The Regional Review

Volume III - Nos. 4 & 5

October-November, 1939

Living Museums of Norway and Sweden

old dwelling
Viking church
Old Dwelling (above) and an Ancient Viking Church Transplanted in the Folkemuseum

By M. D. Jones,
Assistant Engineer,

Sweden and Norway have an old civilization developed during many centuries uninterrupted by historical catastrophe. Those northern countries have never been subdued by foreign races throughout the last 2,000 years, and although their history records terrible and bloody wars, none has been carried deeply into their territories. Their civilization has been spared pillage and destruction and much has been preserved of the early environment and customs. It is through preservation of this heritage that future generations may possess treasures of incalculable historical interest in the form of living museums where the observer may go back for a day and live the life of his ancestors. It is not by mere accident, therefore, that archeology, as well as ethnographical research, has flourished so richly within the boundaries of the northern countries.

In many nations, much of the life of early inhabitants has been lost to history, and it has become impossible for new generations to obtain a picture of the progress and appreciate the true character of their people. The preservation of a few houses and their furnishings is good enough to convey an impression of a segment of the life of the past; but such preservation, if supplemented by that of the characteristic environment, affords at once a vivid and authentic picture of early days. Norway and Sweden have built living outdoor museums where the life of early ancestors is preserved for observation and study by the descendants.

Skansen, world famous open-air museum of Sweden, is situated in a large natural park. In it are homes and their dependent buildings which have been moved and reerected, in their authentically reconstituted surroundings, to demonstrate the customs and habits of life in the Sweden of yesterday. In the park also are wild and domestic animals indigenous to the northern countries. Skansen is a living museum for the various aspects of old folk life and there are dances, music and games, while old popular festivals are celebrated in conditions suitable to their period.

The entire park has been designed and developed not only to protect its charming landscapes, but also to be representative of the finest elements of the Swedish national character, and to pass on strong, pleasant impressions of the folklife of ancient rural Sweden before modern times transformed it. The entire scene is planned to conform with the transplantation of ancient houses which are most typical of changes in living conditions throughout the centuries and in different sections of the country. There are complete farm settings from various provinces which are representative of the old culture. The houses have period furnishings and are peopled by natives dressed contemporaneously and practicing home crafts of the time. The total impression gained by the visitor thus is not that Skansen is a park, but rather that it is a place where the calendar is turned backward so that he may see objects and people as they were in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In brief, the park is not merely a repository for dead museum pieces; on the contrary, it is an area where complete units of the life of the past are reassembled so that they may breathe again.

The bygone life of Lapps, Finns, Swedes, Norwegians and Danes is preserved through families who live in the buildings, cook their food and follow their routine tasks in the manner of long ago. An interesting setting is a dairy farm called "Summerset," the home of people who lived on the products of herds of cattle and sheep in the forests of middle and northern Sweden. The building was used as a summer dwelling for those who cared for the flocks, and house and outbuildings are of a primitive form favored by the common class in the Viking age, and probably are of the type used throughout northern Europe where cattle grazing was the principal occupation. The interior of a cottage of south eastern Sweden shows the elaborate carving of houses constructed before the sixteenth century. Although the building is of logs, the interior decorations are intricate.

Farm Taken from Älvros, in North Sweden, and Reconstructed in Skansen Park

The Norwegian Folkemuseum, of Oslo, while less extensive than Skansen, safeguards many treasures of great historical interest, such as Viking boats recently recovered from the depths of the Skagerrak, and an ancient Viking church bearing both its old emblem and the Christian cross of a later date. Farm houses and their interior carvings are not as elaborate in Norway as in Sweden, but the settings are no less realistic. Essential features of all the periods are shown.

What makes Skansen and the Folkemuseum outstanding is the fact that the transplantations have been carried out with a close regard for the preservation of environmental features, even to the details of fence enclosures, walks and roads. There is nothing artificial to detract interest or to give a feeling of reconstitution, because each site is selected to correspond exactly with that where the building or farm was situated originally. Altogether, the visitor feels that he is traveling through the open country and visiting the Scandinavian Peninsula in the days of the Vikings or in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

<<< Previous
> Contents <
Next >>>
Date: 04-Jul-2002