Bergen's Architectural Jewels, Bergen

Bergen's Architectural Jewels (Self Guided), Bergen

Surprising as it may appear, but the seemingly small city of Bergen for centuries had been the largest in all of the Nordic countries. It also remained so for Norway until the 1830s. Apart from being the country's former capital (back in the 13th century), Bergen is well-known primarily for its astoundingly beautiful cityscape, formed by the backdrop of mountains and serene waterfront, much as the architectural jewels scattered amid the rows of colorful higgledy-piggledy small wooden houses with triangular gables, cobbled streets and flowers everywhere.

Despite its somewhat dejected history of numerous fires, which over the years had burnt to ashes almost 90% of the city, today's Bergen is as picturesque as ever. Years of careful restoration have earned it the proud status of a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Other than its world-famous, photogenic quayside Bryggen area, there are many other notable sights in Bergen well worthy of being on every architecture buff’s itinerary. Here are just some of them:

Bergenhus Fortress – former seat of the Norwegian royals; built on the ruins of an older bastion, Sverreborg, dated from the 1200s.

Haakon's Hall – a medieval Gothic structure, part of the Bergenhus complex; formerly a ceremonial hall.

St. Mary's Church – the Romanesque cathedral, oldest remaining building in Bergen, dating back to the 1130s.

Bergen Railway Station – a perfect example of the National Romantic architecture; erected in 1913.

Den Nationale Scene – Bergen's largest theatre; housed in the Art Nouveau edifice of 1909.

If you wish to explore these and other architecturally unique buildings in Bergen more closely, take this self-guided walking tour.
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Bergen's Architectural Jewels Map

Guide Name: Bergen's Architectural Jewels
Guide Location: Norway » Bergen (See other walking tours in Bergen)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.9 Km or 1.8 Miles
Author: stacey
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Bergenhus Fortress and Rosenkrantz Tower
  • Haakon's Hall
  • St. Mary's Church
  • Bergen Cathedral
  • Bergen Railway Station
  • Bergen Public Library
  • Den Nationale Scene (The National Scene)
Bergenhus Fortress and Rosenkrantz Tower

1) Bergenhus Fortress and Rosenkrantz Tower (must see)

The tower and the Fortress must be thought of as one establishment. The Fortress has been a royal seat and residence, episcopal see and a military power base. The grounds within the walls of the island fortress are Holmen, Koengen and Sverresborg. The Fortress was built in the early 1500s. It was considered complete in 1700.

The Fortress was under siege only once during the second Dutch-English War. In August, 1665, a squadron of Dutch vessels took shelter in neutral Bergen Harbor. The neutrality was not respected. The English warships fired on the Dutch ships and the Fortress. Fire was returned. The battle was a short one. It came to be known as The Battle of Vagen.

The English were attacking vessels of the Dutch East India Company. The attack failed. No ships were sunk. In the Second World War Bergenhus was once again in service. This time however it was a German occupying force that used the fort as their western headquarters.

Begenhus has been a military facility without interruption since 1628. Presently 220 military and civilian personnel are stationed at the fort.

The Rosenkrantz Tower is the dominant building of the fort complex. It was named for governor Erik Rosenkrantz. The tower got its present form during Rosenkrantz's reign, 1559-1568. There is a yet older part of the tower. It is a medieval tower called the "keep by the Sea." It was built by King Magnus the Lawmaker in 1270.

Rosenkrantz's building held dungeons on the first floor and cannons on the roof. With residential rooms in between it must have been insufferably loud in a battle. Not a good place for meditation.

The other medieval structure to remain is Haakon's Hall, built about 1270. It was incorporated in Rosenkrantz's Tower. Several Churches, including Bergen's Christ Church were included in the premises. The churches were demolished by 1531 and the isle of Holmen became strictly military.
Haakon's Hall

2) Haakon's Hall

Haakon's Hall is a medieval stone hall located inside the fortress. The hall was constructed in the middle of the 13th century, during the reign of King Håkon Håkonsson (1217-1263). In medieval times, it was the largest building of the royal palace in Bergen, the then capital of Norway. It was built as a replacement for older wooden structures on the site. It is the largest secular medieval building in Norway. The hall is built in Gothic style.

In addition to the great hall itself, there were two more levels, a cellar and a middle floor. The hall's similarity to English structures of the same time, and the fact that monumental stone building was relatively uncommon in Norway at the time, has led to an assumption that the hall was designed by English architects, possibly the court architect of King Henry III of England, with whom King Håkon was on friendly terms.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
St. Mary's Church

3) St. Mary's Church

St. Mary's church is a "long" style church of grey stone built around 1135. The architect is unknown but he would have been pleased to know his structure has withstood time and fortune so well. The church is used today and it seats about 240 people. It is definitely the oldest building in the City of Bergen.

St. Mary's is only survivor of the 12 churches and three monasteries that were built during the ring of Olav Kyrre (1066-1093). The church was probably built by craftsmen from Scania, in Denmark. The sryle of the church resembles that of Lund Cathedral in Scania.

The church was intended for the Norwegian people of Bergen, but it was taken over by the German population the town in 1408. It was locally named the "German" church and it served mainly the rich Hanseatic merchants. While it belonged to the Germans, St. Mary's prospered and did not fall into ruin like several other churches of Bergen.

In January 2010 major restoration work was undertaken. When finished the Church became associated with the Bergen Anglican denomination and began offering services in English.

The church has two towers and three naves and is mostly Romanesque in style. The choir is a bit Gothic like Haakon's Hall. The main building material is three grades of soapstone and some shale. The soapstone was likely quarried locally.
Bergen Cathedral

4) Bergen Cathedral

Since 12th century, Bergen Cathedral has been through the fire. Through the fire several times in fact, more than most, in a city famous for devastating fires. And to top it all off it has been hit by a cannon ball, which sticks in the wall to this day. Fires and wars, but there is peace and beauty inside.

