Avaldsnes – Haugesund

BOAT RIDE

The Viking Farm
We are about to leave the Viking Farm in Avaldsnes. The farm consists of reconstructed buildings from several places in Rogaland. The courtyard contains a boathouse for a leidangsskip (a coastal defence ship), a longhouse, a round house and several smaller buildings that show how ordinary farmers lived in the Viking Age.

The Viking Farm is thus not a royal estate. The royal estate was located on the church plateau, where we can see St Olav’s Church today.

Nordvegen – the way north
We are sailing from Avaldsnes, where Harald Fairhair – the King who first unified Norway – had his royal estate, and heading up to Haugesund. Harald Fairhair’s funeral procession followed this is the same route in 932, when Harald was to be buried. And just like them, we are sailing on the Karmsund Strait – Nordvegen – the shipping lane for which Norway was named.
After people crossed the open stretch of sea from Lista and further down the coast of Jæren, the Karmsund Strait was like a protected ocean road and the entrance to the shipping lane to the north. For those who came before us, this was Nordvegen – the way north.

Most countries are named after their territories – or after ethnic groups. Norway is the only country in the world named after a shipping lane. That certainly illustrates how important the sea was to our ancestors.
And it was control of ship traffic up and down this “Way North” that created the centre of power and the royal seat of Avaldsnes.
The Hanseatic League in Avaldsnes
Hanseatic merchants ended the monarchy here in Avaldsnes, when they set fire to the royal estate in 1368. After the year 1400, we see few traces of a royal presence in Avaldsnes. It seems that the Hanseatic League took over the power the kings had previously wielded in the area. (The Hanseatic League remained here until about 1500.)

Old documents and maps tell that the Hanseatic League founded a Hanseatic trading post called Nothaw or Notau in the Karmsund Strait. Here at Bukkøy, we can still find place names like Nora Nottå and Nottåhavn (the port of Nottå).

In the Avaldsnes harbour, archaeologists have found numerous traces of the Hanseatic League – both on land and in the water. Several shipwrecks have also been found. Among other things, a medieval ship, dated to the year 1400, was found in the inner harbour area.

The Royal Seat of Avaldsnes
Avaldsnes is best known as the royal estate of Harald Fairhair and the other kings we hear about in the sagas. But when Harald Fairhair settled in Avaldsnes, it had already been a royal seat for many hundreds of years.
We know about the kings who lived in Avaldsnes both from the ancient sagas and from many rich archaeological finds. All the Avaldsnes kings before Harald Fairhair’s time were sea kings.
Harald Fairhair also started his career as a sea king, but during his long reign, he also became a land king. He thus laid the foundation for the Kingdom of Norway.
Avaldsnes is called Norway’s oldest royal seat because Harald Fairhair established his main farm here after the Battle of Hafrsfjord around the year 870. Harald Fairhair is the king who had the honour of uniting Norway into one kingdom.
Avaldsnes was also the royal seat for Harald Fairhair’s descendants, and the sagas of the Norwegian kings tell of dramatic events that unfolded here. Among these kings are Eric Bloodaxe, Haakon the Good, Olav Tryggvason, Olav the Holy (who later became Saint Olav), Haakon Haakonsson and Haakon V Magnusson.

St Olav’s Church and the royal estate from the Middle Ages
High on the Avaldsnes peninsula itself, we can now see St Olav’s Church, which was built by Haakon Haakonsson around 1250. Haakon Haakonsson consecrated the church to Saint Olav, which made it an important pilgrimage destination for pilgrims travelling to Saint Olav’s grave in Nidaros (Trondheim).

The church was part of a large royal estate. In 2017, archaeologists excavated the royal estate’s main building, just south of the church. Construction of this royal hall was started by Haakon Haakonsson and completed by Haakon V Magnusson around the year 1300. Conservators are currently working to preserve the ruins of the royal hall. (Some of the ruins are located in the grey building that you can see south of the church. When the conservators have finished their work, this building will be removed.)

