arbroath Abbey! Afterwards, it was once again taken to Westminster Abbey, but the actions of the students made people begin to ask Why wasn’t the stone in Scotland?

Finally, in 1996, the Stone of Destiny was returned to Scotland on the 700th anniversary of its removal, under the proviso that it may be ‘borrowed’ for any future coronations at Westminster Abbey. It’s a truly remarkable object, and I could easily have spent all day reading about its history. There’s also a great film called The Stone of Destiny which tells the story of the four students who returned the Stone to Scotland. It’s a bit clichéd, and Charlie Cox’s Scottish accent is more than a little bit dreadful, but it’s a genuinely heart-warming tale, and I would really recommend it to anyone interested in the Stone’s history.

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Some subtle photobombing from Bryony.

Finally, after a quick look around Saint Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest structure in Edinburgh (dating from 1130), and a moment of quiet reflection in The Scottish National War Memorial, it was time to leave Edinburgh Castle. Our visit was incredible, without a doubt 100% worth the admission fee. There was so much to see and do here, and exhibits to entertain people of all ages and historical inclinations. A really marvellous day out.

We walked along Princes Street on the way back to Justin’s house, recreating the opening scene of Trainspotting. Once again, the city was freezing but exhilarating, generating a genuine ‘Lust for Life’ in us all.

We got back to the house quite quickly, having finally learnt to navigate the tangled web of Edinburgh’s streets, and ordered delicious pizza from the incredible ‘Dough Pizza’. A truly ‘Perfect Day’.


Day Five: 20/11/16

Returned to Winchester today.

Annoyingly, the coach journey was delayed due to traffic and road closures, and ended up taking almost 15 hours altogether. A little bit hellish, but certainly not something that could detract from the overall experience of our trip.

Because, you see, it turned out that my expectations of Edinburgh weren’t ‘ridiculously high’ at all. This was something the city proved to me day after day, as I fell more deeply in love with it than I ever could have anticipated.

Another factor I couldn’t have anticipated is my new-found dependency on Irn Bru. Really have to thank Bryony, my enabler, for introducing me to that little habit. Definitely not something to regret though.

Special thanks to my lovely companions Bryony (@bryonyjo31), Maddie (@maddiech_) and Wendy (@whitecinnamonsugar).

 

Museum Disparity: Resources in the Heritage Industry. Examples from Portugal.

As you may know, I was on holiday over in northern Portugal just this summer gone. Although this was not such a museum/site centered visit as maybe those of Denmark and Norway, and I guess that is kind of the point of what I am going to talk to you about today. For many years, I thought it was just a Spanish issue the fact that our museums and galleries were few in number, poor in design and not very well-kept. Of course, please understand I am not talking of main attractions such as El Prado or other museums in Madrid and Barcelona. Places of national importance never suffer. I have a great example in Santander with the Museo Arqueologico de Cantabria: a museum that only has 10% of its collection on display, that opens as of when, and that kept the same sad look for over 2 decades…And we hold some pretty important Celtic heritage in there, you know? But I feared this may have been the same in other European countries in my visit to Italy. I was truly shocked by what was the so famous Academy in Florence, with the art of Michelangelo being kept inside, in this place that is easy to miss (or so it was in the year 2008), and that looked seriously run down. Perhaps I am just too used to the wonders of the French heritage industry. I mean, you all have been to France, maybe? You’d know that even the smallest village that has any artefact of historical/cultural interest is kept to the very best that can be, surrounded by information. The French have a wonderful ability to make an informative visit out of the finds of a detritus pit in a desolated archaeological site. Sure, I do not expect that all countries would have this ability, but it does make me think: what are we missing? I mean even here in the UK sometimes I get surprised by the lack of contextual information in sites managed by organisations such as English Heritage or The National Trust. Sometimes they seem to follow more business-like models, building events around these living treasures rather than for the sake of the history and knowledge preserved in them. And that is the problem, though, right? It is all about the money…

Whilst in Braga, I was lucky enough to make it down to the Museu D. Diogo de Sousa: the local archaeology museum. You can find the details here:

http://mdds.culturanorte.pt/pt-PT/Default.aspx

I must admit, for a small local museum, I found it pleasant. The fair to get in was more than reasonable, the material inside was certainly interesting – and to my surprise I found that even the actual shape of the museum has another cultural use: as a theatre for plays mostly in the spring and summer! That is a clever use of a multicultural space. I was disappointed to see we were the only people within the complex, however. Admittedly it was a hot sunny day, right after lunch, perhaps not the most propitious time for a museum visit. But even so. The gallery displays were very atmospheric, they reminded me to those used at the Nationalmuseet of Copenhagen: wood, glass, steel. Nice, modern, simple, useful. Some other items, like the many stone pillars found on the basement floor were simply displayed in the open, with different light uses, which I believe are done this way to ensure their preservation.

