JORVIK turns 40! | JORVIK Viking Centre

Explore the Jorvik Group

Explore the Jorvik Group

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It was 14 April 1984 when a long queue of people assembled in Coppergate to be the first to experience a brand new type of visitor attraction – one that took them back in time to the Viking age!  This Sunday, 14 April 2024, JORVIK Viking Centre turns 40 – and is as popular with visitors as ever!

“40 years marks a fantastic milestone for any visitor attraction, particularly one that broke all the rules of museum design when it opened back in 1984.  It truly is a museum like no other – built on the exact location where we discovered incredibly well-preserved remains of Viking-age York in the 1970s, and continuing to showcase what life would have been like in the 10th century Viking city,” comments chief executive of York Archaeology, David Jennings.  “We are well on our way to having welcomed 21 million visitors through the doors over that time, and are still receiving fantastic reviews – so here’s to the next 40 years!”

Visitors currently experience the fourth version of JORVIK.  The original featured Time Cars that moved around a smooth, flat track.  Travelling backwards through a ‘time tunnel’ before emerging in the 10th century, visitors pass through a frozen moment of time where they could experience the sights, sounds and – for the first time in a museum, smells – of the era, painstaking recreated based on the archaeology of the site.

“There was a fairly speedy turnaround from archaeological dig to creating a visitor attraction, but just as our understanding of Viking-age York has developed – with new techniques enabling us to examine not only the layout of the streets but also microscopic evidence of flora and fauna – so we know so much more than we did when JORVIK first opened,” adds David.  “This has been reflected in each new version of JORVIK – from the addition of two storey houses in 2001, to tiny details like the moss growing on the thatched rooves.  This is the best possible interpretation of what the city would have looked like.”

The anniversary marks the start of a year of celebrations at JORVIK Viking Centre, starting this Friday with the reveal of a new anniversary logo marking 40 years of ‘wows’ which will feature in a display down Coppergate Walk and outside JORVIK itself.  On Sunday, the first 150 visitors will receive sweet treats to mark the anniversary.  Other plans for the year include a new Viking trail around York, a series of lectures and talks, and the release of a video in which those behind the creation of the very first Jorvik Viking Centre tell the story in their own words.  York Fashion Week in May will be marked with a Viking fashion show and fashion-themed walking tour of the Viking set.

JORVIK Viking Centre is open daily from 10.00am to 5.00pm.  Admission is £16.50 for adults, £11.00 for children and £13.25 for concessions (students and over 65s).  Family tickets are available for £46.00 for a family of four or £53.00 for a family of five.  Tickets are valid for unlimited repeat visits for a full year!  Prebooking is strongly recommended.For more information, or to find out about anniversary events at JORVIK Viking Centre, please visit jorvikvikingcentre.co.uk

The JORVIK Story – a brief summary of the last 40 years!

In 1976, the site of the old Craven’s Sweet Factory on Coppergate was due to be redeveloped into a new shopping centre.  City of York Council agreed to an archaeological dig before the work started, and when the ground below the modern basements was excavated, archaeologists discovered remarkably well-preserved Viking-age timbers – the first traces of Viking buildings.

With the development project delayed by a lack of funds, the short archaeological excavation was extended, eventually taking five years and extended to cover 1000 square metres.  The archaeologists from York Archaeology (then known as York Archaeological Trust) found 40,000 archaeological contexts, including five tonnes of animal bones, vast quantities of oyster shells and 20,000 individually interesting objects!  

Whilst the dig was taking place, wooden hoardings surrounded the site, but with small holes cut in at adult and child eye level so that people could see what was going on.  Locals started to make regular visits to the site to see the latest discovered being uncovered, and tours were offered to help fund the project.  This gave rise to an idea – why not create a museum on the site so that people could see what had been discovered.  And thus, the foundations for Jorvik Viking Centre were established.

Jorvik Viking Centre 1984

The discoveries at Coppergate were unlike anything found in this country before, and the team planning to display they wanted something different and unique for the museum.  Dioramas – cabinets showing recreated displays – were already in use, but always behind glass, and the archaeologists and museum designers wanted to take that glass away.  They came up with the idea of a tour around Viking-age York in the time of Erik Bloodaxe, the city’s last Viking-age king.  Time Cars – electric vehicles that moved around a smooth track – would take people back in time – first backwards through a ‘time tunnel’, then turning around to reveal the houses and backyards when it arrived back in the 10th century.  A commentary by TV presenter and historian, Magnus Magnusson, explained what people were looking at.  

By 1996, 10 million visitors had travelled back in time.  The team behind the hugely successful attraction had gone on to create other ride-themed attractions in the UK and beyond, but none was as successful as Jorvik.  However, with over a decade more research into the finds of Coppergate under its belt, the York Archaeology team were already thinking about how the experience might be further developed.

Jorvik Viking Centre version 2, 2001

In October 2020, the last Time Car made its way around the original set.  Work was already underway at a huge warehouse in Hessay on a brand new version of Jorvik.  The timeline was slightly later – 975AD – and new Time Capsules would enable visitors to experience the city in a new way, flying through the streets, backyards and houses, including the bank up from the quayside to the main shopping street of Coppergate.  A special display technique gave visitors a view of both the archaeology that was discovered and how this would have looked in the 10th century, both on the ride and in the artefact galleries.

Before this, a cinematic time-travel experience – where visitors stepped into a time machine and watched a fun film which illustrated the travel back in time to the 10th century.

JORVIK Viking Centre version 3, 2010

Part of the original Jorvik Viking Centre ride was a recreation of the archaeological dig, and whilst the second incarnation sought to put the finds in their actual setting, this lost some of the impact and visitors’ understanding of the unique nature of the attraction – why it was here, why it was below ground and the actual scale of the dig.

The cinematic time travel space was replaced with a glass floor, under which visitors could see a recreation of the archaeological dig.  Screens on the walls displayed photographs and video footage of the dig, firmly establishing this very site as the location where the dig took place.  Real timbers from some of the buildings are on display in this area, too – carefully preserved by York Archaeology’s world experts in historic wood.

 JORVIK Viking Centre version 4, 2017

The Boxing Day floods of 2015 caused severe damage to JORVIK.  Thanks to the fast thinking of Mark Shepherd, then head of the technical team, who used a firedoor as a makeshift flood barrier, the curatorial staff were able to remove all the artefacts to a safe, dry location.  However, much of the recreation of Viking-age York, and the artefact galleries, were under water when the Foss Barrier failed.

A series of exhibitions in York St Mary’s, York Theatre Royal and York Minster’s Undercroft kept the Viking story alive whilst the set of the ride and galleries were completely rebuilt, and on 14 April 2017 – 33 years to the day after Jorvik Viking Centre first opened – the latest incarnation of the attraction welcomed visitors.

In September 2022, JORVIK welcomed its 20 millionth visitor.