History of Bryggen 2017-03-09T14:04:28+00:00

Bryggen early history 1070 – 1360

Bergen was founded by King Olav Kyrre around 1070. Olav Kyrre was king in Norway from 1067-1093. Kyrre means “peaceful” which was a good description of his reign without any conflicts or wars. During medieval times, Bryggen was the location for the oldest urban development and financial centre of the city of Bergen.

The earliest recorded buildings were single-storied post structures, set in parallel rows up from the shoreline which used to lay around 140 metres further inland in the 11th century than it does these days. The buildings at the harbour were subsequently extended due to an increasing need for more storage space.

Under King Haakon Haakonsson in the 13th Century, Bergen became a very important centre for European trade. By this time, Bryggen was a densely built-up area with around 30 tenements. In those times, numerous commercial sailing vessels from the Continental North Sea, the Baltic Sea, Faeroes and the British Isles ports could be found on Vågen in front of the wharfs. The port of Bergen is also known for being the Norwegian port through which the Black Plague entered the country in 1349. As a result of the plague more than half of the Norwegian population died.

The Hanseatic League 1360-1754

The power of the Hanseatic League in Europe reduced gradually during the 16th and 17th centuries as a consequence of a number of national governments that won greater control over their own trading activities.

In 1630, Norwegian merchants took over the first Hanseatic firms on Bryggen, and by 1740, there were only 9 firms operated by the Germans. A large number of the German merchants opted for becoming citizens of Bergen. On the 17th of October 1754, the Norwegian Kontor was set up to replace the German Kontor.

The old system remained virtually unchanged, the Norwegian Kontor adopted the Hanseatic regulations and trading methods that had been established and German remained as the language used in everyday life. It was not until the disbanding of the Norwegian Kontor on the 31st of  December 1899 that the old and unique system of trading set up came to an end.

Bergen at War

In 1349, the Black Death was introduced to Norway by the crew of an English ship arriving in Bergen. In the 15th century the city was attacked on a number of occasions by the Victual Brothers (German sea pirates), who burned the royal castle and large parts of the city in 1429. It was not until 1536 that the king managed to force the Saxon merchants to become Norwegian citizens or return home, heralding a decline in the Saxon influence. In 1665, the city’s harbour was the site of the Battle of Vågen, a bloody battle fought by Dutch ships supported by the city’s garrison against
English ships.

Throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, Bergen was one of the biggest cities in the whole of Scandinavia, and was Norway’s largest city for many years until Oslo became the biggest city of Norway in the 1830s. Bergen retained its monopoly of trade with Northern Norway until 1789.

Bergen Burning

Bergen city was exposed to major fires throughout its history. One of the most devastating fires took place in 1916, which resulted in the destruction of large parts of the city centre. During the Second World War, the Germans invaded Bergen at the beginning of the war, on the 9th of April 1940. After a short fight between the Norwegian coastal artillery and the German ships, the Germans occupied the city and remained in Bergen for a few years. On the 20th of April 1944, the Dutch cargoship Voorbode, loaded with more than 120 tons of explosives, anchored off the Bergenhus Fortress and exploded. The explosion caused damages to several historic buildings and killed about 150 people. Subsequently, a number of allied bombing raids took place in the city, targeting the naval installations of the German invaders. It is estimated that over 100 civilians died as a consequence of the raids.

In 1972, Bergen was unified with its neighbouring municipalities to include Åsane, Arna, Laksevåg and Fana, abolishing its county status and getting its present boundaries.

Important dates in the history of Bergen:
1070 Bergen was founded by king Olav Kyrre, son of Harald Hardråde
1198 The Bagler-faction set fire on the city in connection with a battle against the Birkebeiner
1217 Bergen replaced Trondheim as Norway’s capital
1349 The Black Death was brought to Norway by the crew of an English ship arriving in Bergen
1360 The Hanseatic League established one of their foreign Offices at Bryggen in Bergen
1536 The King forced the Saxon merchants on Bryggen to become Norwegian citizens
1665 Battle of Vågen between Dutch and English battleships. Today, the Bergen Cathedral has a cannonball from the battle imbedded in the wall of its tower.
1684 The playwright Ludvig Holberg was born in Bergen
1702 90% of the city was burned to ashes
1765 The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra was founded
1843 The composer Edvard Grieg was born
1944 A Dutch cargo ship was blown up, killing at least 150 people and damaging historic buildings near Bryggen
1978 The Concert hall “Grieg Hall” was completed
1979 Bryggen was included in the UNESCO list for World Cultural Heritage sites
1986 The Eurovision Song Contest was hosted in Bergen
2007 Local football club Brann won their first championship since the 1963 season