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Nevertheless, and although I really enjoyed the collection, I found that there was a considerable lack of explanations: no contextual panels, no more than a few words written next to each artefact. I also found there was a fair amount of empty space. There was one monitor used to display different aspects of Portuguese history within the context of prehistory and the Roman empire – which is the main focus of the collection. But there was no sound to go with the images, and only one screen which looked rather small in such an empty wall. Then as you leave the museum it is very easy to miss the fact that there is a roman mosaic in the basement of the facilities – a lovely guide took us there because she could clearly see we were pretty lost.

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As we left the museum, we landed on the roman baths just across the road. Strangely enough, this is a very easy place to miss. The facilities left me again with a mixed feeling: this site is actually still being excavated by the archaeology students at the university of Braga, because the found the remains of what seems to be an earlier theatre by the side of the dig. Yet there was all of 3 more people apart from ourselves. The staff was very friendly and asked us whether we wanted to watch the video in Portuguese or English. The thing is that before you go and actually see the site there is this small entrance hall with a big TV and some chairs were they show you a video explaining the changes in the uses of the baths – which was really cool by the way, and well informative. And then, off you go into this site…

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The ruins of the baths are covered, and there is a few places where you can sit if you may. But that is pretty much it…Why?! These things are cool and in a remarkable preservation state for where they have been found! PLUS the theatre on the side which you can just about make out.

…We found a similar thing when we went to the beautiful Guimarães, where we visited the Museu Arqueológico Martins Sarmento, which is in a wonderful building that holds, according to the towns own tourism website: “principal referência da cultura castreja em Portugal e um dos mais importantes museus de todo o espaço europeu onde se manifestou aquela cultura”. In english: one of the best example of the castro culture in Portugal and one of the most important collections in europe regarding the subject…And trust me: it is.

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There is an entire archaeological site thrown in those 19th century cases screaming history at you.

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Yet, once again, we were the only visitors, and the lack of information and display use was devastating. Granted, we were given an A4 page with info on each display case…How can we be keeping these things like that?! And okay, I get it, this is probably the original display, which is super cool that has kept for this long, but…Did I miss something? I mean, I am sure I did. Anyway, this is the web to the museum http://www.csarmento.uminho.pt/sms.asp

Then, we have weird things right? Like in the same town you have the castle of Afonso Henriques, conqueror of Portugal, and all I could think about the display (which is awesome!) was: “Well, I am having such flashbacks of the castle of William the Conqueror in Falaise”.

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Just wonderful amount of information, very creative, innovative and modern. I could have stayed there for hours and hours. And the little video with the cartoons explaining the history of the first king of Portugal was just A+ work. The same goes to the palace of the dukes of Braganza: collection that envies no other ducal manor house I’ve been to…

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Apparently some people on TripAdivsor were complaining that it was “very empty”…

So what went “wrong” with the other sites? Or the amazing collection at Rates explaining the entire story of their quirky church, which by the sounds of it only me and mum heard probably for days according to the guide inside the gallery. And this was free by the way – the rest were not. Then we have the example of a superb museum (more about this at a later stage; watch this space) in Porto: World of Discoveries. An entire museum dedicated to the Portuguese Age of Discovery. Taking out the tickets, the receptionist asked us how did we know the museum was there! The very receptionist! And this museum was nothing like the others: this is a modern museum, with plenty of funding coming through, with temporary exhibitions that are multicultural and multifunded – and with a thematic restaurant on the top…And a wonderful gift shop. With information in like 5 or 7 different languages…

But that eyrie question…How did you know?…Were we not supposed to? Are we doing cultural visits wrong? Or perhaps we are the odd kind of tourists, going to a wonderful place like Portugal expecting something else than nice beaches and sunny weather? And if that is the case…what are we doing to our heritage industries? Because it sounds to me like we are deviating them from any real value, and taking away the power of knowledge from the public. And that, is not right. Public awareness needs to increase, potentially through a reconsideration of what heritage is and how we use it.

