Travel memories from Northern Atlantic in May-June 2007

Qassiarsuk / Brattahlid
While I had dinner MS Fram took me further into the Tunugdliarfik fjord/Eriksfjord. Over the hills on the starboard side, to the south, we had Hvalsø. As I finished the tasty third course we came to the low tongue of land that separates the bottom of the Einarsfjord and the Eriksfjord we sailed on.

It was a quarter to ten in the evening, and clouds hid the sunset. (Here I've made the photos a bit lighter.)

Unfortunately for me the ruins at Gardar, at the bottom of the Einarsfjord, was on the other side of the low ridge. But there were other nice views to see, and to take photos of.

There were more ice drifting in the water here.
Was it a tractor on the field down in the right corner?

There is a factory at the bottom of that fjord - the 'ice factory' in Isfjorden, a tongue of the inland ice.

One of the more decorative products from that factory.

When Eric the Red was exiled from Iceland, as he was from Norway earlier, he settled on Greenland around year 980. He also mapped the area. After three years he visited Iceland, and told Icelanders about Greenland. When he left Iceland it was in company with 25 ships with other families. 14 of them reached Greenland, and in 985 several families settled in the area.

Possibly the 'legal tool' the Thing was inherited to the settlement, and held at Eric the Red's home in Brattahlid initially. By some reason the Thing met at Gardar from the early 12th century.

I have read that Olaf Tryggvason, King of Norway, in 999 asked Eriks son Leif to bring the Christian faith to Greenland. Leifs mother Tjodhilde seemingly converted within a short time, while Eric the Red was more reluctant to give up his religion. However, Christianity spread also on Greenland.

From the beginning of Christianity in Scandinavia, all churches were under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen (in present Germany). As the faith became more firmly established a new archiepiscopal for Scandinavia was established in Lund (in present southern Sweden) in 1103, and from 1152 the churches on Greenland were under the jurisdicticon of the new archiepiscopal in Nidaros (now Trondheim in 'mid' Norway).

According to the "Flatey Book" there were 12 churches in the Easten Settlement around the end of the 14th century. There were also a monastery (a small church and some buildings) and a larger nunnery (a church and 25 buildings) on Greenland.

Gardar became a special place. In 1126 Arnald, Bishop of Greenland, arrived and settled there. A cathedral was built around the mid 12th century, dedicated to St. Nicholas (the patron Saint of seafarers). It was around 27 metres long and 16 metres wide.

The episcopal residence included a 50 metres long house that had a hall with room for several hundred people. The byre was with its 64 metres the longest Norse building on Greenland. A number of various buildings were part of the farm, which held some 100 cows. There was also a dam with a system of canals for irrigation.

But, that was on the other side of the ridge. However I thought I saw something on this side too. I filmed it with full zoom, hoping to identify something at home where I could enlarge the photos.

Maybe that is one of the sheep farms?

We took to the left - slowly turning around the corner, leaving Isfjorden in peace.

Darkness fell slow but sure over us out on deck, where we enjoyed the view.

It was around half past ten that I took a look backwards, and that we slowed down. We had arrived at Qassiarsuk.

The area that Eric the Red named Brattahlid when he settled here around 1,027 years earlier.
I managed to locate the two reconstructed Norse buildings in the darkness.
Here we would spend the night, and I sure looked forward to the morning.

It had been another great day.

I spent the late evening as usual, which was to read more about the place. As you may guess, I had brought some texts. But there were also other things in my mind. Normally when on holiday I cut off my job completely, which is very good for the mind, but this time I needed to have some contact. This morning the communications had worked so I got in contact, which was good, but the information was not that good. I had hoped that an agreement would be reached with a positive result, but it did not seem to work out as well as I hoped for.

Much more pleasant were the historic thoughts that travelled around in my mind. History both in long and short terms. For oh so many years I had heard and read stories about Eric the Red and his son who was the first European to land on the American continent. What I had heard and read about Vikings was at historic museums and in books, but I also had seen a number of documentaries on television and a few movies at cinemas. And now I was here in Brattahlid, a central historic place in this context. It felt great. I can't describe it, but I suppose you've had times with similar positive feelings.