The Virgin Mary’s Sewing Needle
“The Virgin Mary’s Sewing Needle” is a standing stone, leaning towards the north wall of St Olav’s Church. It is 7.3 metres high, but it is said to have been higher. The sagas say that Judgement Day will come when the top of the stone touches the church wall. So, under the cover of night, the Avaldsnes priests are said to have chopped pieces off the top, thus saving the world from destruction!

The Flag Mound
Just north of St Olav’s Church was a giant burial mound called Flagghaugen (the Flag Mound). It was opened in 1835, and it is Norway’s richest grave from the late Roman Iron Age. The grave was the resting place of a prince who was buried in the 200s (late Roman Iron Age). Buried along with him were many imported Roman items and weapons. This shows that he had close contact with the Romans.

The most beautiful object in the grave was a large neck ring made of 590 grams of pure gold. The Flag Mound Prince is the only person in Norway who brought a gold neck ring to the grave. Such neck rings were the foremost sign of dignity a ruler could have in our part of the world. It could very well be that the prince in the Flag Mound was the first to be called king in Avaldsnes .

The Bronze Age burial mounds at Reheia/Blodheia
To the left (port), in the innermost part of Bøvågen, we can catch a glimpse of the ridge called Reheia. It is the site of Norway’s largest collection of Bronze Age burial mounds. They are more than 3000 years old. We believe that the people who built the burial mounds at Reheia, originally came from the area by the Limfjord in Denmark. They were part of an international trade and contact network that stretched from the Mediterranean in the south to Russia in the east and Ireland in the west.

The Battle of Blodheia
Reheia is also called Blodheia, which can be translated as “Blood Moor”. The name Blodheia comes from a large battle that took place here in 953. The saga says that Haakon the Good fought with the sons of Eric Bloodaxe on this plain.

Haakon the Good was Harald Fairhair’s youngest son. He became King of Norway after his brother, Eric Bloodaxe was forced to flee the country. When Eric’s sons grew up, they received help from their uncle, the Danish King, Harald Bluetooth, and in 953, they came sailing up the Karmsund Strait along with a Danish army.

The two armies met in a bloody battle near the royal estate in Avaldsnes, where they fought on a plain with large burial mounds from the Bronze Age. Despite the fact that the Eric’s sons had a fleet of Danish warriors with them, Haakon the Good emerged victorious. Later, this battlefield was named Blodheia – The Blood Moor.

The Grønhaug ship grave
Just north of Bø lower secondary school, on the edge of Blodheia, is the Grønhaug ship grave. Another ship grave, called Storhaug, is located a little further north. So, the Karmsund Strait is home to two of Europe’s 14 known ship graves. The Oseberg ship was also built in this area.
Grønhaug is Scandinavia’s second oldest ship grave. Grønhaug was opened in 1902. At that time, the mound was about 30 metres in diameter and four metres high, but it was probably once even higher.

When Grønhaug was opened, they found a Viking ship that was 15 metres long and three metres wide, where a king was laid to rest on down duvets in a burial chamber of birchbark. He had been dressed in red clothes and was surrounded by tapestries with figures. There were also glass English goblets, testifying to great luxury. The skeletal remains show that he had been a large, powerful man. He was buried at some time between 790 and 795.
The ship was made of oak and very elaborate. It is described as “a king’s personal ship”. Maybe it was used to travel between royal estates in Rogaland and Hordaland?
Based on genealogies in old sagas, King Halv himself may have been buried in Grønhaug. King Halv lived in the 8th century. He was the foremost Viking hero of his time, and he has had his own saga written about him.

The Karmsund Strait and Thor, the God of Thunder
Old poems (such as Grimnismål and Gylfaginning) tell that when the gods would hold their court near the Norn Urd’s well in Åsgard, they would have to cross the rainbow bridge Bifrost. All except Thor. Instead, the God of Thunder would wade across the Karmsund Strait every day to get to the assembly of gods at Yggdrasil, the tree of life – and this is why the holy water glows. Thor is also associated with the standing stones called The five foolish virgins.

