In the 10th century, at Jelling – the highest point in the landscape west of Vejle in Denmark – the kings Gorm the Old and Harald Bluetooth created a monument that is unique in the Nordic context. The oldest feature is the remains of a huge ship-shaped stone setting, then came the runestones and the mounds, and finally the palisade.
The Jelling stones stand in the churchyard of Jelling church. The stones are from the transitional period between Norse paganism and the Christianisation of Denmark, and are said to have been erected sometime between 940 and 970; a hectic period that led to fundamental changes in the Danish society.
The older of the two runestones was raised by King Gorm the Old in memory of his wife Thyra. It links the royal couple to a kingdom called Denmark and contains the oldest words from a Danish king, and the first mention of Denmark as a country. King Gorm died in 958. The inscription on the stone reads: "King Gorm made this monument in memory of Thyra, his wife, Denmark's adornment."
The story continues on Harald Bluetooth's runestone, which describes a central event in the history of Denmark – the King's acceptance of Christianity on behalf of his whole people. For that reason the stone is often called "Denmark's Certificate of Baptism". Harald was Gorm and Thyra's son. He took over the throne just before 960 and his, larger, stone was also in memory of his parents and his conquest of Norway and Denmark.
Harald's stone also has a figure of Jesus on one side and a serpent wrapped around a lion on the other side. The inscription reads: "King Harald ordered this monument made in memory of Gorm, his father, and in memory of Thyra, his mother; that Harald who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian."
To protect the stones from the weather, they are now placed in display cases. In the evening, lights in the ceiling are lit, which clearly display the runes and images.
In 2013 the gigantic palisade, the ship-setting and the houses built under the reign of Harald Bluetooth were marked in the landscape. Here the mounds, the church and the two runestones have been visible for more than a thousand years.
Archaeological surveys done from 2006 to 2013 have shown that the monument area was surrounded by a 1,440m-long palisade. Within the fenced area there was room for 20 football fields. The North Mound is situated in the middle of the palisade enclosure and it is also the centre of a 356m-long ship-setting. The giant stones from this ship-setting still lie under the top-soil in the northern end, while the rows of stone to the south are hidden beneath the South Mound. During the excavations three houses of the Trelleborg-type were found.
The visitor and experience centre – Kongernes Jelling - Home of the Viking Kings – lies in the middle of the monument complex around Jelling Church. At the experience centre the story is told of the Viking kings, Gorm and Harald, their runestones, the huge ship-setting and the gigantic palisade which was built over a thousand years ago.