Founded in 1070 by King Olav Kyrre, Bergen’s convenient location swiftly turned it into a key port for the Vikings and a major centre of commerce.
In 1217, it replaced Trondheim as Norway's capital, with the city going on to prosper during the reign of King Haakon Haakonsson, whose kingdom included Greenland, Iceland, the Hebrides, Orkney Islands and Isle of Man.
Towards the end of the 13th century, Bergen became one of the Hanseatic League's most important cities, with the merchants constructing the colourful Bryggen warehouses. Grain was imported and dried fish exported to the north. But the good times weren’t assured and in 1349, the town was hit by the Black Death, introduced by the crew of an English merchant ship.
During the 16th century, the power of the Hansas waned as national governments gained more control over their trade. These new powers could have frightening repercussions as the city discovered in 1665, when the Battle of Vågen, between British and Dutch ships, supported by the local garrison, brought bloodshed to the city.
The rise of the Kalmar Union and Norway’s domination by Denmark didn’t help either, and although it remained one of the largest cities in Scandinavia, Bergen began to decline and was overtaken by Oslo in the 1830s. Other disasters also overtook it, with fires in 1702, 1855 and 1916 destroying many of the city’s wooden buildings and forcing expensive restorations each time.
Its darkest hour, however, arrived during WWII, when the city was occupied on the first day of the Nazi invasion, following a brief skirmish between German ships and Norwegian coastal artillery. Allied bombers regularly raided the city, targeting German naval installations but also killing many locals.
As ever, Bergen bounced back, and the discovery of North Sea oil in the 1970s provided the funds to rebuild the city once again. Tourism, driven by its beautiful Hanseatic merchant buildings, has also boomed, as has its popularity as a cruise port. The gateway city to the world famous fjords, Bergen is now one of Europe’s largest ports.
Did you know?
• Bergen has produced a large number of famous names, among them composer Edvard Grieg.
• The violin used for over 40 years by famed Norwegian virtuoso, Ole Bull, is held in Bergen's Vestlandske Kustindustrimuseum.
• The totem pole in Nordnes Park was a present from Seattle. It was given to Bergen in 1970 to celebrate the city's 900th anniversary.