The five foolish virgins
The five foolish virgins are a group of standing stones in Norheim, close to Karmsund Bridge. They are located where the Karmsund Strait is at its narrowest, and in ancient times, there were clearly visible to those who sailed past. This is a star-shaped grave site from the late Roman Iron Age, around AD 300.
They are similar to the group of standing stones to which The Virgin Mary’s Sewing Needle belonged in Avaldsnes. These two groups of standing stones along the Karmsund Strait are the highest in Scandinavia and the oldest we know of in Norway.

Yggdrasil, Thor and star-shaped groups of standing stones along the Karmsund Strait.
Star-shape groups of standing stones are often interpreted as symbolic expressions of Yggdrasil, which was the very tree of life in Norse mythology. This is probably why people in ancient times thought that Thor waded across the Karmsund Strait between these groups of standing stones (one in Norheim and one in Avaldsnes) when he would go to Yggdrasil, the tree of life.
Thor was the god who protected people from evil. He was also the god of waves, wind and current. So, it is only natural that the sea kings of Avaldsnes regarded Thor as their protector.

The five foolish virgins and the saga of Saint Olav
The name itself Five foolish virgins is associated with the saga of Saint Olav. It is said that Saint Olav often travelled around the country and Christianised people. One time, as he was making his way down from the north to his royal estate in Avaldsnes, when he came to the point where the Karmsund Strait is at its narrowest, he saw five kaute (proud) girls standing on the shore and waving to him. But the King would not be tempted. Instead, he shouted: Just stand there and turn to stone until I return. The girls immediately turned to stone. Ever since, they have been standing and looking over towards the royal estate in Avaldsnes, waiting for the King.

Salhus/Sælehus
The area across the strait fromThe five foolish virgins is called Salhus. The name comes from the fact that the King’s estate manager in Avaldsnes had a hostel – a sælehus – built for pilgrims and other travellers. Many people came to Avaldsnes, and the most distinguished were probably allowed to spend the night at the royal estate. The hostel was probably built for the poor.

Salhushaugen burial mound
Just north of Karmsund bridge was a strange burial mound called Salhushaugen. It is dated to around AD 600, a time from which there are very few burial mounds in Norway. Salhushaugen was five metres high, and someone had used great resources in its construction. But when the burial mound was opened in the early 20th century, no grave was found. Many believe that the burial mound was a cenotaph, that is, a memorial mound constructed for one or more people who died far from home or at sea.

Monumental burial mounds facing the Karmsund Strait
Chieftains and kings erected tall standing stones and constructed large burial mounds along both sides of the Karmsund Strait. They did this to tell seafarers that they were sailing into an area of powerful rulers. The rulers of Avaldsnes held the key to Nordvegen – the way north. This was also the centre of Harald Fairhair’s kingdom.

We don’t know for sure who these kings along the Karmsund Strait were, but genealogies in old sagas and poems say that sea kings who were descendants of King Augvald, held power in Avaldsnes when the large ship graves were erected. Augvald is the king who gave his name to Avaldsnes, or Augvaldsnes – as it was called in ancient times.

Based on these genealogies, the sea king Hjorleif the woman-lover could have been buried in the Storhaug ship grave.

