Viking Monuments and Sites / Grobiņa archaeological complex

Date of Submission: 18/04/2011
Criteria: (iii)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Latvian National Commission for UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Grobina province
Coordinates: N56 32 06 E21 09 58
Ref.: 5608
Word File

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Part of transnational serial nomination


The Viking serial nomination comprises land-, sea- and townscapes stretching from the North Atlantic to the Baltic Sea. Among the thousands of Viking sites from the eighth to the twelfth centuries AD, these nine nominated properties from six nations are outstanding examples representing the wide diversity of this early maritime culture.

In the Viking Age the Norse peoples - the Vikings - developed a maritime culture which had an enormous impact on Northern Europe and beyond.  Within Scandinavia the Viking Period witnessed the transformation from tribal to state societies and a change of religions.  The three Christian kingdoms that developed from this transformation, and out of which the present Nordic States evolved, were by the end of the Viking Age an integral part of Europe.  Thus, in modern times, Viking culture has contributed significantly to the creation of cultural coherence, symbolic values and cultural identity in the Nordic region, and it continues to hold immense public appeal world-wide.  This culture and its heritage developed in close interaction within a unique natural environment. It is composed of distinctive urban landscapes and monuments. The culture also produced one of the world's great literatures: the Sagas, Eddic poetry and runic inscriptions.

Harnessing the technology of the ship, Vikings used the sea for expansion, exploration, long-distance trade and overseas settlement.  The travels of the Vikings brought them across the Baltic Sea and down the Russian rivers as far as the Black and Caspian Seas to Byzantium and the Caliphate of Baghdad, as well as west out into the Atlantic.  They were the first to settle in Iceland and the first Europeans to reach Greenland and North America about 1000 AD.  In so doing, the Vikings were the first people to succeed in opening routes across the northern hemisphere from North America to Asia, thus connecting different cultural regions of the earth.  Adapted to very diverse types of natural environments, success was on the one hand in the use, and at times ecological misuse, of regional resources, and, on the other hand, in the development of social and political systems. This combination formed the basis for a rich cultural region.  Internally, Scandinavia witnessed an economic, religious and social transformation aided by a boom in internal and cross-cultural communication during the Viking period.  New institutions were developed, smaller regions were merged into larger units and the Scandinavians took part in European development on a larger scale.  Scandinavia at the time of King Knut, in the early 11th century, was vastly different from the Scandinavia that was visited by the missionary Ansgar in the early 9th century.

The component parts cover a wide temporal and spatial range. They are of exceptional quality and diversity. They include trading towns, harbours, defensive structures, production sites, burial monuments, and assembly sites. Viewed as a whole these sites bear witness to the extent of Viking social and cultural development.


Grobiņa archaeological complex is situated in Western part of Latvia not far from the Baltic Sea and City of Liepāja, in the territory and vicinity of Grobiņa town. The first inhabitation of Grobiņa is connected with The Stone Age, later in I M AD Grobiņa became a centre of West Baltic tribe Curonians. In the local circumstances of Grobiņa in 7th C the north men appeared. They developed in Grobiņa and the vicinity of it agrarian and international trade settlements. In that time Grobiņa via navigation by Ālande River was connected with the Baltic Sea. The north men communicate with local Curonians and established peculiar form of ethnic symbiosis. It was representing in artefacts, dwelling sites and burials. Up to 9th C AD an important north men, Viking and Curonian proto-urban settlement existed in Grobiņa. The co-existence of north men and local Curonians has been represented in archaeological findings on flat cemeteries (Smukumi, Priediens, Atkalni), burial mound cemeteries (Priediens, Pormaļi) and hillfort Skabārža kalns with a settlement. In Priediens burial mound cemetery the picture stone was discovered, which is the only one of such findings out of the territory of Scandinavia. Probably Grobiņa as Seaborg was mentioned under year 854 in the Chronicle of Archbishop Rimbert Vita sancti Ansgari, where the raid of the king Olaf to Curonian territories was described. It is possible, that the north men and Vikings are connected with more wide agrarian territories close to Grobiņa. In 1269 the castle of Livonian order was established in Grobiņa on the territory of presumable North men settlement. Since 1929 the extended archaeological investigations were carried out in Grobiņa. Nowadays Grobiņa is a small province town.

