The Ravning Bridge was built in the Viking Age during the reign of King Harold Bluetooth, around the year 980. It measured 760 metres and crossed Vejle River Valley at the widest place, just 10 km south of the royal seat in Jelling.
Thus The Ravning Bridge was the longest ever build in Denmark until the old Little Belt Bridge was inaugurated in 1935, almost a thousand years later. What use Harold Bluetooth had in mind for the bridge is not certain. The bridge was probably only in use for a few years and nothing indicates that had ever been repaired.
Some archaeological theories claim that the bridge was built move troops across the river valley quickly, others that the Ravning Bridge was a trade road over the swampy area. One thing is certain: Building the bridge required enormous resources in oak and manpower. The foundation consisted of 1,800 posts of up to six metres long and with a cross-section of 30x30cm.
Some of the excavated and preserved oak posts, can be seen in the exhibition in the old station building on site. Right next to where the Ravning Bridge stood, you can now see a reconstruction of part of the bridge, which gives a good idea of the dimensions of the impressive construction.
After archaeological excavations in the 1970s, the remains of the bridge were covered with soil so that they were not destroyed when the valley was drained. Therefore, the area is protected, and most of the Vikings’ large oak posts are still below ground level.
Do treat yourself to a beautiful walk across the valley to the reconstruction at the southern end of the bridge. The path that crosses the river valley runs exactly where the bridge stood more than 1000 years ago
An impressive construction
With a length of approx. 760m, a width of 5m and 280 bridge spans at intervals of approx. 2.40m the bridge was a huge construction. Each bridge span had 4 loadbearing oak posts with a supporting diagonal post to each side. The length of the posts varied according to the loadbearing capacity of the soil. The longest posts were up to 6 metres long, but posts of 2 and 4m have also been found.
On top of the vertical posts was a cross beam on which a layer of joists was laid along the bridge. On top, the carriageway planks were fixed crossways. The timber was cut so carefully that the axe marks are barely visible on the surface. All the connections were made using wooden pegs. The dimensions of the construction evoke Harold Bluetooth’s large palisade in Jelling.
The bridge was built using Danish oak, probably from the slopes around Ravning Meadows. For the entire bridge, oak trees from approx. 200-300 acres of mixed forest were needed. Felling, transporting and logging of timber and the actual building of the bridge, required many hands.
The construction is characterised by impressive accuracy. The course of the bridge is perfectly straight deviating a maximum of 5cm from a straight line. The bridge was set off using the surveyor sticks of the day, hazel sticks. The accuracy made the work easy for the National Museum of Denmark’s archaeologists in 1972, since it was possible to calculate exactly where the next bridge span would be found.
A bridge for war?
It is very likely that the bridge was built as part of a military strategy. It made it possible to get quickly from the royal seat in Jelling to the south Jutland area where the Danes fought with the Germans. Initially, it was Harold bluetooth who broke the peace by invading the land south of the Eider in 973.
In 974 there was a counter attack in which the Danes were driven back, and southern Jutland was conquered by the German emperor. This was probably the reason why Harold started construction of the Ravning Bridge around 980. The bridge is contemporary with the ring castles Trelleborg, Fyrkat, Aggersborg, Nonnebakken and Borgring - buildings that dated to Harold Bluetooth’s reign. They apparently lost all their military importance quickly and then fell into decay.
One of the big questions is why the bridge was built across the widest part of the river valley. Perhaps Ravning’s topographic location as well as the bridge’s dimensions have determined the location.
We know that since the Iron Age, there was a road connection and ford across the river a little west of the bridge at Kolborg, Vork.