The Storhaug ship grave
The Storhaug ship grave is located at Gunnarshaug, just opposite the Marine Aluminium factory.
This whole area we are sailing through now was once surrounded by large burial mounds, and Storhaug was the largest of them all. The remains of the burial mound are to our left, just across from where Marine Aluminium is today.
Storhaug is Scandinavia’s oldest known ship grave. The burial mound was about 45 metres in diameter and 5–6 metres high. It is located on a plateau that slopes down towards the Karmsund Strait. Storhaug was excavated in 1886. By then, local farmers had already started to use parts of the ship for fuel. However, the remaining artefacts suggest a very rich burial.
Inside the mound, lay a man buried in a 26–27-metre-long oak ship with heavy strakes (longitudinal planking). It was a robust, ocean-going ship, made to travel over open stretches of sea and to withstand heavy seas.
In addition to the ship, the prince was equipped with many other luxurious items, including a horse, a sledge and a smaller boat, (in addition to two swords, two spears, a quiver with 24 arrows, a board game with amber game pieces, a board game with glass game pieces, fire steel, a bronze ring, a large bird feather, various equipment for fishing, smithing and cooking – and a gold arm ring.)

The man in this grave is the only person we know from this time who brought a gold arm ring to the grave.
Another interesting find in the Storhaug burial mound was the Christian symbol of the cross, dotted into a wax candle – 200 years before Christianity was introduced in Norway.
In 2009, dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) was used to date the ship. The results show that the Storhaug ship was built in AD 770 and buried in AD 779. The ship was built of timber that came from forests in northern Rogaland or Sunnhordland. The smaller boat in the Storhaug burial mound was also built using wood from this area.
This year (2022), the Museum of Archaeology in Stavanger will be carrying out test excavations in the Storhaug burial mound. There may still be ship remains left in the ground. The plan is to eventually complete a full archaeological investigation, and then reconstruct the burial mound.

The Viking ships were developed along the Karmsund Strait
In 2009, tree-ring dating was used to date the wood in the Viking ships from Karmøy. It turned out that the Storhaug ship was built in 770 and the Grønhaug ship in 780. At the same time, they found that the Oseberg ship from 820, was also built of oak from the same forest as the two Karmøy ships, in other words, a forest from an area in North Rogaland or Sunnhordland.
These three ships are the oldest ship graves in Scandinavia. The Storhaug ship and the Grønhaug ship were something between a rowing ship and a sailing ship. The Oseberg ship was first and foremost a sailing ship.
Since all three ships were built in the area around the Karmsund Strait within a short time period of about 50 years, it is likely that the Viking sailing ship as we know it was developed in this region sometime around the year 800.

Was the Oseberg ship a dowry for a princess from Avaldsnes?
The famous Oseberg ship from Vestfold is today at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo. The ship was built in this area in 820. So, how did it end up in a burial mound in Vestfold? Could it have been the dowry for a princess from Avaldsnes when she was married to a chieftain in Vestfold?

As we approach Haugesund
We are now approaching the northernmost part of Karmøy, or Kormt as it was called in Norse times. Kormt means casing or protection. This elongated island protects the mainland from the North Sea waves and forms the Karmsund Strait.

In Viking times, nearly the entire area we have just passed through was owned by the monarchy. Most of the farms, on both sides of the strait, were in fact royal land owned by the royal estate in Avaldsnes. This was also true for Gard, where the Haraldsstøtta National Monument stands today, and the area around where Haugesund is located.

All the long streets of Haugesund are parallel to the Karmsund Strait – which was, of course, the first main “road”, back in a time when the strait was a traffic artery that didn’t separate people, but bound them together. We often find the same place names on both the Haugesund side and the Karmøy side of the strait, such as Storasund, Litlasund, Hauge and Bjørgene. These are names of old farms that stretched across the strait.

The saga writer Snorri Sturluson writes that Harald Fairhair was buried in a mound by Karmsundet (ok er hann heygðr á Haugum við Karmtsund – and he is buried at Haugar along Karmtsund). Another saga writer, named Ågrip, confirms this with even more detail: He says that Harald was buried in a mound up from Hasseløysund (oc var haugþr a Haugom upp fra Haslæyiarsundi).