 

Bygdøy Museums in Oslo: 4 Exhibitions in 1 day

Welcome to another post related to our recent trip to the Norwegian capital! Today I will be giving you a quick review and visit to these 4 fantastic museums that are all placed in the peninsula of Bygdøy. You can get there either by boat service or on the bus, takes about 10-20 minutes from Oslo’s city centre depending on the method of transport that you take and the time of the day. These are the museums Alex and I wanted to see, but there are some more, so you could certainly get 2 days worth of visits in this area if you really wanted – we simply did not have time for the Holocaust Centre or the Maritime Museum! Now, I appreciate that 4 museums in one day seems like a lot, but do not let this scare you away, they are all actually not very big museums at all. And if you are willing to stretch the area of Bygdøy to a 2 day affair, then you can spread them out even more.

Let me give you a breakdown of our schedule for that day: Viking Ship Museum dead on the opening hour at 10:00 am, we finished there around 11:30 am, and walked for a couple of minutes to the Norwegian Folk Museum. We were done there by after lunch, around 1:oo pm roughly. Then we headed for the waterfront and decided we had time to see the Fram Museum, where we spent a little bit more than an hour. Finally we landed next door to the Kon Tiki Museum right before 3, having an hour exactly until the museum closed – we did not miss anything terribly important, apart from the film showing of the Oscar-winning documentary, for which they have specific shows during the day. In any case, the visit were not overwhelming (this was Alex’s judgement, not mine! He is the saner one, you can trust him), and the ship thematic really worked well, highlighting the individual contexts and really bringing forward how important boats have been for the Norwegian nation throughout all of history, and for different purposes. Now I wont go mad, expect a few pictures, videos and text reviewing out experience. In any case, I hope you get if nothing else a glimpse of a very interesting cultural enterprise!

Viking Ship Museum

I could not be happier than seen the fascinating viking age ships that have made such a deep mark in historiography – I was there, and with the ones from Denmark, this is all something I can tick off the list of things to do in life. The museum itself is not very big, and it does not have loads of material in exhibition, or explanatory panels, but to be honest – if you’re here is because you want to see the ships, and they are totally work the visit. This will only be a teaser as I have plans for a combo update with the ships of Roskilde too, so here you go:

Oseberg burial ship, in all its glory.
Oseberg burial ship, in all its glory.

It was incredibly difficult to photograph the boats with my incredibly poor equipment – aka my phone – so I decided at some point that video was useful – my comments and difficult for words show how boggled I was at this. Vid. 1 – Gokstad. Vid.2 – new museum competition.

Thinking about the future! Conscious effort of preserving the past, which I prominently saw all across different museums in Oslo.
Thinking about the future! Conscious effort of preserving the past, which I prominently saw all across different museums in Oslo.

One of the carved head posts from the burials at Oseberg and Gokstad.
One of the carved head posts from the burials at Oseberg and Gokstad.

One of the burial wagons - simialr to those from the Nationalmuseet in Copenhagen.
One of the burial wagons – similar to those from the Nationalmuseet in Copenhagen.

All in all a fantastic place, but I would recommend now, knowing that they are planning on remodelling soon, that you wait and visit when that is sorted. Unless you are dying to go, in which case hurry up!

Norwegian Folk Museum

This was a very pleasant visit – very similar style and idea to the Open Air Museum in Copenhagen, but with more exhibitions. They have 2 buildings with small exhibits regarding local history about the Saami, the history of regional costume, and other items from Norway’s history from a domestic, rural and cultural point of view. This place has much more activity during the summer months – they have daily activities and different areas of the museum open. Some places were being improved or restored so I would suggest this may be better suited for warmer seasons. In any case, it was very quaint.

Displays from the Saami exhibition.
Displays from the Saami exhibition.

Buildings from the reconstructed Old Town.

Buildings from the reconstructed Old Town.

The Starve Church - my main reason for oming to this place. Absolutly glorious.
The Starve Church – my main reason for coming to this place. Absolutely glorious.

Fram Museum

Considered the best museum in Norway (period), this was not scheduled but as we had some time spare, we decided we should not go without seeing it. The museum is dedicated to the Norwegian expeditions to both poles, and I must say that, although it is really not my area of expertise, it was a great experience. I have taped most of our interaction in the museum, simply because it was fairly difficult due to the layout to take decent pictures. In addition, the museum is very modern in its approach to the story it tells so taping it allowed me to reflect this a bit better. I have to say, as a piece of contextualisation and suiting purpose to the materials displayed, is probably one of the best museums I have been in the last few years that achieves this greatly. The actual Fram ship is the centre piece o the exhibition – inside it there are displays from cabinets and objects within the boat, while the 3 levels created around the ship talk about the different expeditions. They even have an area dedicated for children to feel like a pole explorer. Overall, this museum gets a 5 star rating. And on a last comment, the museum shop is absolutely terrific, with some great books on the subject which are difficult to find elsewhere – so if you stop by, do consider taking some of those gems home with you.

