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The city of Aarhus has installed Viking crossing signals. Source: Rapeepat / Adobe Stock.

Viking Crossings in Denmark: Stop, Look, Listen and HIDE


An ancient Danish city has adopted a novel way to highlight its seafaring and plundering heritage by installing axe-wielding Viking road crossing signals.

The coastal Danish city of Aarhus is located on the east coast of the Jutland peninsula in the geographical center of Denmark, 116 miles (187 kilometers) northwest of Copenhagen. As the nation’s second latest city it has today over 300,000 inhabitants who have always been proud of their Viking heritage, and the Viking museum hosts an annual Viking festival. But now, city officials are displaying their seafaring heritage in a bold new way: by installing Viking theme road crossing signals.

The bright idea was dreamed up earlier this year by Bünyamin Simsek, a councilman in the city of Aarhus Municipality planning department when he told European publication DR in March he aimed to “strengthen Aarhusianers identity and understanding of the fact we are a Viking city”. His dream became reality with the assistance of the Moesgaard Museum of history and archaeology, located outside the city, who have been central in the excavation and preservation of the city’s history.

Highlighting 1300 Years Of Viking Heritage

VisitAarhus is Aarhus’s official tourism website and it features local attractions, museums, accommodations, eateries, and events. They actively develop tourism in Aarhus by marketing Aarhus as an interesting historical-travel destination.

Like Copenhagen, Aarhus is promoting the city for tourism, featuring their Viking heritage. (Federicoghedini / Public Domain)

Lars Krants is the Moesgaard Museum director who in an Aarhus Municipality press statement quoted by DR said that while many Danish cities were important in the Viking era, “none other than Aarhus have retained their geographical layout since then. According to VisitAarhus new excavations have shown that Aarhus was founded around the year 770 AD, at least 100 years older than assumed originally.

This new discovery makes it one of Scandinavia’s oldest cities. Perhaps the city’s most famous aspect is that many of its streets have retained their original layout which was set in stone over 1000 years ago.

Ancient Aros, Viking town. (Gardar Rurak / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Digging Into Viking Homes

The city’s modern skyline is dominated by the 13th century Aarhus Cathedral (Århus Domkirke) which is the longest and tallest church in Denmark at 305 feet (93 meters) long and 315 feet (96 meters) in height. However, the first buildings and streets in Aarhus were founded during the Viking Age, and you can still see traces of the people who settled by the mouth of the Aarhus River (and up to Immervad and where the cathedral is today) in old Viking street names still being used, such as ‘Graven’ which means ‘moat’ and ‘Volden’ meaning ‘Rampart’.

Aarhus Cathedral in the Viking town of Aarhus. (Martin Steggman / CC BY-SA 4.0)

According to an article in Tripso, several archaeological excavations have been conducted in the inner city since the 1960s revealing “wells, streets, homes, and workshops” and discovered utensils like “combs, jewelry, and basic multi-purpose tools” from approximately the year 900 AD. However, a 2003 archaeological dig led by Moesgaard Museum scientists unearthed a series of “half-buried Viking longhouses, firepits, glass pearls, and a road dated to the late 700s”.

Flashing Reminder Of The Past

Located at the very center of Aarhus archaeologists found a pagan burial site beneath Aarhus's first timber church which was built in the reign of Frode, king of Jutland, around 900 AD. It was at this time the city was defended by an earth rampart which encircled the entire settlement. This rampart was reinforced by Harald Bluetooth and at that time the settlement of ‘Aros’ was regarded as an important trade and military center.

The designs of the new traffic lights in Aarhus. (Aarhus Kommune)

The designs of the new traffic lights in Aarhus. (Aarhus Kommune)

Even with all this information available at the local museum and tourist office the city councilor, Simsek, said, “Many people do not know about Aarhus’ special importance for the Viking period, and I want to change that. We want to tell the forgotten stories and rebrand Aarhus as the Viking city we are” and these new Viking lights are his innovative way to achieve his goal.

The new pedestrian crossing lights cost around 1000 kroner each, which is about $150 US dollars, and according to Simsek, they can be spotted in locations – 17 sets of lights so far - “along the Nørre Allé road as well as close to the Dokk1 library and harbor”.

Top image: The city of Aarhus has installed Viking crossing signals. Source: Rapeepat / Adobe Stock.

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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