The long-awaited re-opening of the JORVIK Viking Centre in York took place early this week among much fanfare. The well-known medieval attraction is again having visitors immerse
themselves in experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of a Viking-age city.
“We are incredibly proud of what we have achieved in a relatively short period of time – this is the fourth incarnation of JORVIK Viking Centre and without a doubt, the best yet. The response from our previews has been fantastic, and we can’t wait to hear what the visitors think about the new attraction,” comments director of attractions, Sarah Maltby.
Indeed, work only started on rebuilding the Viking city in June 2016, following six months of cleaning, drying out of the building and repairs. The centre closed its doors on 27 December 2015 when flood water from the nearby River Foss inundated the underground attraction, causing huge damage to the recreation of 10th century Jorvik and the artefact galleries, although all of the historic collection of artefacts was rescued unharmed.
With glorious sunshine and blue skies for the opening marking a complete contrast to the dark skies and heavy rain that prompted the flooding, the future looks bright for one of York’s top visitor attractions, which welcomed 18 million visitors since it first opening in 1984. “The Norse gods are clearly smiling on us today – a fantastic reception from the first visitors, a lovely queue of people waiting to come and be amongst the first around, and plenty of Viking entertainment in the square outside to keep them in high spirits whilst they wait,” adds Sarah.
Once inside, visitors enjoyed three different zones inviting them to discover, experience and explore Coppergate. Discover Coppergate tells the story of the archaeological dig, undertaken by JORVIK Viking Centre’s owners, the educational charity York Archaeological Trust, in the late 1970s and early 1980s which exposed the unrivalled and incredibly preserved remains of a street in the Viking city. A 16 minute ride through a recreation of the very street that was unearthed enables visitors to experience the sights, sounds and smells of the period, complete with 22 new animatronic Viking-age characters, 12 animatronic animals – including chickens, rats, pigs, cats and even eels – and even a Viking boat, moored at the wharf on the Foss, populated by live Viking actors.
The final section is a stunning new artefact gallery, encouraging visitors to explore the archaeological artefacts unearthed during the dig, including the Anglo-Saxon York Helmet, which was buried by one of York’s Viking residents, the only woollen Viking sock ever found in England, and even a fossilised Viking coprolite (poo) that gives us a fascinating insight into the diet of York’s residents during the Viking age.
Some aspects of JORVIK were saved from the flooding – not only all the Viking artefacts which were rescued and removed as soon as water levels started to rise, but also the preserved Viking-age timbers found on the site, the ride mechanism and time capsules which transport visitors around the recreated city streets, and some of the Viking properties that remained above water level – and these aspects have been incorporated into the new visitor experience. The artefacts now form part of the stunning new, open-plan gallery.
The new JORVIK Viking Centre is the fourth incarnation of the popular attraction, which is built underneath the Coppergate Centre. The site first came to public attention in the late 1970s. Archaeologists from York Archaeological Trust (YAT), the educational charity which subsequently created and continues to own and operate JORVIK Viking Centre, were surveying the ground underneath a demolished factory ahead of the shopping centre being built, and discovered incredibly well-preserved remains of streets in the principal Northern city of Viking Britain. Waterlogged, oxygen-free soil had stopped not only 1000 year old timbers from rotting away, but had also preserved a huge selection of Viking artefacts, small and large. These provide a remarkable insight into life in the Viking-age – a period in York’s history that was previously largely forgotten.
“Before the flood, we had nearly six years’ of visitor feedback to help guide us on what people were looking for from a visit, and we’ve changed many aspects of the experience to respond to these comments – we’ve made greater use of video, photographs, sound and other memorabilia in the Discover Coppergate gallery, extended the time visitors spend on the ride by three minutes around Viking-age York, and opened up the artefact galleries to encourage visitors to stay longer enjoying the world-class treasures and artefacts on display, and chatting to our knowledgeable costumed interpreters,” explains Sarah.
The first family through JORVIK Viking Centre was the Sampson family from Selby. Erin (10) commented, “Awesome – I loved the ride!” whilst her little sister, Ava (7) particularly enjoyed the children’s commentary. Sue Sampson added, “I’ve been a couple of times before with school trips but I think this is just brilliant – and it is amazing to think that everything you see was all here. Just amazing.”
Although all of the prebooked tickets for the first week have already been purchased, tickets are available throughout the opening weeks for walk-up visits. JORVIK Viking Centre is open daily from 10.00am to 6.30pm during the Easter holidays. Admission prices are £10.25 for adults, £8.25 for concessions and £7.25 for children, with a family ticket available for £30.95 (two adults and two children) or £32.95 (two adults and three children). For more details, please visit www.jorvikvikingcentre.co.uk.