The Fram.
The Fram.

Example of the varied displays from the museum, these metal sheets creating timelines and conecting pictures really bring forward the information while keeping some sort of modern nautical spirit.
Example of the varied displays from the museum, these metal sheets creating timelines and connecting pictures really bring forward the information while keeping some sort of modern nautical spirit.

The Kon-Tiki Museum

This is a museum that every humanist should visit – in my very modest opinion. This is the story of a man who did not give up his theory and vision despite the odds and the criticisms. This is the story of a man who even put his life at risk to proof a valid point regarding the interactions between the people in South America and the Pacific Islands, and beyond. Thor Heyerdahl, man and legend, and the work of a life time, all neatly displayed in this museum, with no ostentation, and no oversimplification of the matter, which is not easily achieved. The man who picked a raft boat and proved his peers wrong, or at least created reasonable doubt. If you can make it for the documentary showing, I am sure you would not regret it – unfortunately we could not make it, which I regret. But in any case the museum is worth a visit, they have the preserved balsas that Thor got made for his historical experiments, as well as some information regarding his involvement in the Easter Island archaeological excavation. This is not only a biographical piece about the man, but also a top piece of ethnographic, anthropological and archaeological research in a subject perhaps not very prominent in Europe.

Ra II - the boat with which Heyerdahl crossed the Atlantic in 1970 trying to prove that there could have been a cultural interaction between the old mediterranean cultures such as Egypt the Americas.
Ra II – the boat with which Heyerdahl crossed the Atlantic in 1970 trying to prove that there could have been a cultural interaction between the old mediterranean cultures such as Egypt the Americas.

The Kon Tiki expedition balsa.
The Kon Tiki expedition balsa.

Displays from the museum - the pannels are concise but present enough information. The objects perhaps are not displayed in the best way, but it works.
Displays from the museum – the panels are concise but present enough information. The objects perhaps are not displayed in the best way, but it works.

And that is all for today folks – I hope these brief looks at these 4 amazing exhibitions gets your wanderlust going so you embark in your own cultural expedition to Norway. See you in the next update!

Icons of Danish Heritage (pt.2) – Trelleborg

This is the continuation of https://nuhistory.wordpress.com/2015/12/07/icons-of-danish-heritage-pt-1-kronborg-castle/ . As you may remember, October 2015 was the time when I went off to Denmark and consumed history and culture with every meal of the day – quite literally. So, today we are off to pretty much the other side of Zealand. We leave lovely Copenhagen, to take an hour train journey, followed by a 20 minutes bus ride that will leave us in the middle of nowhere – for real – to go down some country roads for half an hour, up until the moment we reach the incredible site that is Trelleborg.

Entrance to the historical center
Entrance to the historical center

Now, if you remember the point of this update is to highlight this site as an icon of Danish heritage and history, but more importantly, a site of power. Trelleborg, like Kronborg, was in its day a Viking Age fortress. There are only 3 others in all of Denmark, and Trelleborg is, by far and large, the best preserved of the lot. There are no contemporary written sources that mention these fortresses, so the most accurate way to date them, is by archaeological methods, as well as by using dendrochronological dating of the wooded remains found on site. The results suggest that these date back to the 10th century, which is crucial for the recognition of Trelleborg as a sign of power. Why you ask? Well, this is the time when Harald Bluetooth, King of Denmark was trying to establish his authority over his lands. Potentially, one could argue that these ring-shaped bastions were used by the king as means to keep the locals under control, therefore avoiding struggles with neighbouring magnates, or rather sending a very clear message: here be a Norse lord of might. Certainly, the message was not received with arms wide open…We all know that his own son Sweyn Forkbeard decided he did not like his father’s attitude much and led a rebellion to overthrown him. Sweyn thus succeeded and Harald was killed in battle. now, I realise that this may leave the story in a fairly gloom tone and it may seem defeatist, but I think it does nothing but reinforce the point. Trelleborg was a commendable effort for a great king to show, that even in an area full of quarrels and tension, one could establish some order, even though temporary. More importantly – and this is something your should be able to admire in the pictures – this site left a very visible mark in the landscape. Harald’s legacy was to stay put as if carved in stone.

There are maps dating from the 17th century and later periods in Danish history, where the fortress is clearly delineated. The excavations and investigations on site begun in 1934, lead by Poul Nørlund. The work carried for 9 years, where the completed the full rehabilitation of both the inner and outer circle. They left cement markers as well for the original standing place of the buildings and wooden structures that would have been visible a thousand years earlier. Then, in 1942 the proceeded with the recreation of the long house that still stands today and that is currently used by the re-enactors that populate the historical center.

