Nowhere in Norway will you find more rock carvings than in Sarpsborg. In fact, there are more than 2,600 individual figures spread over 200 fields, including the largest rock carving in all of Scandinavia, the Bjørnstad Ship. If you have been to the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, you already have tasted a bit of Sarpsborg’s past. The Tune Ship from 900 A.D., that in 1867 was found on the Haugen farm in Tune, Sarpsborg, is housed there. To see such a magnificent discovery is exciting, but to explore land rich in Viking relics is awe-inspiring.
One of the best ways to discover Sarpsborg’s ancient past is to follow Oldtidsruta (The Ancient Road). It leads west from the plain of Skjeberg in the south to Fredrikstad and the islands at Hvaler, then north to Hafslund in Sarpsborg, and back to the crossroads at Solberg. This historic road features Norway’s most concentrated collection of artifacts from the Bronze and Iron Ages. You will find early grave sites and fields of rock carvings depicting our ancestors’ everyday lives and religious customs. So, let’s explore a few of the highlights along Oldtidsruta.
Along eastern Norway’s busy freeway E6 at the crossroads with Oldtidsruta, the Solberg Tower rises 98 feet above its surroundings. Constructed just a few years ago, it offers a spectacular view of Sarpsborg and Oslo Fjord. Travelers stop to picnic and learn at the seven park kiosks how ancient Viking monuments relate to the environment. From there they wend their way along a 328-foot ramp to the tower. Icons marking significant dates in the history of civilization are cut into the metal walls along the rise. One panel remains undone. Perhaps it will be finished during the celebration of Sarpsborg’s 1000th anniversary in 2016?
If you could see only one rock carving, it should be the Bjørnstad Ship, which is within walking distance of the Solberg Tower. Nestled in rock overlooking Sarpsborg’s idyllic farmland, it depicts a ship with twin gods standing on deck admiring the oxen they have in hand. It is 14 feet, 9 inches long!
Just behind the Sarpsborg Quality Hotel lies the Opstad Field. There you will find approximately 150 burial mounds and the remains of a stone street that tease us with the distant sound of marching Vikings. It is estimated that this area predates the Roman Iron Age. It is well maintained and always under study by archaeologists. Once again, just a short walk away are more rock carvings alongside the Kalnes Agricultural School. The story goes that late one summer evening in 1958 the cows at Kalnes were returning from the meadow. A group of them took a detour up a slope; one fell and scraped moss from the rocks. The man herding them rushed over and discovered that the rock face was covered with carved figures of ships, animals, and people. The cow was no worse for wear but inadvertently had exposed 3000-year-old rock carvings.
In the steep rock walls at Gunnarstorp are many reminders of ancient graves, including a 9.8-feet-high and 98.4-foot-wide mound of grave stones from the Bronze Age believed to be at least 3,000 years old. Farther into the forest, you will find stone monuments arranged in a circle and burial mounds used for more than 1,000 years.
Considered one of the most spectacular sights along Oldtidsruta, Hunn offers a row of graves from before the Roman Iron Age. Graves are spread over a large area and lend a very special atmosphere to this very beautiful and bright forest. Many Viking weapons and pieces of jewelry have been found here.
This historical glimpse into Sarpsborg’s personality is just another reason my grandfather loved his hometown and why he would love for you to visit – me, too. Remember, there’s a lot more to see. This column just hopes to pique your interest.