Christian Sebire, founder of Ornavik and defender of Norman culture

Christian Sebire, founder of Ornavik Park. ©Grégory MAUCORPS

Until this Sunday, September 25, 2022, the inhabitants of Calvados can discover the story of the birth of Normandy and the influence of the Vikings on the Caen Fair (Calvados), on the occasion of the exhibition-event on the ornavik park, generally installed on the Beauregard estate in Hérouville Saint-Clair. “We are very happy, the feedback is very positive, it is gratifying. With the presence of volunteers, it is encouraged”, says Christian Sebirepark founder.

An imaginary created in Normandy Switzerland

Ornavik, which means “Bay of the Orne” in Old Norse, the language of the Vikings, is known to the inhabitants of the Caen area. “But they also tell us that they don’t know what’s in the park. When they see what we do, it is a great discovery and they would have liked to come earlier. It’s a truly immersive experience.”

Christian Sebire, 70, is the instigator of Ornavik Park.

I am the crazy person who imagined this, with only one euro in my pocket.

Christian Sebire

Born in Swiss Normandy, on a farm next to the castle of Pontécoulant, Christian Sebire developed his imagination during his early years, playing count and countess with his family in the neighboring castle. When he came of age, he envisioned a 200-hectare space at the Château de Pontécoulant to show how he lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. “It has never been done”, but the idea of ​​historical immersion is already running through his head.

A castle in Burgundy as a trigger

Self-employed photographer and then in the industry during his professional life, Christian Sebire was also invited by the former mayor of Caen Jean-Marie Giraud to photograph in particular the Queen of England Elizabeth II (descendant of William the Conqueror) during the ceremonies anniversary of D-day. As one of the five founders of Vitrines de Caen, he spoke with the tourist office about communicating more widely about William the Conqueror and the Vikings in the late 1990s.

Caen Fair Christian Sebire
Christian Sebire is present at the Caen fair with the Ornavik exhibition until Sunday, September 25. ©Grégory MAUCORPS

In early 2000, his visit to the Château de Guédelon in Burgundy was a revelation. On the spot, he rebuilds a medieval castle using the methods of the time. “I talk to director Maryline Martin about our history with the Vikings and William the Conqueror, she tells me that there is everything to do the same. On the way back I imagine the park with a Norman, Viking space…”.

Then nothing for almost a decade. “The file sleeps in the boxes.” Another Christian, Christian Heiz, is relaunching the project. Visiting a 10-hectare site classified for leisure, in 2008, on the Beauregard estate in Hérouville Saint-Clair, he told Mayor Rodolphe Thomas: “I know what we are going to do with it: a Viking village”, details Christian today. Sebire. . “He had a stroke of genius, he was the real initiator of the project. And Rodolphe Thomas was kind enough to accept. The adventure got under way. The Vikings 911 association was created in 2009 and Ornavik Park opened in 2011.

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“Happy with this success”

To place the birth of Normandy and the arrival of the Viking Rollo in the year 911 in historical chronology, Christian Sebire turns to Asterix.

In the comics, it appears that the Vikings lived at the same time as Julius Caesar. But there are about 1000 years between Julius Caesar and the Vikings, and just as many between the Vikings and us!

Without being a historian, Christian Sebire and his team rely on scientists from Caen and Scandinavia for the development of the Ornavik park. For 11 years, Ornavik Park has continued to develop and attract more and more visitors. Already 24,000 people in 2022, that is, 50% more than in 2021 when the season is not over. “We are happy with this success, we expected it without being sure. We thought our project was good and we did our best to make it happen.

For Christian Sebire, Ornavik is a historical and human adventure, because the founder relies on volunteers (about a hundred between the ages of 15 and 80), reintegration projects and companies to develop.

When you believe in something very deep in your gut, you transmit that passion. There is a language of truth.

“Let us be proud to be Normans”

Passionate, the septuagenarian has taken thousands of volunteers, members and visitors on his adventure. our adventure Which is also his main objective: to make the Normans aware of their extraordinary culture. “The Bretons, the Basques have a culture and are based on it outside their region”, sums up Christian Sebire. “In 150 years, Rollo’s initial territory becomes more powerful than the royal courts of Europe, after William conquers England and Tancred of Hauteville Sicily. We have an extraordinary story, but we don’t know it, it doesn’t come together yet. Let us be proud to be Normans.” Simply.

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