It may look serene and peaceful today, but this sea contains a dark secret. Grab your shield and sword, it’s time to explore Kaupang – the forgotten viking capital of Norway.
The cold, salty sea surrounding the archipelago outside of Larvik may be one of the calmest, most beautiful areas in the South-East of Norway. Here you will find perfectly blue waves gently caressing the shore, and there are yellow and green fields as far as the human eye can see. If you listen carefully, you might here a sheep or two. Maybe even a tractor, if you’re lucky. It’s quiet around here. Peaceful, even. And hardly any tourists.
What if I told you that this used to be one of the busiest trade ports in Northern Europe? I’m being serious here. You see, once upon a time this used to be the beating heart of the viking empire.
Kaupang is the forgotten viking capital of Norway.
The name Kaupang, which is derived from the Old Norse word ’kaupangr’, simply means market or a trading place. The first big markets in Scandinavia (Birka in Sweden, Hedeby in Denmark and Kaupang in Norway) were all established at the same time as the brutal vikings started their infamous raids on the British Isles. Recent archeological excavations can confirm that the town was established at around 780-800 AD. For a long period of time, this area was the viking capital of Norway. Kaupang was a beating heart in an ever expanding empire, the home of kings, the birthplace of legends and a market place for international trade.
For reasons unknown to us, it was abandoned by the year 930.
Kaupang was once the centre of a broad, international trading network. With all its beautiful houses, its many workshops and burial sites, the city of Kaupang covered an area of 50 decares. While it might be hard to grasp today, you could once get your mittens on Arabic silver coins, beads from the Caspian Sea, and beautiful ceramics from the Rhine area near this very shore. Almost unbelivable, don’t you think?
Viking Heritage in Southern Norway
An overwhelming majority of the tourists visiting Norway each year, head straight to the West. This saddens me deeply. In their desperate quest for the oh so Instagram-worthy fjords, most of the tourists miss out on basically everything else that Norway could possibly offer. Many tourists miss out on the beautiful scenery of Northern Norway and Lofoten, and most tourists miss out on the South altogether.
Do you honestly think that walking in a queue up to Preikestolen is what Norway is all about?
Even today, you will find that the viking heritage is still very much present in Norway. And especially in the South. The shores along the Oslofjord used to be buzzing with vibrant city life, international trade markets, and feuds between local viking chiefs. VisitVestfold even recommends their very own Viking Way – here you can walk in the footsteps of the vikings all the way from Mølen to Borre. Along the way, you will find museums and information about the wild life of the vikings that once used to inhabit these areas.
Admittingly, Kaupang is mostly inhabited by sheep, farms and summer houses these days, and it can be hard to imagine all the history that was once made along these wild shores of ours. A visit to the local Kaupang Viking Museum (Vikingbyen Kaupang for my Scandi readers) is definitely recommended for those of you who would like a wee taste of what life was really like during the Viking Age.
And who knows, if you decide to walk around the burial sites at night you might catch a glimpse of the viking witch that is said to be dancing around in the woods…
How to get there:
Kaupang is situated only a 10 minutes drive from Larvik, one of the biggest cities in the district of Vestfold, South-Eastern Norway. Only a 2,5 hrs drive from Oslo, Kaupang can be reached by taking the E-18 motorway from Oslo-Larvik.