The reconstructed long house from 1942
The reconstructed long house from 1942

This construction is highly regarded amongst academics in the field as the first accurately and scientifically built structure from the distant past. I cannot emphasise enough how the work in Trelleborg is not only conservation, but preservation and perpetuation of living history, within its original context – and still in the middle of nowhere. I would like to point out that the house was restored in the 1980s, and has been considered to be now not as accurate as originally thought, but for a first effort, I think we will let that one go.

So what does currently happen in Trelleborg? Essentially they have turned it into a reenactment park. Therefore you have the interpretation center, where the hold a small but very informative and well presented exhibition of the fortress, the archaeological excavation, its finds and the its context.

Displays of the exhibition contestualising Viking Age every day life - as an example are the garments
Displays of the exhibition conceptualising Viking Age every day life – as an example are the garments

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They also have one of the most amazing finds of all Denmark – the only preserved Viking shield from Denmark. This completely round wooden shield was found during the excavations of 2008. The results suggest that it was made in Norway during the 900s. I was amazed of how remarkably similar this was to Alex’s shield – wooden plate made out of different layered planks of pine wood and dimensions of the artefact (85 cm of diameter). Interestingly enough, the oxide they found on the surface of the shield suggest it would have been painted white and red, and evidence of a boss in the middle of the planks, suggest this would have been used in battle and not for ceremonial or decorative purposes.

The shield preserved and exhibited at the Trelleborg interpretation center
The shield preserved and exhibited at the Trelleborg interpretation center

Outside in the grounds of the site, you find the reconstructed buildings where a Viking community lives, and where they let you explore different aspects of everyday Norse life. There I bought some Viking coins and went to try to be a Viking.

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Here is where I found out I would have been an awful archer and I ate some porridge inside the long house in the way it would have been traditional for the locals at the time of Harald Bluetooth. I also had the chance to see the recreation of a shield wall – after my archery failure, I decided to just document the wall rather than to participate.


In addition, I saw the villagers crafting Nålebinding to keep themselves warm, as well as different embroideries to decorate their garments.

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Finally, I took a long moment to walk through the fortress. It was pretty magical.

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The cement posts visible from every angle really help bringing things alive in your head. The two roads that give the ring the shape of a cross are recreated from the original wooden paths that would have helped moving goods, people, cattle and men at arms. Just so you get an idea of the dimensions of the place, the inner circle has a diameter of 136 meters, with an inner rampart that is 17 meters wide by 5 meters high.

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The fortress would have held 16 houses in this ring. Access to the inner fortress is provided by a timber bridge stopping you from falling into the 4 meter deep ditch that encircles the moat. This was the most essential defense mechanism the fortress depended on. Then in the outer circle we would have found 15 extra houses, with more space between them.

Recreation of the fortress from the interpretation center
Recreation of the fortress from the interpretation center

We also find here the funerary site, where the archaeologists unearthed 135 graves, containing a total of 157 individuals. In total, the estimates advise that a total of 500-800 warriors could have been garrisoned in the settlement in bellicose times. If we think that Kronborg could have provided for 1000 soldiers standing siege for 6 weeks, some 500 years later, I think that can be considered as remarkable.

Recreation fo the fortress defense
Recreation of the fortress defense

How the garrison would have worked
How the garrison would have worked

Now, what is even better is that, if you go during the summer, and not in the middle of the low season like I did, you can enjoy Trelleborg at is best due to the Viking festival. Re-enactors of all over Europe come for the festival, where the amount of people and activities to take part in triplicate. Moreover, you can even camp in the grounds of the site, and feel just a little bit closer to 10th century Viking Age Denmark.

Yet, I must now depart. But we will have more of Denmark soon, for Denmark was not powerful only because of its fortresses…If you want to find out more of the history of this country, and explore more of it with me, then keep your eyes open for my upcoming post on the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum and the Domkirke!

Icons of Danish Heritage (pt. 1) – Kronborg Castle

Right, I know, I have gone down the rabbit hole, I’m never getting out of Wonderland now, but…Denmark was truly excellent and full of amazing things to see and visit!! Therefore, I have decided to do this blog post about two of the most emblematic places in Zealand that I visited. I think both of them hold great historical value, because both sites are internationally renown, but also because they represent the importance of this country within Europe. In addition, I believe they also symbolise important moments in the history of the area. Kronborg and Trelleborg reflect strong places of power for Denmark. Therefore, let me give you a quick tour of these amazing locations.

