When on vacation in Sweden don’t miss Visingsö!

An area in Sweden that has fascinated me is the island Visingsö in lake Vättern. The island is interesting from several views of perspectives. It is a small island about 14 km N-S and 3 km E-V with a population of ca 800  (more info in Swedish). Since the 17the century there has been little exploitation on the island, therefore the distribution of villages, farms and roads are an almost intact view of the 16th -17th century. Throughout the island there a many monuments that remind us the islands history all the way from the Stone Age until present day. If you are into studies regarding place name, Visingsö is a small paradise as most names are from the middle ages or older and the distrubtion is more or less intact.

From the Stone Age and Bronze Age there are several finds of stone axes and bronze artefacts and such made by farmers while working on there fields or building new houses. There are also a couple of grave monuments (two stone cists) that are normally dated to either the late neolithic or the Bronze Age and a few postholes has been dated to the late neolithic or early bronze age. Settlements from time are yet to be found. 

Stonage Grave Visingsö

Stone cist on Visingsö. Photo: Magnus Reuterdahl.

From the Iron Age there are several finds, most graves. There are three large burial grounds, called the south, the middle and the north burial grounds, each contains more than 150 monuments. In total there are still more than 800 monuments on the burial grounds still clearly visible on the island. The visible monuments are mostly from the early Iron Age but a few on the southern burial grounds has been dated to the late iron age. At both the southern and the middle burial ground archaeological excavations have found unmarked graves from the late iron age. Almost all graves are cremations. There is an exception though, a few km north of the northern burial ground is a place where a small village burial ground was excavated in the early 20th century with about 15-20 burials. Here are both cremations burials and three graves where traces of coffins were made. In my master theses in Osteoarchaeology I made analysis of the bones from the graves excavated between ca. 1880-1970, ca 35 graves. Only a few graves have been excavated in later times, so to get a picture of local burial customs there is a need for excavations on all three large burial grounds. The village burial ground of Avlösa is fully or almost fully excavated. 

After the Iron Age follows the medieval one, at this time Visingsö becomes the centre of politics in what was to become Sweden. At the southern tip of the island are the ruins of the castle Näs. This are the ruins of the oldest castle in Sweden, build somewhere around 1130-1160 A.D. and probably destroyed ca 1318.

Ruins of the castle Näs at Visingsö

The ruins of the castle Näs. Photo: Magnus Reuterdahl.

During the 12th and 13th century at least four Kings died on the island; Karl Sverkersson was killed in 1167 by Knut Eriksson how died from illness in 1216 followed by Johan Sverkersson who also died of 1222 last but not least Magnus Ladulås who died around Christmas time 1290. Magnus Ladulås begun to transfer the political power to Stockholm during his reign and was buried in church on Riddarholmen in Stockholm. He was probably the last king of this area to see Visingsö as a centre.  

From the middle ages there are also two churches on the island, Kumlaby and Ströja. The Ströja kyrkan is today called Brahe kyrkan as the church was partly reconstructed in the 17th century. From Ströja there is only the church tower left incorporated into Brahe kyrkan. A few km north of Brahekyrkan are the ruins of small chapel, the chapel of St. Laurentii. 

Kumlabykyrka the church at Kumlaby Visingsö 

Kumlaby kyrka from the end of the 12th century. Photo: Magnus Reuterdahl.

In the 17th century Visingsö once again became an important place in Swedish politic as Per Brahe the younger used Visingsö as the centre for his power. The ruins of Visingsborg are still manifesting proof of his time. The castle was burnt down in 1718, and only a part of the castle remains today.  This is just a short description of Visingsö I will get back to it though for more specific descriptions of different monuments and problems. 

 // Magnus Reuterdahl 


About Magnus Reuterdahl

I am an archaeologist/Osteologist from Sweden. My main intrest lays in north Euorpean archaeology in, preferbly the prehistory of the late iron age and the neolithic periods. I've also got a strong intrest for Chinese archaeology, especially the neolithc Yangshao culture. I also write about cultural heritage and cultural history. Mitt namn är Magnus Reuterdahl, jag är arkeolog och osteolog och arbetar företrädesvis i Sverige även om jag gjort ett par vändor till Kina. På den här bloggen skriver jag om mitt yrke, om fornlämningar, kulturarv och kulturhistoria m m. View all posts by Magnus Reuterdahl

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