The Vikings were an ancient Scandinavian warrior tribe who evolved in three countries –Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Although the architecture of the Viking Age was originally based in central and southern Scandinavia, it may be traced back to the late Iron Age. From the late eighth to late eleventh century, mostly following a nomadic lifestyle – the Vikings raided, pirated, and settled throughout Europe. When the Vikings settled in towns for short or long periods of time, they constructed elongated reverse boat-shaped homes – known as archetypal longhouses. These long, narrow, and crowded structures comprehending their nature, acted as community shelters for them. To build these houses, the primary materials were acquired from Scandinavia’s forested regions.

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Artistic depiction of a Viking Age village by Vladimir Teneslav _©www.vladimirteneslav.deviantart.com

Viking Urban Planning

Some may find the phrase “Viking Urban Planning” to be a paradox – as they are well-known for raiding and conquering lands. Interestingly, even though their invading nature may not be associated with thoughtful city development, they had actually quite extensive knowledge regarding urban planning. 

During A.D. 980, the Viking ruler Harald Bluetooth built a number of geometrical fortresses in Denmark that demonstrated a precise layout, revealing insight into Viking-era towns and planning. The striking ring-shaped fortresses are known as “Trelleborgs” and can be found in Denmark and southern Sweden.

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A Trelleborg fortress today _©https://wideurbanworld.blogspot.com
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How Trelleborg fortress looked before _©https://wideurbanworld.blogspot.com

The Trelleborg fortresses

“The discovery of Trelleborg causes a sensation. Nobody had thought the barbaric Vikings were able to plan, organize or construct such a sophisticated structure, and the learned world consequently had to rethink their concept of Vikings.”

– Else Roesdahl, (1987), The Danish Geometrical Viking Fortresses and their Context. (p.208)

The Trelleborg fortress sites, built around A.D. 980 were only used for a very short time. These well-planned sites built in the Viking Age observe both of the standards of ancient urban planning. The outer circular walls with ditches, four gates at four compass points, two axial roads that connect the gates, a ring-road inside, and large long-houses organized in quadrangles of the same size and shape. Some reconstructions of the houses have been made later on.

About the Longhouses 

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The biggest Viking longhouse yet discovered on Lofotr Island, Norway, which was reconstructed _©http://benedante.blogspot.com

Size

The elongated Viking longhouses were approximately 15 to 22 meters long and 5 meters wide. The largest discovered Viking house, however, belonged to a ruler and was found in Lofotr, Norway, with walls measuring 67 meters long and 10 meters broad.

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A Viking longhouse in Norway, resembling an upside-down boat structure_©https://www.followthevikings.com

Materiality

The Viking households were made of wood with basic stone footings. The curved walls of the Viking longhouses gave the buildings the appearance of being upside-down boats representing the nature of the Vikings for being master shipbuilders.

Walls and Roofs

Clay was frequently used to line the walls. The Vikings repaired the walls on a regular basis to prevent the timber from decaying in the damp climate. The turf was used to build the exteriors of homes in various parts of Scandinavia where wood was unavailable. 

The Viking longhouse’s roof was supported by columns on both the interior and exterior. The Viking household was extremely smoky considering the lack of chimneys or windows. So sometimes a hole or vent was also made into the roof of these buildings, as the longhouses often included a large fire pit in the centre.

Colours

Archaeologists have discovered a variety of wooden Viking artefacts that have retained some colour and also provide traces of their customs. Even so, we can’t be sure of the exact colours that were used. Other archaeologists believe that Viking households, or at the very least the royal halls, were painted completely white. 

A white house would be seen from a long distance, serving as a prestige symbol and landmark. In addition to providing light during the dark winter months, using quicklime both inside and outside the house would have provided effective insulation as well as a comfortable indoor temperature.

Interior Functionality

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Viking interiors _©http://benedante.blogspot.com

The interior of the Viking households is almost as fascinating as the exterior appearance. To support the roof, a row of posts was built throughout the length of the house. Instead of built flooring laid, pounded earth served as the flooring. The fire pit was placed in the longhouse’s center with the hole above it to allow smoke to escape. 

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Viking interiors  _©http://benedante.blogspot.com

Depending on the size of the longhouse, rooms were mostly empty. Cattle and other animals, as well as stored foodstuffs and other tools and winter items, were stored on one end of the Viking longhouse. The other end was used by the Vikings to make artisanal crafts, and usually, the families gathered in the longhouse’s center, where they worked, cooked, and told folk tales by the light and warmth of the open fire.

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Viking Longhouse_©CH – Visitnorway.com

For those times, the built architecture and households of the Vikings were not only warm but very cozy as well. The intriguing Viking household is in striking contrast to modern living standards. The Vikings’ houses, however, were impressively sophisticated considering their nomadic nature. Despite the fact that the men were often away conquering new lands, the Viking household clearly demonstrated that home, family, and community were still important aspects of Viking culture. 

To know more about the Vikings, their history and lifestyle, the following website link can be fascinating – https://www.followthevikings.com

References:

Fjord Tours. 2021. What Did The Viking Household Look Like? [online] Available at: <https://www.fjordtours.com/inspiration/articles/viking-house-items/> [Accessed 12 October 2021].

Kusnitzoff, J., 2021. What colour did the Vikings paint their houses?. [online] Sciencenordic.com. Available at: <https://sciencenordic.com/archaeology-denmark-society–culture/what-colour-did-the-vikings-paint-their-houses/1438481> [Accessed 13 October 2021].

Smith, M., 2021. Viking Urban Planning. [online] Wideurbanworld.blogspot.com. Available at: <https://wideurbanworld.blogspot.com/2011/05/viking-urban-planning.html> [Accessed 13 October 2021].

Author

A final year student currently pursuing B.Arch. in Bangladesh. Her passions are intertwined with Art, Travel, Architecture, and Literature. She aspires to travel, learn, evolve with time and thereby bring something to light through journaling her journeys.

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