We cannot say for sure where around the Karmsund Strait Harald Fairhair was, but in 1872, the Haraldshaugen National Monument was erected at Gard, on the place that was thought to be Harald’s grave. Haraldshaugen, or Haraldsstøtta as we often say, was erected in connection with the millennial celebration of the Battle of Hafrsfjord and the Unification of Norway. Haraldshaugen is Norway’s only National Monument.

 

Haugesund – Avaldsnes

BOAT RIDE

To those of you starting your journey here, welcome on board. We are now in the northern end of Karmsundet and are about to sail towards Avaldsnes where Harald Hairfair once had his royal manor.

In Viking times, nearly the entire area we have just passed through was owned by the monarchy. Most of the farms, on both sides of the strait, were in fact royal land owned by the royal estate in Avaldsnes. This was also true for Gard, where the Haraldsstøtta National Monument stands today, and the area around where Haugesund is located.

All the long streets of Haugesund are parallel to the Karmsund Strait – which was, of course, the first main “road”, back in a time when the strait was a traffic artery that didn’t separate people, but bound them together. We often find the same place names on both the Haugesund side and the Karmøy side of the strait, such as Storasund, Litlasund, Hauge and Bjørgene. These are names of old farms that stretched across the strait.

We will soon approach northernmost part of Karmøy, or Kormt as it was called in Norse times. Kormt means casing or protection. This elongated island protects the mainland from the North Sea waves and forms the Karmsund Strait.

Nordvegen – the way north
We are now sailing on the Karmsund Strait – Nordvegen – the shipping lane for which Norway was named.
After people crossed the open stretch of sea from Lista and further down the coast of Jæren, the Karmsund Strait was like a protected ocean road and the entrance to the shipping lane to the north. For those who came before us, this was Nordvegen – the way north.

Most countries are named after their territories – or after ethnic groups. Norway is the only country in the world named after a shipping lane. That certainly illustrates how important the sea was to our ancestors.
And it was control of ship traffic up and down this “Way North” that created the centre of power and the royal seat of Avaldsnes where this boat trip is ending.

Monumental burial mounds facing the Karmsund Strait
Chieftains and kings erected tall standing stones and constructed large burial mounds along both sides of the Karmsund Strait. They did this to tell seafarers that they were sailing into an area of powerful rulers. The rulers of Avaldsnes held the key to Nordvegen – the way north. This was also the centre of Harald Fairhair’s kingdom.

We don’t know for sure who these kings along the Karmsund Strait were, but genealogies in old sagas and poems say that sea kings who were descendants of King Augvald, held power in Avaldsnes when the large ship graves were erected. Augvald is the king who gave his name to Avaldsnes, or Augvaldsnes – as it was called in ancient times.

Based on these genealogies, the sea king Hjorleif the woman-lover could have been buried in the Storhaug ship grave.

The Storhaug ship grave
The Storhaug ship grave is located at Gunnarshaug, just opposite the Marine Aluminium factory.
This whole area we are sailing through now was once surrounded by large burial mounds, and Storhaug was the largest of them all. The remains of the burial mound are to our left, just across from where Marine Aluminium is today.
Storhaug is Scandinavia’s oldest known ship grave. The burial mound was about 45 metres in diameter and 5–6 metres high. It is located on a plateau that slopes down towards the Karmsund Strait. Storhaug was excavated in 1886. By then, local farmers had already started to use parts of the ship for fuel. However, the remaining artefacts suggest a very rich burial.
Inside the mound, lay a man buried in a 26–27-metre-long oak ship with heavy strakes (longitudinal planking). It was a robust, ocean-going ship, made to travel over open stretches of sea and to withstand heavy seas.
In addition to the ship, the prince was equipped with many other luxurious items, including a horse, a sledge and a smaller boat, (in addition to two swords, two spears, a quiver with 24 arrows, a board game with amber game pieces, a board game with glass game pieces, fire steel, a bronze ring, a large bird feather, various equipment for fishing, smithing and cooking – and a gold arm ring.)

