| Bergen, the ‘Gateway
to the Fjords’, is Norway’s second city and
one of its most attractive with delightful natural setting and seven
imposing mountains surrounding it on three sides and the island-dotted
North Sea on the fourth. On a lovely clear day,
the approach to the city by sea or air is a rewarding experience
with the rocky islets and towering mountains form a dramatic backdrop
for the rainbow-painted houses clinging to the sides of the mountains
down to the waterfront.
The Viking king Olav Kyrre founded Bergen during
1070. With its fortunate combination of sheltered harbour and the
proximity to rich fishing grounds, it quickly established itself
as one of Norway’s most important towns.
By the beginning of the 13th century, it was Norway’s capital,
a status it enjoyed until the late 1200s, when the seat of government
transferred to Christiania – the city nowadays
known as Oslo.
Economic success was further assured in the 14th century when the
Hanseatic League, a German organisation created
to promote trade between the eastern and western parts of Europe,
chose Bergen as one of its four main bases. The League’s offices
and warehouses, the Bryggen (wharfside), are the
only survivors of the 4 original Hanseatic Kontors
(trading offices). During 1980, UNESCO designated
this district a Cultural World Heritage Site. By
1600, the city was Scandinavia’s largest, with over 15,000
Despite the dismantling of the Hanseatic League
during the 18th century, Bergen remained a very successful trading
port. Greater prosperity came with the discovery of North
Sea oil in the 1960s, which led to a new influx of foreign
nationals and more than 5,000 currently live and work in the city,
the largest single group being the British.
Bergen’s long history as Norway’s leading port and latterly
as an international business and tourist centre lends it a more
cosmopolitan air than other major Norwegian cities.
The atmosphere around the Torget (market), the
focal point of the city’s social life, with its eclectic mix
of restaurants, cafés and pubs, reflects all of this. Additionally,
although fishing, shipping and
other maritime industries still play a major role
in Bergen’s economy, international tourism is becoming an
increasingly significant income source.
The locals (known as Bergenseners) are very friendly
and widely regarded as the most outgoing of the Norwegians. They
are immensely proud of their city, its history and traditions. Bergen
is a city generously endowed with museums, galleries and other cultural
institutions – the arts figure large in the city’s life
and it was a European City of Culture in 2000.
The peak tourist season is from May to September, although it is
just as likely to rain then as at any other time of the year. The
area has the dubious honour of experiencing one of Europe’s
highest average annual rainfall counts. However, this should not
spoil a visit completely, as there is still plenty to do indoors.
Between November and March, the rain turns to sleet or snow but
even the worst winter weather is not harsh by the Norwegian standards
and temperatures rarely sink below -5ºC (23ºF).