With an average annual precipitation of 2,250 millimetres (1961–1990), Bergen is known as the rainiest city in Europe. Precipitation levels are expected to increase some 25% to 30% in the next 40 to 50 years due to climate change, with the increase primarily coming from rainfall in the autumn and winter. The city of Bergen has a population of 272,520 (2014).
In the heart of Bergen is the ancient wharf and environs of Bryggen, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. This historical area is the pride of the city and the third most popular attraction in Norway. With shops, pubs, and restaurants situated amid alleyways and overhanging balconies, Bryggen is a living community with roots going back to 1000 AD. The area is an architectural gem to explore all year round and a must-see for anyone visiting Bergen.
Most of Bryggen’s buildings were built after the Great Fire of 1702. Today, a total of 61 houses have been preserved and protected, just one fourth of the original number. Old meets new, but the magic of the past is still in the air.
Travel into the past
Bryggen is known as the Hansa or German Wharf. Between 1360 and 1754, it was an important base for German traders, or Hanseats, as they were commonly known. The Hanseats established themselves in Norway after the devastation of the Black Death and dominated the Northern European market for centuries.
Finnegaarden is one of the best-kept Hanseatic structures in the wharf area. Once one of their largest trading offices, today it lives on as a museum showcasing Hanseatic life. With the building’s original interior and furnishings still intact, visitors can tread the same floors as those traders long ago. Schøtstuene, a reconstructed Hanseatic meeting and dining hall, is located nearby.
Survival Against All Odds
Bryggen’s survival has been threatened many times over the centuries, and not only by fire and the Black Death. During World War II, a Dutch cargo ship loaded with 120 tons of explosives blew up in the harbour, killing more than 150 people and damaging many historic buildings. The blast from the explosion lifted the wharf from its foundations, making it unstable. The Reich Commissioner in Norway at the time, Josef Terboven, claimed the wharf was a perfect hiding place for the Norwegian resistance and used this excuse to try to demolish the rest of Bryggen. With some representatives in the local government supporting this, Bryggen’s fate seemed doomed. Fortunately, an on-site inspection determined that the foundation structure could be rebuilt after all, resulting in Bryggen and the wharf being saved.
Against all odds, Bryggen still stands and is an area where visitors can relive its past and enjoy all that this exceptional site has to offer.
Situated in Bergenhus fortress, Håkonshallen or Håkon’s Hall was built over 750 years ago by King Håkon Håkonsson as a royal residence and banqueting hall. When his son, Magnus Håkonsson Lagabøte, married the Danish princess Ingeborg in 1261, 2,000 guests were invited to the wedding celebrations. “The King held court in the stone hall,” sang the old sagas. At that time, Bergen was Norway’s largest and most important town, and Håkon’s Hall was the site of major national events such as the drawing up of Norway’s first complete set of laws. Behind its thick stone walls, there are still echoes of the medieval court’s solemn ceremonies and riotous feasts. As a national cultural monument, Håkon’s Hall is used today for royal dinners and other official occasions.