Nr. on the List of State Protected Cultural Heritage Monuments






Grobiņa hillfort (Skabārža kalns) with a settlement

Grobiņa province, Grobiņa, right bank of the Ālande river, on the peninsula of Dzirnezers



Atkalni flat cemetery

Grobiņa province, near the Atkalni and Lankupi



Priediena burial mound cemetery

Grobiņa province, Grobiņa, near the equestrian complex



Grobiņa medieval castle with bastions

Grobiņas province, Grobiņa, Lielā Street 1



Porāni (Pūrāni) burial mound cemetery

Grobiņa province, near the Porāni (Pūrāni)



Smukumi flat cemetery

Grobiņas province, near the Rudzukalni (ex. Smukumi)

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The selection of sites bears an exceptional testimony to a unique cultural tradition in which the ship became the essential feature. Due to the natural environment of lakes, rivers and sea the use of waterways and the development of navigational skills had a long tradition. In the Viking Age ship technology was taken to a new level. Vikings were the first to settle in Iceland and the first Europeans to reach Greenland and North America about 1000 AD.  In so doing, the Vikings were the first people to succeed in opening routes across the North Atlantic to North America and eastward to the Russian Plain and Byzantium, connecting continents and cultural regions. Internally, Scandinavia witnessed an economic, religious and social transformation aided by a boom in internal and cross-cultural communication during the Viking period.  The component parts represent key attributes of Viking culture while the ship is the common feature throughout. In modern times, Viking culture has contributed significantly to the creation of cultural coherence, symbolic values and cultural identity in the Nordic region, and it continues to hold immense public appeal world-wide.  The component parts demonstrate clearly the key features; expansion, cultural communication and a strong narrative tradition past and present.

The site of Grobiņa is exceptionally well-preserved archaeological sites and structures of the Viking Age, unique material testimony about ancient habitat and existence of international far trade and external relationship network created by north men and Vikings, as well as about the interaction and fruitful symbiosis of different cultures and life styles, incl. ancient Curonians. The Grobiņa archaeological complex has partly preserved its landscape, characteristic for appropriate period.

The richness and diversity of findings from archaeological excavations demonstrate the importance of Grobiņa as one of the sites of Viking Age in the W part of the Baltic Sea. Grobiņa archaeological complex reflects the interaction between north men, Vikings culture and local Curonian culture; consequently the Curonians were included in wide external relationship network and accepted the north men and Vikings mode of life. In their turn, north men, probably, assumed Curonians agrarian, handicraft and other traditions. As result of this interaction an exceptional and original symbiosis of north men and Curionian cultures has been developed.

The geographical horizon of Viking Age was a large-scale: the impact of foreign countries and cultures were integrated in Vikings social life, mythology, arts, crafts and literature in multifaceted and imaginative way. The Scandinavian cities and cities under their influence developed as important intercultural sites with economical relationship. There were situated important fortresses, pagan sanctuaries and first Christian churches. These cities developed as most important political, military and sacral centres of this period. For the first time in Northern history, Viking culture considerably exceeded the local framework. Considerable mobility of individuals or groups was the basis for far journeys with military or mercantile aims. The Viking movement had the character of colonisation and conquest, but it also established the communication among different cultures, displacing different technological and cultural innovations in the important distance.

The initial habitation of Grobina goes back to Stone Age, later in the beginning of I M AD Grobiņa became a center of the tribe of western Balts namely the Curonians.  In 7th C in Grobina region the Scandinavians appeared and established in Grobiņa and its vicinity far trade and probably agrarian settlements. Via the River of Ālande and the Liepāja lake Grobina was accessible for the seagoing ships. The Baltic Sea connected Grobiņa with the biggest administrative, trade, handicraft, military and other centers of the Viking world. In the region of Grobiņa the north men in the course of interactions with local Curonians developed peculiar form of symbioses of different ethnic groups. This has representation in artifacts, dwelling and burial sites. Up to 9th C Grobiņa was extended, well known proto-urban settlement of north men, Vikings and Curonians. This was represented by several good in artifacts flat cemeteries (Smukumi, Priediens, and Atkalni), burial mound cemeteries (Priediens, Pormaļi) and hillfort Skabārža kalns with a settlement. In burial mound cemetery Priediens the picture stone was discovered, which was the first of picture stones discovered out of Scandinavia. Perhaps Grobiņa is mentioned as Seaborg in the Chronicle of archbishop of Bremen Vita sancti Anscarii, where the attack in year 854 of King Olaf was described. Probably the presence of Vikings is connected with more extended territory in the vicinity of Grobiņa. Since 1929 in archaeological ensemble of Grobiņa the wide archaeological excavations were conducted.

