York Jorvik Viking Centre re-opens with annual festival after £1 million revamp

By Culture24 Staff | 12 February 2010
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A photo of a man and a young girl at the opening to a museum

(Above) TV presenter Tony Robinson joins 13-year-old Madeleine Phillips, who won a competition to design a coin which will be minted and distributed at the Jorvik Viking Centre in 2010, to re-open the new-look building

A Nordic animatronic community made by Disneyworld designers in Ohio, a capsule ride around Viking York and a ferocious battle between axe-wielding warriors will form the opening highlights of the third incarnation of the Jorvik Viking Centre when it opens on February 13 following a £1 million refurbishment.

An antler worker called Sigurd who severed his finger in a saw, two rugged builders, a feuding Viking couple and a rat are among the robotic figures created by US specialists Life Formation, based on archaeological evidence from digs around the grounds of the Centre. They will address visitors in Old Norse, voiced by students from York University.

A photo of a technician sizing up a life-size exhibit of a man in a museum

The £1 million renovation features a new gallery

"Life Formation are the world leaders in high detail models," said Nigel Knight, whose RMA firm commissioned the collective after seeing their work at Disney, the Hollywood Wax Museum and Ripley's Auditoriums.

"The new characters are incredibly lifelike, so visitors will come face-to-face with some very convincing Vikings."

The popular "man on the toilet" exhibit, a self-explanatory figure of a Viking, will also look "more realistic than ever", according to Knight. The building re-opens with the 25th annual Jorvik Viking Festival following a four-month renovation programme.

A photo of an exhibit of a Viking man in a museum

"Man on the toilet" has returned

The York Archaeological Trust found timber buildings, fences, pens, wells and artefacts in a 40-000-item hoard from the Viking city of Jorvik during exhaustive excavations of the former confectionary factory, compelling the group to recreate the ancient metropolis at the site.

The Centre was last enlarged in a £5 million upgrade in 2001, expanding a tour of a Viking settlement with a wider museum and hundreds of finds, but the latest development scheme has allowed planners to revisit their initial discoveries.

"The main thrust of the refurbishment this time is to make a reassessment of the archaeology at Coppergate from which the centre grew over 25 years ago," explained Sarah Maltby, Director of Attractions at the Trust.

"This enables us to relook at who the Vikings were, why they came here, and what evidence they left for us to determine what we think Viking-Age York looked like."

A photo of the inside of a museum showing a darkened floor

Planners have attempted to recreate the look of the original site under the feet of visitors

A new gallery, Discover Coppergate, places the original excavation under the feet of visitors, allowing them to view the land as it was uncovered between 1976 and 1981.

"People often forget that at the Centre you are standing on the site of one of the most famous and astounding discoveries of modern archaeology," pointed out Maltby.

"Thirty years ago, York Archaeological Trust archaeologists revealed the houses, workshops and backyards of the Viking-Age city of Jorvik as it stood 1,000 years ago.

"We built the Jorvik Viking Centre on that excavation site, creating a ground breaking visitor experience that changed the face of museums.

"We plan to bring that excavation to life within the Viking Centre as part of the redevelopment, as well as installing new, lifelike animatronics, displaying never before seen Viking-age objects and incorporating recent research that has added to the picture of what life was like in 10th century York."

A picture of a dimly lit museum tour

Tours will take audiences on journeys through time

A house has been reconstructed based on evidence from ones found during the dig, featuring a brown bear rug, full-sized backyard and the infamous toilet.

More rare artefacts have also gone on display, ranging from a full skeleton of a Viking swordsman to bone material tracing Viking diets, diseases and causes of death.

TV presenter Tony Robinson was on hand to cut the ribbon. "This is a spectacular place that really brings archaeology to life for all the family," he said.

"It is a fantastic example of bringing education and history together in an interesting and entertaining way."

A picture of a computer-generated plan of the entrance to a museum

Work on the project originally began nine months ago

Culture Minister Barbara Follett said the re-opening was "a major boost" for tourism in the region.

"The Jorvik Viking Centre is without doubt one of the region's flagship attractions," she declared.

"It has become one of the cultural rites of passage for children, and investing in its future will help ensure that the tourism sector in the region remains buoyant."

About 40,000 visitors and 500 Vikings are expected to descend upon the Centre during the eight-day festival of combat displays, craft and food. The Festival also features a theatre piece, poetry and music - all taking place across the city this year.

The Centre has only had to close for four weeks, shutting its doors in January. Visitors were given a 25% discount on entry prices throughout November and December.

More than 15 million fans have visited the Centre since it opened in 1984.

Visit the Festival online for full programme, runs until February 21. Various admission prices, book tickets online or call the Centre on 01904 557208.

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