Kronborg Castle: Royal Palace, Hamlet’s Home and Site of Legend:

Kronborg Castle is around 50 minutes by train from Copenhagen. The town where it is located, Helsingør, is small but cosy. Right by the coast, this is an important stop for many ferries, and the spot has always been important for shipping but also for international relations – from here you can easily get to the Swedish post of Helsingborg…The names are not that similar as a coincidence…There seems to have been a strong connection between the inhabitants of both places, and in fact toponymy science suggests that the Danish port became a way for the to control the strait between the two countries. Anyway, Helsingør is lovely, but the castle is even better.

Covering an area of 16000 squared metres (including attics and basements), the bastion appears like an arrow piercing the sea. The fortress has been dated back to the 1420s, when Eric of Pomerania ordered for it to be erected. Back then, Denmark owned portions of the south of Sweden. So it was very important to keep these key locations secure. Ever since, the Danish kings took care of the castle: King Christian III supplemented the wall with bastions in 1558-1559. However, the castle could have not become the astonishing site that it is nowadays without the imput of Frederick II (1574-1585). He was the one who rebuilt the medieval fortress, and got it to evolve into the diamond-shaped bastion that it is nowadays (I’ll tell you all about these fortresses some other time…got an upcoming blog post about this soon!). But in essence, you may be aware of the military revolution taking place in Europe during this period and the prowess of the Swedish army back then…Frederick knew he had to step up his game if he wanted to keep his coastal assets safe. So he hired Hans Hendrik van Paesschen for this pursuit. And it is due to this shape developed in the Renaissance that the castle took the name of Kronborg, meaning Crown Castle. Now you know a bit more of the history, let’s get to know the building.

The tour of the castle takes you through ten different areas of the castle that are open to visit. I’ll talk you through them.  You go in through the Dark Gate: from here you can see a long dark tunnel that used to lead to the original entrance of the castle located at the Four-Gate Courtyard. Then, you enter the courtyard, where the statues of Neptune and Mercury guard the entrance. This is an allegory to the nature of the edification of the palace, as these were regarded as the gods of the sea and trade respectively.

The Four-Gate Courtyard Entrance
The Four-Gate Courtyard Entrance

Finally we get to the Castle Courtyard, where the work of Frederick shines, and where one can admire the fantastic architectonic features of the Northern European Renaissance, which is fairly different from the examples in mainland Europe  and the Mediterranean.Charming, nonetheless. In the middle of the courtyard there is a modern fountain that was put there to replace the original one from 1583. Unfortunately the 16th century creation was spoiled in 1658 when the Swedes seized the castle. From the courtyard you get access to the inside of the palace. Ahead await now the Telegraph Tower, the Chapel, the Royal Apartments, the Ballroom, the Little Hall and the Trumpeter’s Tower.

The Telegraph Tower is a flat-roofed, squared building on the side of the castle that used to serve as a cannon tower. It seems once it had a dome and a spire, much more fitting of the style and taste of Frederick II, however this seems to have been destroyed and then reconstructed during the siege of Kronborg (1658). Kronborg has been victim of many incidents – not only war, but also fire. In 1629 a fire damaged the vast majority of the interior of the castle. One of the few survivors was the Chapel, consecrated just a few years earlier in 1582. The Royal Apartments suffered greatly. They were first built by Frederick II, but the fire ruined them. However king Christian IV has them recreated for the inhabitation fo the palace as a royal residence.

Royal Appartments
Royal Apartments

The Ballroom, is now decorated with paintings made originally for the Great Hall of Rosenborg Castle (Copenhagen 1618-1831). Yet I think they suit well what used to be the largest royal hall in all northern Europe! Its dimensions are 62 x 12 meters.

The Ballroom
The Ballroom

Then we move on to the Little Hall, were the 7 surviving tapestries with the portraits of a hundred of the Danish kings survive. These were commission in 1580, and only handful more remain our of the original 40 commended by the king, currently exposed at the Nationalmuseet. And finally, we reach the highest point at Kronborg – the Trumpeter’s Tower. The name is pretty self-explanatory, but in case there was any doubt, the 62 meter tall tower was used for the announcement or warning of fanfares by trumpeters. Impressively enough, the spire has been destroyed by fire and rebuilt twice.

