Come with me to the Swedish island of Birka, burial ground of Viking rulers and home to an ancient trading centre, just a short boat trip away from Stockholm via its peaceful waterways.
Now it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and well worth a visit.
Today I came across these photos of my trip there a few years back and was transported back to a mystical time. A Viking fair was in progress. Fire twirlers danced to the powerful drama of medieval music and drums as dusk settled. When I closed my eyes, it was easy to feel a slip in time.
During the day, a guide took us to burial mounds and memorial stones, and Birka’s history slowly came to life. Sweden’s oldest town lay on a thriving river and portage route. Merchants traded in goods from across Scandinavia, the Baltic and as far away as the Middle East. I imagined the waters around the island crowded with vessels of all shapes and sizes, the lanes buzzing with gossip and banter among the traders and market goers. Smoke rising from fires; aromas of roasting meats and baking bread, and the rich salty tang of fish all jostling together.
The island’s zenith seems to have been around the 8th century, fading a few hundred years later. Perhaps its demise came about through attacks from warring Danes but no one seems to know for sure, as other centres nearby rose in power to take its place.
The people are long gone, but how lucky are we that these old traditions are still cherished and brought to life.