Having a well-known landmark in your country declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site is something to be proud of. It is a way of acknowledging that your country has a unique and beautiful culture that is worth sharing to the rest of the world.
Norway has eight of these World Heritage Sites. Each one is spectacular in its own right. And they are worth seeing at least once in your lifetime. Norway’s eight World Heritage Sites are:
Year included: 1979
Bryggen is a wharf in the city of Bergen, located on the eastern side of the Vågen Harbor. It is famous for its colorful, postcard-perfect line of gabled buildings directly facing the harbor. Today’s locals and visitors enjoy the shops, cafes, museums, and restaurants that now call these buildings home. But in centuries past, these buildings formed the Norwegian center of the Hanseatic League.
The Hanseatic League was a powerful alliance of German merchants and their guilds established in the late 1100s. In its early days, the League served to promote and protect the interests of its members. At the peak of its power, the League controlled trade on the waters of Northern Europe and the Baltic. The League established a number of trading centers around Europe, and Bryggen was among them.
The League came to Bryggen in the 1350s to establish an office there. These Germans took over this part of Bergen and made it their own. Bryggen was where they lived and worked, and where they stored merchandise from the northern part of Europe to be traded elsewhere. The League occupied Bryggen until 1754.
Today, the buildings of Bryggen are among the few remaining relics proving that the Hanseatic League existed in this part of Europe. A lot of these buildings date back only to the 1700s. A great fire razed the area back then. Many of the buildings were demolished after that fire. However, many were also rebuilt to resemble their originals as closely as possible.
When you visit Bryggen, one of the points of interest you shouldn’t miss is the Bryggens Museum. There you can learn more about the history of Bryggen, as well as view the famous medieval Bryggen inscriptions. You should also visit the Hanseatic Museum, a time capsule that has preserved two trade houses as they were in the 1700s. Visiting this museum gives you a glimpse into the working and living conditions of German Hanseatic merchants during that time. Another must-see is St. Mary’s Church, Bergen’s oldest building that dates back to the 1100s.
Urnes Stave Church
Year included: 1979
Norway’s stave churches are marvelous. Not only are they breathtaking in their majesty, but they are also technological wonders for their time. Stave churches are medieval cathedrals. But they are not like your typical Gothic or Romanesque cathedral built during the same era. Gothic and Romanesque cathedrals are masterworks of stone and glass. While stave churches follow the same basilica plan, the difference is they are made entirely out of wood – from their soaring roofs to their floors. And stave churches are only found in Norway.
Norway had over a thousand of these stave churches erected during the Middle Ages. Of these, only 28 have survived. The Urnes Stave Church, located in Luster in Sogn og Fjordane, is the oldest of them. It was built around 1130.
The Urnes Stave Church was actually built above the remains of three older churches. Archaeologists have discovered that a hundred years have passed between when the first church was built to the time of the current one. Some of the materials and decorations from its predecessors were used on the present Urnes church.
The fact that it remains standing after hundreds of years makes Urnes Stave Church noteworthy. But what makes it truly significant is its ornate decoration. Urnes is poetry in wood. It combines standard Christian church art and architecture of the time with traditional Viking animal art. Because of the distinctiveness of the church’s artwork, similar contemporary artworks found in Scandinavia have now come to be called Urnes-style Viking art.
Røros Mining Town and the Circumference
Year included: 1980
One can say that the existence of the Røros Mining Town and the Circumference is a testament of endurance. Despite the harsh mountain climate, the town’s relative isolation, and the lack of forested and arable land, the old town of Røros survived. More than that, Røros thrived and became one of only two important mining towns in 17th-century Norway.
The mining town of Røros extracted copper from the mountains from 1646 to 1977. It was established by the Røros Copper Works, which employed local Norwegians as well as German, Swedish, and Danish immigrants. The mining town contains some 2,000 buildings and a house for smelting. When Sweden invaded the area during the Scanian War in 1678, Swedish soldiers razed Røros to the ground. It was completely rebuilt after the war, and the town stands to this day.
The Røros Mining Town and the Circumference provides a glimpse into what life in a thriving 17th-century mining town looked like. Its buildings are well-preserved and even sport blackened facades. All the facilities used in the town’s mining operations – the smelters, the water management systems, and the transport systems – still exist. The town exemplifies how a community can adapt to its environment to address its needs and grow successfully.
Rock Art of Alta
Year included: 1985
Prehistoric rock art offer clues to the way our ancestors lived and saw the world thousands upon thousands of years ago. Each piece of rock art tells its own story about the people who created it and the times they lived in. In the municipality of Alta, the Rock Art of Alta indicates that the area was once home to a large settlement of hunter-gatherers. The rock art they left behind shows that these hunter-gatherers hunted and fished for their living. They had their own beliefs and rituals. They danced, feasted, and loved.