The man in this grave is the only person we know from this time who brought a gold arm ring to the grave.
Another interesting find in the Storhaug burial mound was the Christian symbol of the cross, dotted into a wax candle – 200 years before Christianity was introduced in Norway.
In 2009, dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) was used to date the ship. The results show that the Storhaug ship was built in AD 770 and buried in AD 779. The ship was built of timber that came from forests in northern Rogaland or Sunnhordland. The smaller boat in the Storhaug burial mound was also built using wood from this area.
This year (2022), the Museum of Archaeology in Stavanger will be carrying out test excavations in the Storhaug burial mound. There may still be ship remains left in the ground. The plan is to eventually complete a full archaeological investigation, and then reconstruct the burial mound.

Salhushaugen burial mound
Just north of Karmsund bridge was a strange burial mound called Salhushaugen. It is dated to around AD 600, a time from which there are very few burial mounds in Norway. Salhushaugen was five metres high, and someone had used great resources in its construction. But when the burial mound was opened in the early 20th century, no grave was found. Many believe that the burial mound was a cenotaph, that is, a memorial mound constructed for one or more people who died far from home or at sea.

The Karmsund Strait and Thor, the God of Thunder
Old poems (such as Grimnismål and Gylfaginning) tell that when the gods would hold their court near the Norn Urd’s well in Åsgard, they would have to cross the rainbow bridge Bifrost. All except Thor. Instead, the God of Thunder would wade across the Karmsund Strait every day to get to the assembly of gods at Yggdrasil, the tree of life – and this is why the holy water glows. Thor is also associated with the standing stones called The five foolish virgins.

The five foolish virgins
The five foolish virgins are a group of standing stones in Norheim, close to Karmsund Bridge. They are located where the Karmsund Strait is at its narrowest, and in ancient times, there were clearly visible to those who sailed past. This is a star-shaped grave site from the late Roman Iron Age, around AD 300.
They are similar to the group of standing stones to which The Virgin Mary’s Sewing Needle belonged in Avaldsnes. These two groups of standing stones along the Karmsund Strait are the highest in Scandinavia and the oldest we know of in Norway.

Yggdrasil, Thor and star-shaped groups of standing stones along the Karmsund Strait.
Star-shape groups of standing stones are often interpreted as symbolic expressions of Yggdrasil, which was the very tree of life in Norse mythology. This is probably why people in ancient times thought that Thor waded across the Karmsund Strait between these groups of standing stones (one in Norheim and one in Avaldsnes) when he would go to Yggdrasil, the tree of life.
Thor was the god who protected people from evil. He was also the god of waves, wind and current. So, it is only natural that the sea kings of Avaldsnes regarded Thor as their protector.

The five foolish virgins and the saga of Saint Olav
The name itself Five foolish virgins is associated with the saga of Saint Olav. It is said that Saint Olav often travelled around the country and Christianised people. One time, as he was making his way down from the north to his royal estate in Avaldsnes, when he came to the point where the Karmsund Strait is at its narrowest, he saw five kaute (proud) girls standing on the shore and waving to him. But the King would not be tempted. Instead, he shouted: Just stand there and turn to stone until I return. The girls immediately turned to stone. Ever since, they have been standing and looking over towards the royal estate in Avaldsnes, waiting for the King.

Salhus/Sælehus
The area across the strait fromThe five foolish virgins is called Salhus. The name comes from the fact that the King’s estate manager in Avaldsnes had a hostel – a sælehus – built for pilgrims and other travellers. Many people came to Avaldsnes, and the most distinguished were probably allowed to spend the night at the royal estate. The hostel was probably built for the poor.

The Grønhaug ship grave
Just north of Bø lower secondary school, on the edge of Blodheia, is the Grønhaug ship grave. Another ship grave, called Storhaug, is located a little further north. So, the Karmsund Strait is home to two of Europe’s 14 known ship graves. The Oseberg ship was also built in this area.
Grønhaug is Scandinavia’s second oldest ship grave. Grønhaug was opened in 1902. At that time, the mound was about 30 metres in diameter and four metres high, but it was probably once even higher.