I also thought about the decision I made in 2001, to begin to visit places I longed to visit, and what it had given to me. I had two main areas of interest. One was 'Vikings', to visit more remote areas where they had lived. Now, with Brattahlid, I had been to the ones I wanted the most to visit. The other area was regions with lots of ice, and with this cruise (as it was planned) I would have been to the 'most wanted' of those areas too. So, I also felt great about this.

I had not thought so much about it earlier, but also the cooler areas I visited had some connections to the Norse - Norwegian and Swedish explorers and Norwegian whalers.

I celebrated with the last of my Norwegian "Frost" crowberry spirit and "Moccabønner" chocolate.
Around midnight I went out to enjoy the night-view.

While Arne is sleeping at Brattahlid, I will tell you a short story. Earlier this day, the Friday when I write this text, I passed through Stockholm on a bus. From Strandvägen I glimpsed, behind an islet, something that looked familiar. I got off the bus and walked towards the Old Town...
Oh yes, there she was.
It was nice to see her again, and it brought back an ice-bucketful of pleasant memories.
The safety regulations that came some years ago prevented me from a visit inside, sadly. Would have been nice to buy me a lunch up there.

Now back to Brattahlid where Arne is sleeping.

I don't know what made me wake up, but since I was awake I went up and out.

It was quiet, the air was fresh and the time was half past four in the morning.
A slowly changing arrangement of clouds in a performance created by Mother Nature.

In that area (above) Eric the Red's farm was situated. Two of the buildings had been reconstructed nearby, beside the rectangular ground of an original stable or store-house.

Some of the crew were already working.

Shortly after seven I was out again, looking forward to the visit on land.

Wonder what I thought of when I took this photo?

Soon it would be time to do like Eric the Red did here.

To get ashore.

At the time I landed, some tourists already had made it to a monument at the top of a hill.
Just as I came to this monument for Eric the Red down where I was walking, the red car was parked by the house. Yes I was a bit annoyed, even though the car was in suitable red, but here that photo matches her colourful clothes better... Another memorial was harder to spot, on the rock behind the ruins of Norse buildings. It is a memorial for the Norse Greenlanders.

I passed what had been an eskimo dwelling from around year 1700. It had been restored a little so it was easier to understand how it had been. Among the artefacts found in the area some indicates that people in the Sarqaq culture lived here around 1500-1000 BC.

A more touristic cut of one of the photos.

Although I wanted to get to the reconstructed buildings before everyone else got there, and take photos without people with modern clothes all over the place, I took the time to go up on a low height beside Eric the Red's farm.

In old Icelandic sagas it was told about Tjodhilde's church at Eric the Red's farm, and the site of the farm was identified in 1899. When the National Museum of Denmark investigated the area in 1932, they could not find the church. Luckily it was found, by chance, in 1961.

The larger ruin is what remains of a church that probably was built around 1300, on the place where an elder church had been situated. The dwelling house whose ruins are visible was built after the life of Eric the Red had ended, but it was built on the ruins of an elder dwelling house. That elder house had curving longitudinal walls and straight gables, as the reconstructed longhouse I would visit down by the beach.

The first church on Greenland, and also the first church in the so called Western Hemisphere, was built here in Brattahlid around year 1000 when Eric the Red's wife Tjodhilde converter to the Christian faith. It was built a distance from the farm - in the upper right corner of the photo below, near the new church.
What is left of the original site is seen on the small photo. The church was built in the style of a longhouse, with slightly curved walls and straight gables, but it was much smaller. Inside it was about 3.5 by 2 metres. Basically it was a wooden church, walls believed to have been at least 1.5 metres high, all but the gable with the door covered by turf. The remains of 144 persons were found in the graveyard, among them 14 babies and 10 elder children. Most of the graves follow Christian tradition, but some of them do not - which have made people wonder.

On the way to the reconstructed buildings I enjoyed the view over the fjord.

Tjodhilde's Church was reconstructed in 2000. On Iceland there seemingly still exists similar churches, with a circular turf dyke around them.

The open door was inviting, but I began with a walk around the house.

Then I took two touristic photos before I went into the house.