There are several other cultural monuments or listed sites in the territory of Grobiņa archaeological ensemble or close to it namely Grobiņa Lutheran church, the historical center of Grobiņa, etc.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

As an archaeological complex, Grobiņa is entirely authentic. Its individual parts compose landscaping and mutually integrated network of material testimonies.

The authenticity of the site is verified impressively by numerous archaeological and scientific investigations conducted since 1929 that continues in nowadays offering new materials. The most important researches on the Grobiņa archeological complex are published in scientific pornographies and in many scientific publications in Latvia and abroad.   




Short Description


Grobiņas hillfort (Skabārža kalns) and a settlement


Grobiņa hillfort is situated on peninsula of the River Ālande watermill-pound. Levelled plateau of the hillfort is up to 80 m long, 40 - 45 m wide. The plateau is separated by the up 80 m long and 2 m high rampart. To the East of the hillfort the settlement site (ca. 3 ha) is situated. 

Atkalni flat cemetary


Atkalni flat cemetery is situated on a flat evaluation. They are dating from Stone Age to 13th C AD and contains inhumations and cremations (Curonians). 

Priediens burial mound cemetary


Very extended cemetery of Scandinavian burial mounds (ca. 2000). Part of the mounds lost their visual marks. Close to the burial mounds the Curonian flat burials are situated. In the course of archaeological excavation a great number of Scandinavian and Curonian artefacts was discovered. Among them one can mentioned unique stone stela with the inscription of the swans. 

Grobiņa medieval castle with bastions 

Grobiņa German stone castle was erected in the first half of 14th C on the presumable territory of North men settlement. After 14th C the stone castle was extended. 

Porāni (Pūrāni) burial mound cemetary 

Scandinavian burial mounds with typical graves and artefacts. 

Smukumi flat cemetary 

Flat cemetery with Scandinavian cremations and later inhumations. Cemetery situated on a flat evaluation.

Comparison with other similar properties


The transnational project unites properties already appointed as Viking Age World Heritage with the newly nominated sites of Danevirke and Hedeby as well as Grobiņa, the Danish fortresses, the Vestfold burial mounds and Hyllestad quernstone quarry. They all rank among the most important historical places in the Viking Age and have moreover, as archaeological sites, contributed essential insights into Scandinavian culture of this period. In this period the Nordic region developed from being a peripheral zone of Europe to being an integrated component of the Christian West. Of exceptional value is the good condition of preservation displayed by the project's combined monuments, ideally complemented by Old Iceland's rich supply of written records and by other outstanding archaeological finds such as the ships from Gokstad, Oseberg and Roskilde. Corresponding nominations for the period between the 8th and the 12th century AD have to date not been represented on the World Heritage List. 

For each component part:

 Archaeological complex of Grobiņa is possible to compare with such archaeological complexes of Eastern Way (Austrvegr) like Frőjel in Gotland (Sweden), Wiskiauten (prev. Prussia), Staraja Ladoga and Gnezdova (Russia).

All of them were significant parts of Austrvegr, although Grobiņa is chronologically elder with roots in the Pre-viking period. Grobiņa is showing the rise of Viking cross sea expansion in the beginning of Viking Era. Possibly, therefore the geographical situation of Grobiņa differs, because Grobiņa is situated more inlands, not very close to the waterways and mirroring penetrating situation of Viking expansion. Grobiņa includes more types and variations of archaeological sites e.g. in Grobiņa great diversity and different constructions of burial sites is understandably and visually connected with dwelling and defended sites like hillfort and settlements. Possibly, that the number of inhabitants of Grobiņa site is bigger as in other sites. Grobiņa is showing the interactions between Norsemen and local Baltic inhabitants, what is mirroring the hybrid jevellry with Baltic and Viking culture marks. The local society on a great scale accepted the new socio-economical situation, changing their living strategies, but in the same time the Norsemen partly accepted local situation. The archaeological complexes of Grobiņa are well protected and managed, what is not so good in the case of Staraja Ladoga and Gnezdova.