There are around 6,000 of these Alta rock art discovered so far. They are Norway’s only World Heritage Site that dates back to prehistoric times. The oldest of these carvings date back to 4200 BC, while the most recent are from 500 BC. Some 3,000 of them are concentrated on the bay of Hjemmeluft, about four kilometers from the town of Alta. The rest are scattered around the municipality. The Hjemmeluft site is the only one accessible to the public. It is curated by the World Heritage Rock Art Centre – Alta Museum. But if you want to see the carvings not open to the public, you can view them on the Alta rock art map online.
Year included: 2004
A people’s way of life is largely shaped by their environment. This relationship between a community and their surroundings is beautifully exemplified by the inhabitants of the Vegaøyan. The Vegaøyan, also known as the Vega Archipelago, is a group of islands and islets located on the Norwegian Sea south of the Arctic Circle. These islands are a harsh environment to live in – rocky and surrounded by sea, with only adequate land for farming.
Yet the Vegaøyan has been inhabited for the last 1,500 years. The people of these islands survived through fishing and farming, as well as harvesting eiderdown. This down harvesting from eider ducks is what made the communities on the Vegaøyan thrive for more than a millennium. The traditional way of life that these communities have developed over that time may seem frugal. But it is finely in tune with these people’s surroundings. Its uniqueness and sustainability against the odds are what makes Vegaøyan a significant part of the culture of Norway.
Struve Geodetic Arc
Location: Fuglenes, Hammerfest; Raipas, Alta; Luvdiidcohkka, Kautokeino; Baelljasvarri, Kautokeino; various locations in nine other countries
Year included: 2005
How important is it to know the actual shape and size of our planet? This information definitely has a lot of uses. Perhaps the most essential and practical one is to keep the maps that cartographers make accurate.
One of the first scientists to attempt to measure the shape and size of the earth is the German-Russian geophysicist Fredrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve. To achieve this, he supervised the construction of a chain of survey triangulations. The chain eventually became known as the Struve Geodetic Arc. It consisted of 265 station points that span across ten countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine. The southernmost point of the arc is in Staro-Nekrasivka in Ukraine, while the northernmost point is in Fuglenes in Norway.
The Struve Geodetic Arc became the first accurate and successful measurement of what we now know as a long segment of a meridian. The arc is also the first World Heritage Site listed for its scientific and technical value to the world. Four points of this arc are found in Norway: Fuglenes in Hammerfest, Raipas in Alta, and Luvdiidcohkka and Baelljasvarri in Kautokeino.
West Norwegian Fjords – Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord
Location: Stranda (Geirangerfjord), Aurland (Nærøyfjord)
Year included: 2005
Norway’s fjord landscapes are some of the most beautiful in the world. That beauty is fully exemplified by the fjords in southwest Norway, Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord in particular. It is these two fjords that are designated as a World Heritage Site.
The Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord are two of the deepest and longest fjords in the world. Their sheer magnificence is beyond compare. The 15-kilometer Geirangerfjord is one of the most visited fjords in Norway. It is surrounded by towering, forest-covered peaks on both sides, with the highest one rising 1,700 meters. Among the most dramatic features of the Geirangerfjord are its waterfalls – the Seven Sisters, the Friar, and the Bridal Veil.
The Nærøyfjord, on the other hand, is full of dramatic vistas. This 18-kilometer fjord is a narrow branch of the Sognefjord, the second longest fjord in the world. The Nærøyfjord is slightly over a kilometer at its widest point and barely 250 meters at its narrowest point. Just like the Geirangerfjord, the Nærøyfjord is surrounded by mountains, the tallest of which is around 1,400 meters high.
One cannot deny the beauty of the Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord. But what makes these two fjords culturally significant is the fact that despite the treacherous terrain surrounding them, people chose to live there. Enterprising individuals have braved the dangerous environment to establish mountain farms close to these fjords. Many of these farms are now abandoned, but they remain a testament to human resilience.
Rjukan-Notodden Industrial Heritage Site
Location: Telemark County
Year included: 2015
The Rjukan-Notodden Industrial Heritage Site is another testament to Norwegian innovation and willingness to use whatever resources are available to them without destroying their source. Located in Telemark County, this heritage site features the nitrogen plant Norsk Hydro established in 1905. The site also includes Norsk Hydro’s two company towns: Rjukan and Notodden.
When Norsk Hydro was first founded, there was a growing demand to increase agricultural production in the western world. In response to this demand, Norsk Hydro built its nitrogen plant in Telemark to extract nitrogen from the atmosphere. This nitrogen is then used to manufacture artificial fertilizer.
The ability to create fertilizer from atmospheric nitrogen may be scientifically astounding during that time. But what makes the Rjukan-Notodden Industrial Heritage Site significant is how Norsk Hydro addressed the challenges it faced to meet demands. The site maximized the use of hydroelectric power to supply not just the plants and factories but also the surrounding communities. The company also provided innovative solutions to meet its workers’ needs. All that while, Norsk Hydro was able to preserve the majestic natural landscape surrounding it.
The World Heritage Sites of Norway are truly spectacular. They are truly beautiful to behold. But more than that, they are testaments to the spirit of the Norwegian people – their endurance, resilience, innovation, and willingness to adapt to their environment. Each of these sites is worth a visit at least once in your lifetime.