When Grønhaug was opened, they found a Viking ship that was 15 metres long and three metres wide, where a king was laid to rest on down duvets in a burial chamber of birchbark. He had been dressed in red clothes and was surrounded by tapestries with figures. There were also glass English goblets, testifying to great luxury. The skeletal remains show that he had been a large, powerful man. He was buried at some time between 790 and 795.
The ship was made of oak and very elaborate. It is described as “a king’s personal ship”. Maybe it was used to travel between royal estates in Rogaland and Hordaland?
Based on genealogies in old sagas, King Halv himself may have been buried in Grønhaug. King Halv lived in the 8th century. He was the foremost Viking hero of his time, and he has had his own saga written about him.

The Viking ships were developed along the Karmsund Strait
In 2009, tree-ring dating was used to date the wood in the Viking ships from Karmøy. It turned out that the Storhaug ship was built in 770 and the Grønhaug ship in 780. At the same time, they found that the Oseberg ship from 820, was also built of oak from the same forest as the two Karmøy ships, in other words, a forest from an area in North Rogaland or Sunnhordland.
These three ships are the oldest ship graves in Scandinavia. The Storhaug ship and the Grønhaug ship were something between a rowing ship and a sailing ship. The Oseberg ship was first and foremost a sailing ship.
Since all three ships were built in the area around the Karmsund Strait within a short time period of about 50 years, it is likely that the Viking sailing ship as we know it was developed in this region sometime around the year 800.

Was the Oseberg ship a dowry for a princess from Avaldsnes?
The famous Oseberg ship from Vestfold is today at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo. The ship was built in this area in 820. So, how did it end up in a burial mound in Vestfold? Could it have been the dowry for a princess from Avaldsnes when she was married to a chieftain in Vestfold?

The Bronze Age burial mounds at Reheia/Blodheia
To the left (port), in the innermost part of Bøvågen, we can catch a glimpse of the ridge called Reheia. It is the site of Norway’s largest collection of Bronze Age burial mounds. They are more than 3000 years old. We believe that the people who built the burial mounds at Reheia, originally came from the area by the Limfjord in Denmark. They were part of an international trade and contact network that stretched from the Mediterranean in the south to Russia in the east and Ireland in the west.

The Battle of Blodheia
Reheia is also called Blodheia, which can be translated as “Blood Moor”. The name Blodheia comes from a large battle that took place here in 953. The saga says that Haakon the Good fought with the sons of Eric Bloodaxe on this plain.

Haakon the Good was Harald Fairhair’s youngest son. He became King of Norway after his brother, Eric Bloodaxe was forced to flee the country. When Eric’s sons grew up, they received help from their uncle, the Danish King, Harald Bluetooth, and in 953, they came sailing up the Karmsund Strait along with a Danish army.

The two armies met in a bloody battle near the royal estate in Avaldsnes, where they fought on a plain with large burial mounds from the Bronze Age. Despite the fact that the Eric’s sons had a fleet of Danish warriors with them, Haakon the Good emerged victorious. Later, this battlefield was named Blodheia – The Blood Moor.

The Royal Seat of Avaldsnes
Avaldsnes is best known as the royal estate of Harald Fairhair and the other kings we hear about in the sagas. But when Harald Fairhair settled in Avaldsnes, it had already been a royal seat for many hundreds of years.
We know about the kings who lived in Avaldsnes both from the ancient sagas and from many rich archaeological finds. All the Avaldsnes kings before Harald Fairhair’s time were sea kings.
Harald Fairhair also started his career as a sea king, but during his long reign, he also became a land king. He thus laid the foundation for the Kingdom of Norway.