Bergen Cathedral is episcopal seat of home parish of the Church of Norway. Word of the church appears for the first time in 1181. To this day it remains dedicated to Saint Olaf.

In 1181, Jon Kutiza, a peasant rebel and his men chased a number of King Sverre's men into the cathedral (then known as Olavskirken). Under the reign of King Haakon IV, Franciscans built a friary connecting to the church. The church had a long design in a Romanesque style. It burned down in 1248.

A new stone church was erected and that caught fire in 1270. The church wasn't fully reconstructed until 1537, when it was designated the new cathedral of the Protestant persuasion. In 1702 there was another fire and another reconstruction. By the 1880s the Cathedral's interior was restored to its original Rococo appearance.

In the second English-Dutch war, in the sea battle of Vagen in 1665, the cathedral sustained a hit from a cannon shot gone wild. The ball sits today, ensconced in the front wall.

The cathedral today is used mainly for musical events.
Bergen Railway Station

5) Bergen Railway Station

Nestled right in the heart of Bergen, the local railway station is one of the busiest and grandest transport hubs in all of scenic Norway. For those rolling into town from Oslo by train this building represents a culmination of one of the world's most beautiful train rides. Indeed, Bergen Railway Station, apart from its technological efficiency, sparkles interest from an architectural standpoint as well.

The station was opened in 1913, four years after the Oslo-Bergen rail link had become operational, and replaced the town's former railway station located further west. It was designed by the well-known Norwegian architect, Jens Zetlitz Monrad Kielland, in the so-called National Romantic manner, reflecting a mix of more heavyset Medieval-inspired style with the modernist jugendstil (Art Nouveau) – the popular Northern European trend at the time.

Most vividly, this style is presented in the main hall, where the heavy stone walls are offset by the elegant roof and glass windows which show off the station’s, perhaps, most precious asset – a view to the mountains!

Back in the 1920s and 30s, the building attracted much attention as a HoReCa venue. In 1922, there was the Hotel Terminus established nearby, and in 1937, a restaurant inside the station. As of 2003, the building has been protected against any non-trivial modifications.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Bergen Public Library

6) Bergen Public Library

Bergen Public Library (BPL), established in 1872, is the second largest public library in Norway.

Back in the Middle Ages, Bergen was one of the key centers of literacy in Norway, with monasteries and churches containing most of the available books. One such collection belonged to St Mary's church. In 1766, the church's vicar donated a good portion of its collection, along with some money, to set up a proper public library, predecessor of today's BPL.

In 1876, the church's books were entirely handed over to the library and kept there until deposited in the University Library of Bergen – about a century later. Shortly before that, in 1871, the BPL collection was replenished with another 12,000 volumes acquired from the university librarian Paul Botten-Hansen. By that time, the library's first building – a former brewery – had proven too small and so the institution had to relocate to the meat market.

In the early 1900s, the need for a purpose-built, modern edifice became particularly acute. Efforts to obtain such came to a fruition in 1906, when a pertinent architectural competition was launched, won by Olaf Nordhagen. The architect designed a new neo-Romanesque building, which was erected in 1917. Currently, the main office of Bergen Public Library (note: it has six more district branches) is a protected property.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Den Nationale Scene (The National Scene)

7) Den Nationale Scene (The National Scene)

Den Nationale Scene (English: The National Scene) is the largest theatre in Bergen and one of the oldest permanent theatres in Norway. It was founded on the initiative of the Norwegian violinist, Ole Bull, in 1850 and was first known as Det Norske Theater.

With a mission to facilitate the development of Norwegian playwrights, the theatre once had none other than Henrik Ibsen himself as one of its first writers-in-residences and art-directors. Ibsen's first contemporary realist drama, The Pillars of Society (Samfundets støtter), saw its national premiere here on 30 November 1877.

Initially housed in the Komediehuset på Engen, the theatre moved, in 1909, to a new location at Engen. This (current) Art Nouveau building was designed by Norwegian architect Einar Oscar Schou. It opened on 19 February 1909 with a production of Erasmus Montanus by Ludvig Holberg, with King Haakon VII of Norway and Queen Maud being in attendance.

It soon became apparent, though, that this building was too small, and in 1920 it was extended northwest. The pre-war period of 1934-39 was quite fruitful for the theatre. Over the following years, the building had undergone numerous modifications and technical modernization. The foyer and the hall, destroyed during World War II, were restored initially only partially.

It was only in 2001 that the building almost fully regained its original shape. Today, the National Scene houses three stages and hosts approximately 20 productions per year, featuring both national and international classics, musicals and contemporary drama, as well as children's performances. Since 1993, the theatre has been a state property.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

Walking Tours in Bergen, Norway

Create Your Own Walk in Bergen

Create Your Own Walk in Bergen

Creating your own self-guided walk in Bergen is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Bergen Shopping Tour

Bergen Shopping Tour

Bergen is probably one of the oldest shopping destinations in the northern Europe. For centuries, since its formation, the city has been a very important commercial hub. Today Bergen features a variety of shops and markets scattered around the city. The fact that Norway being an expensive country should not deter you from checking out the best shopping options in the city. Follow this self-guided...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.9 Km or 0.6 Miles
Bergen Introduction Walking Tour

Bergen Introduction Walking Tour

It is a wonder Bergen has had so many fires in its history, considering it has averaged 200 days a year of rain. So, why the fires?

Flames leapt across the narrow streets. The compact wooden buildings were easy prey. In 1702 90% of the city was destroyed. Disasters continued through the years. Finally, in 1916, a new idea in prevention emerged. The way to stop a fire was to starve it.

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.0 Km or 1.9 Miles