Telegraph and Trumpeter's Tower
Telegraph and Trumpeter’s Tower

Of course, one can then understand that such an impressive building would have captivated the imagination of any artist, and this is in fact what inspired Shakespeare to set Hamlet in Denmark, at Kronborg, or better known to the English folk as Elsinore. Currently, the castle holds a couple of spare rooms with small exhibitions of Hamlet and its performance at the castle, as well as holding a portrait of the British author. But, hold that broody moment of to be or not to be… just until we get outside, and start wandering the Casemates…These used to be the soldiers’ quarters while at war. The dark and damp vaults could hold up to 1000 men, capable of holding a siege for 6 weeks. But if you thought this could not get more atmospheric…You were wrong. As you walk through the gloomy corridors, full of spiderwebs, dust and barely illuminated by oil lamps (yes, still functioning), we find the statue of the legendary Holger Danske. The epic statue in commemoration of the mythical hero, is located in the very same spot where legend has it he rested after walking all the way from France, where he had aided the French to keep the country safe by might only known to Arthurian knights.  According to legend, Holger is taken to Avalon by Morgan le Fay herself, and after his return from the mist, he rests at Kronborg, awaiting the day when his country will desperately need a hero of old. Holger, king under the mountain – almost in the same fashion custom to the dwarves of Erebor in Tolkien’s mythology…See a theme of English literature involving Kronborg? Interesting fact is that, during the Second World War, the largest resistance group in Denmark against the Nazis took their name after this legendary figure.

Holger Dansk
Holger Dansk

So if after this quick tour of the place the might and glory of Kronborg is not apparent to yourselves, then, I can only say, Go And See It For Yourself. Nevertheless, and in case you thought I went up to Kronborg just to see the castle…As it happens, during my visit a Renaissance fair was taking place in the ground of the palace. And of course, I took pictures. So with my photographs, I say farewell for now, but nor forever…Our next stop is Trelleborg where we will visit the roots of the power capable of erecting Kronborg, the Crown of the Baltic Sea.

Renaissance Fair Cavalry
Renaissance Fair Cavalry

 

Lilly’s “Copenhagen Cultural Rave” Continued – Rundertaarn and SMK

Ok, more from my trip to Denmark – yes, I do enjoy my cultural raves…- Today is just a walk through/review of the Round Tower and the National Gallery of Denmark. The reason why these 2 have been chosen – aside from the ones I have already talked about – is because they were in a way or another formative or educational from my point of view. I got to experience a part of history I was not familiar with and this gave me more insight into the country I was visiting and its culture. So, I hope that with my pictures and quick explanations, you get a hint of this!

Rundetaarn

The Round-Tower is located in the city center of Copenhagen and is one of the most symbolic monuments of all Denmark.

It is a pretty impressive building, you cannot miss it.
It is a pretty impressive building, you cannot miss it.

The building is 34.8 metres high, and the only way to access the top is a spiral ramp, which is 209 meters long and twists 7 times and a half around its hollow core. This is a unique feature, unmatched in European architecture. The venue is both an exhibition hall, cultural centre as well as the oldest working observatory in Europe. It was erected by King Christian IV between 1637-1642. The objective was for this structure to hold a university library, a student church – to which it is still attached, and the astronomical observatory. The library fit its purpose up until 1861. This university library must have been one of the largest in Denmark. Opened in 1657, it used to host a collection of 10000 books. After the collection was moved elsewhere, this section of building was used for various purposes, including an art studio as well as the depot for the Zoological Museum. Nowadays it has been restored to its original function as a learning environment – exhibition hall. Right above this room, is the Bell-Ringer Loft – currently holding the bells for the Church of the Trinity – annexed to the Rundertaarn. Instead it is used as another gallery with artefacts related to the building, as well as providing a look into the 1729 dated pinewood beams that form part of the structure. This part of the building is older due to its reconstruction after the great fire of Copenhagen (1728). On the way up to the observatory one can find the planetarium – a 20th century replacement for the original 3 dimensional model by Bayer from c.1740.

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The new planetarium

Finally, we reach the observatory – it wasn’t until I was up there that it occurred to me how important feature of Danish history this was. Since Peder Nightingale in the 13th century, Denmark has had a long history of astronomers. The most famous of which are Tycho Brahe and Christian Longomontanus – in honour of whom the facility appears to have been built. Brahe however died before its completion, yet Longomontanus seems to have been one of the first people to observe the firmament from this location as the first professor of astronomy as the university.  Perhaps Brahe’s most important work – multiple instruments aside – was the star-table that explained in accurate ways the movement of the moon and position of certain planets. Many say this work was crucial for Kepler’s laws later on. Ever since, the Rundertaarn has been

SMK – National Gallery of Denmark

The second part of todays post is regarding the SMK – National Gallery of Denmark.Again, like with the Nationalmuseet, I have been in many great galleries (NG in London, El Prado, Le Louvre, Uffizi), so in that sense I’m not inexperienced with big visual collections. And in that sense, perhaps the SMK cannot rival with the quantity of brilliant pieces that others may. However, what I think was the highlight of the exhibition was the opportunity to learn about some Danish and Northern European art! Europe is so prolific, with great artists all over, that somehow, somewhat, I was ashamed that the art historian in me couldn’t name a single Scandinavian artist that I genuinely knew – or liked! So this was rather enlightening. Pictures to come – In addition, the actual building itself was magnificent 19th century built with 3 levels – reminded me a lot of the Kunsthistorische from Vienna.