Avaldsnes is called Norway’s oldest royal seat because Harald Fairhair established his main farm here after the Battle of Hafrsfjord around the year 870. Harald Fairhair is the king who had the honour of uniting Norway into one kingdom.
Avaldsnes was also the royal seat for Harald Fairhair’s descendants, and the sagas of the Norwegian kings tell of dramatic events that unfolded here. Among these kings are Eric Bloodaxe, Haakon the Good, Olav Tryggvason, Olav the Holy (who later became Saint Olav), Haakon Haakonsson and Haakon V Magnusson.

St Olav’s Church and the royal estate from the Middle Ages
High on the Avaldsnes peninsula itself, we can now see St Olav’s Church, which was built by Haakon Haakonsson around 1250. Haakon Haakonsson consecrated the church to Saint Olav, which made it an important pilgrimage destination for pilgrims travelling to Saint Olav’s grave in Nidaros (Trondheim).

The church was part of a large royal estate. In 2017, archaeologists excavated the royal estate’s main building, just south of the church. Construction of this royal hall was started by Haakon Haakonsson and completed by Haakon V Magnusson around the year 1300. Conservators are currently working to preserve the ruins of the royal hall. (Some of the ruins are located in the grey building that you can see south of the church. When the conservators have finished their work, this building will be removed.)

The Virgin Mary’s Sewing Needle
“The Virgin Mary’s Sewing Needle” is a standing stone, leaning towards the north wall of St Olav’s Church. It is 7.3 metres high, but it is said to have been higher. The sagas say that Judgement Day will come when the top of the stone touches the church wall. So, under the cover of night, the Avaldsnes priests are said to have chopped pieces off the top, thus saving the world from destruction!

The Flag Mound
Just north of St Olav’s Church was a giant burial mound called Flagghaugen (the Flag Mound). It was opened in 1835, and it is Norway’s richest grave from the late Roman Iron Age. The grave was the resting place of a prince who was buried in the 200s (late Roman Iron Age). Buried along with him were many imported Roman items and weapons. This shows that he had close contact with the Romans.

The most beautiful object in the grave was a large neck ring made of 590 grams of pure gold. The Flag Mound Prince is the only person in Norway who brought a gold neck ring to the grave. Such neck rings were the foremost sign of dignity a ruler could have in our part of the world. It could very well be that the prince in the Flag Mound was the first to be called king in Avaldsnes.

The Hanseatic League in Avaldsnes
Hanseatic merchants ended the monarchy here in Avaldsnes, when they set fire to the royal estate in 1368. After the year 1400, we see few traces of a royal presence in Avaldsnes. It seems that the Hanseatic League took over the power the kings had previously wielded in the area. (The Hanseatic League remained here until about 1500.)

Old documents and maps tell that the Hanseatic League founded a Hanseatic trading post called Nothaw or Notau in the Karmsund Strait. Here at Bukkøy, we can still find place names like Nora Nottå and Nottåhavn (the port of Nottå).

In the Avaldsnes harbour, archaeologists have found numerous traces of the Hanseatic League – both on land and in the water. Several shipwrecks have also been found. Among other things, a medieval ship, dated to the year 1400, was found in the inner harbour area.

Old documents and maps tell that the Hanseatic League founded a Hanseatic trading post called Nothaw or Notau in the Karmsund Strait. Here at Bukkøy, we can still find place names like Nora Nottå and Nottåhavn (the port of Nottå).

In the Avaldsnes harbour, archaeologists have found numerous traces of the Hanseatic League – both on land and in the water. Several shipwrecks have also been found. Among other things, a medieval ship, dated to the year 1400, was found in the inner harbour area.

The Viking Farm
We are soon approaching the Viking Farm in Avaldsnes. The farm consists of reconstructed buildings from several places in Rogaland. The courtyard contains a boathouse for a leidangsskip (a coastal defence ship), a longhouse, a round house and several smaller buildings that show how ordinary farmers lived in the Viking Age.

The Viking Farm is thus not a royal estate. The royal estate was located on the church plateau, where we can see St Olav’s Church today.