Even on a sunny day like this, it must have been rather dark indoors. Seemingly they did not have any window.
The hearth was a central place in the house. Many stories have been told at many hearths around the globe. In the houses of the Norse on Greenland, some were told about hunting narwhale and walrus. Others about people and business at trading places.
Was it on a bench like this that Bjarni Herjólfsson sat one evening in 985, telling about their journey to Greenland? How they were blown off-cource and had seen land further to the west of Greenland. A story that Eric the Red's son Leifur listened to, and which inspired him to explore that land in or around year 1000. A land he landed on as the first European on the North American continent. That is, he and his followers.
Did a 'ghost' walk past me in there?

As well as the spelling of their names vary a bit, so do the stories. There are many pieces of that historic jigsaw puzzle that I do not know about.
This is about how it looked when houses were newly built, even though it was much darker inside in those days. I suppose it did not take so long before the wood was darkened by the smoke from the hearth.
This reconstructed house is based on the old dwelling houses on Greenland. There were changes during the around 500 years that the Norse lived here, as some of the ruins show.

When I came back to the church, Tjodhilde was talking to the people.

(No, it is not a miniature church. She is standing on the circular dyke, several metres in front of the church.)

While she communicated with us tourists, I looked at some other means of communication.

With most of the tourists out of the way the crew felt so empty-handed, so they tested a lifeboat just to have something to do...

At 11 o'clock a plane landed on South Greenland's international airport, in Narsarsuaq. The name means “great plain”, which is somewhat illustrative to the geography of Greenland.

Between Narsarsuaq and the towns and settlements in South Greenland transports are made with boat or helicopter. In the summertime there are several weekly flights to Denmark and Iceland.

There are 12 airports on Greenland. This one was built in 1941 as a military base for the USA. In 1959 it left the military service and became civilian.
There the runway ends.

From the low height beside the reconstructed church I had a good view over the area of Eric the Red's farm. To the left on the photo there was another Norse farm, and some 600 metres further on along the shore there were groups of booths indicating a trading-place - or maybe it was the first thingstead on Greenland.

I was not so pleased to see all the modern houses among the old Norse ruins, but it is quite natural. When the Norse arrived they chose to settle in areas that has suited earlier cultures, and when they left new people settled here. I suppose that various material and items from buildings and households also were reused.

When the area began to feel crowded, I decided to get higher.

The lifeboat also got higher.

A nice ship. Yes, I like her. Not too large.

I had a wish to get up on the top of the ridge, to enjoy the view in the opposite direction too, but the days with a cold had taken some strength out of me. As usual when going uphill in areas like this, when you reach one top there is 'always' a higher top...

I wonder what happened here in the 15th century? Why did the Norse settlements on Greenland come to an end, and what happened with the settlers?

On the way down I took some photos of flowers...

Unfortunately I had accidentally changed a setting on the camera, which I noticed later.

When I came back to the two new old houses, the tourists had left. Only working people were there, so I took some more photos.

Sometimes it is hard to take photos that look like they were taken back in history. Often there are modern signs, litterbins or other things on or close to old buildings. That was not the problem in this case, but still it was not so easy since I wanted both the buildings and that background.

Does this look like an ancient photo of a dwelling and a small store-house?

I know about lovers who cut a heart in the bark of a tree, but here I saw the top of one that had been cut in the grass. Great!

On the way back to the jetty I visited a shop that sold souvenirs. I would have liked to buy a miniature of a longhouse, but... so I bought a miniature of Tjodhildes church.

Then I happened to see two lovely dressed girls down by the beach.

They were looking good for a Norwegian boy with a camera, so I helped him to increase the number of photos of them.


Broken rock.
A tourist by another memorial?

After less than 3 hours I was back on MS Fram again, taking another photo of the longhouse and church. It felt great to have been here too, and I enjoyed to just look at the surroundings.

Yet another wonderful day, with a visit to an interesting place.

Others on the ship did not have that much time to look at the views.
After some time we took off.

No, we did not take off from that airport. And it was just around midday. Lunchtime, and the second half of the day remained.

2008-05-07. Text/pictures: Arne Granfoss ©. Prod: AG InformiceL>