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The facade of the SMK

Yet this building is in itself a modern art revelation. As the collection grows, it is obvious the space within becomes smaller. Many have been the museums and historical buildings I have seen butchered by a clumsy modern addition or that have been dismembered in different buildings forming a complex where to hold the exhibition. Here however, Scandinavian design shines – Instead of breaking a wall or attaching something to it, they have expanded the back of the SMK with glass panels and metallic beams, opening the space and bringing in the bigger picture, the outside world that inspires these paintings. In fact, the display is rather artistic as it opens into the botanic gardens. I couldn’t think of a better way of creating a gallery for modern art than this. It just felt right.

In any case – the building is pretty big and it hold several collections. Time was precious so I had to choose. So I decided the way forward was: European art 1300-1800, Danish and Nordic art 1750-1900, and Scandinavian art since the 1900s. The European art gallery walked through works from Italy, Holland and the Flemish artists, France and its impact on Danish taste and culture, and a general overview of Scandinavian artists around this period.

In no particular order, here are some of the pictures I took - again no spacific reason for why these peices and not others, some because I like the artists, some because due to lighting issues the pictures would not look good. One thing that deeply surprised me was how close you could actually get to the pieces. At the National Gallery in London I was told off once for being at 50cm distance from a Rembrandt!
In no particular order, here are some of the pictures I took – again no specific reason for why these pieces and not others, some because I like the artists, some because due to lighting issues the pictures would not look good.
One thing that deeply surprised me was how close you could actually get to the pieces. At the National Gallery in London I was told off once for being at 50cm distance from a Rembrandt!

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Andrea Bregno (1418–1506) – John the Baptist and St Jerome

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Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s St John the Baptist c.1337-1342

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Pieter Brueghel den Yngre (1563-1637/8) – The Way to Calvary

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Peter Paul Rubens – The Ascent to Calvary c.1634 Noticed a theme in here with John and Calvary…Absolutly not intentional!

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Loved this room with the space in the middle to sit down, look, enjoy and learn as the sits are also bookshelves with reference material!

The gallery on Danish and Nordic art 1750-1900 has a pretty self-explanatory name, but I will elaborate a bit more. The way they have designed this section is by contextualisation. Therefore you get introduced into Danish art and its context within Northern Europe and other Scandinavian work. This is not divided in sections with only Danish, Swedish, Norwegian or Finnish art pieces, but rather it displays them all together, allowing the viewer to see the different artistic developments and influences across this area of Europe. Finally, there is also a smaller section which reflect on the borrowings from mainland Europe and the dialogue between Danish art and the input of other countries. Personally, I preferred this arrangement better than the one from the European gallery – I think it really helped seeing the cultural associations and trends, so for the ignorant I was, this was a much easier way to get tuned into Northern art.

Immediatedly became my favourite. By Peder Balke - Mount Stentind in Fog c. 1880
Immediately became my favourite. By Peder Balke – Mount Stentind in Fog c. 1880

Bottom right: Julius Paulsen -Midsummer Night at Tisvilde Beach 1886. Prins Eugene - Ships at Anchor.Winter 1908 and Gustav Fjaestad - The First Breath of Cold on the Water 1895 (left and top respectively)
Bottom right: Julius Paulsen -Midsummer Night at Tisvilde Beach 1886. Prins Eugene – Ships at Anchor.Winter 1908 and Gustav Fjaestad – The First Breath of Cold on the Water 1895 (left and top respectively)

Not only paintings but also sculpture...unable to identify this one as the names were on the walls away from the actual pieces
Not only paintings but also sculpture…unable to identify this one as the names were on the walls away from the actual pieces

These 2 are by the Danish artist Willumsen (1863-1958)
These 2 are by the Danish artist Willumsen (1863-1958)

This is the extension of the gallerywith view of the botanic garden
This is the extension of the gallery with view of the botanic garden

And with these, I close my third post on Denmark. Watch out for more to come!