Bergen | historical city once plundered by pirates | Norway

Bergen is Norway's second-largest city and one of the country's oldest urban locations. The first post-viking king, Olav Kyrre, gave it market-town-status around AD 1070.
LA Dahlmann | talk NORWAY
«Bryggen» in Bergen, Norway. | Photo: Mittet & Co. AS - nb.no cc pdm.
«Bryggen» in Bergen, Norway. | Photo: Mittet & Co. AS - nb.no cc pdm.

Pronunciation

Bergen

Once Norway’s largest city

Historically, Bergen was also known as Bjørgvin. It was Norway’s largest city all through the Middle Ages, and it still was as late as in the 1830s. To give you a perspective of the size of the population, let us use the 1769-census. At the time, Bergen had 13,735 inhabitants, out of a Norwegian total of 723,618. Today, the city of Bergen has a population of about 300,000, and is Norway’s second-largest.

A trading hub

From the mid-1800s onwards, Norway’s inland regions opened up with roads and railways. Prior to this time, boats on the coastal waters were the main means of transportation. Trading hubs developed all along Norway’s long-stretched coastline, and Bergen became the most significant of them all. Not only was it a centre for the surrounding inland regions, and a landing place for the local ocean fishers, but it also acted as the heart of the whole of Norway’s coastal traffic.

The Hanseatic League

From around 1350 – and for the next 200 years, Bergen’s trade was dominated by the Hanseatic League, a North-European commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns. The organisation had its roots in Northern Germany. As a centre for import and export, Bergen became a melting pot of development and cultural influence. The famous Bryggen, a section of the city with old and characteristic wooden buildings and alleyways, has roots that stretch back to this historical period. Archaeological excavations have discovered rich finds from Bergen’s earliest history. If you ever pay the city a visit, we recommend that you check out the Bryggen Museum. The museum is also the starting point for guided tours, leading you through the historical sites.

Plundered and burned by pirates

Bergen was plundered and burned 4 times by a group called the Victual Brothers; later the Likedeelers. They were mercenaries, privateers, and pirates operating in the Baltic and North seas. The attacks happened in 1393, 1428, 1429, and in 1432. The worst attack took place in 1429, when the pirates attacked with 400 men and 7 ships. Later, 10 more ships joined them in the assault. The town was plundered and destroyed by fire.

The Bergen harbour and fish market - around 1915. | Photo: Samuel J. Beckett - Fylkesarkivet i Vestland cc pdm.
The Bergen harbour and fish market – around 1915. | Photo: Samuel J. Beckett – Fylkesarkivet i Vestland cc pdm.

Is it always raining in Bergen?

If you ask any Norwegian to mention 3 things they know about Bergen, we are certain that one of the responses will be: it rains a lot there. And they will be right; there are as many as 200 rainy days in Bergen per year. This is the simplified explanation: clouds come in from the ocean to the west, they hit the hills surrounding the city, are pushed up and hit colder temperatures, and down comes the rain. But don’t let the rain stop you from visiting this west Norwegian pearl of a city. Just make sure that you bring some wind- and watertight clothes. As the Norwegians say: there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad apparel.

Some Bergen notabilities

Edvard Grieg

The world-renowned composer Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) was born in Bergen. Today, his former home Troldhaugen is a museum, and his and his wife Nina’s ashes are entombed at the property. As a curiosity, we can mention that the family name Grieg once was Greig, and that Edvard was of Scottish descent.

Gerhard Armauer Hansen

Doctor Gerhard Armauer Hansen (1841-1912) discovered the bacteria that causes leprosy in 1873. Today, the disease is usually referred to as Hansen’s disease. When in Bergen, we recommend a visit to the Leprosy Museum, a monument to the suffering of many Norwegians.

Ludvig Holberg

By many, the writer Ludvig Holberg (1684-1754) is thought of as Danish. But, he was in fact born in Bergen and did not leave Norway until he was 18. His most known work is perhaps the play and comedy «Jeppe on the Hill».

Statue of Edvard Grieg. | Photo: Mittet & Co. AS - nb.no cc pdm.
Statue of Edvard Grieg. | Photo: Mittet & Co. AS – nb.no cc pdm.

The southernmost port of the Hurtigruten cruise liners

Hurtigruten – meaning the fast route in Norwegian – started as a maritime passenger and freight link between Bergen and the far-north-eastern town of Kirkenes in the late 1800s. The Hurtigruten ships have sailed along the Norwegian coast ever since, in all weathers, and has played a significant role in the survival of many of the coastal communities. Today, the Hurtigruten is also a big player in the tourist market – showing off Norway’s magnificent coastline. They also offer additional cruises to exotic destinations like Iceland, Svalbard and Greenland. If you travel in the summer, you might experience the thrill of seeing the midnight sun – north of the Arctic Circle.

If ever in Norway

If you are ever in Norway, we strongly recommend a visit to Bergen. And if you would like to know more about this gem of a city, go to visitbergen.com – a great place to start planning your journey.

Main sources: Store Norske Leksikon, Bergen byleksikon.

Our most recent posts

My Norwegian heritage

In 1938, Queen Maud died unexpectedly during a visit to the United Kingdom. But what happened to her unentombed coffin when the Germans attacked Norway in 1940?
Queen Maud of Norway was born in London in 1869, as Princess Maud of Wales. Her grandmother was none other than the formidable Queen Victoria.
The old Norwegian farm needed hundreds of litres of water every single day: for food-making, cleaning, and human and animal consumption.
On the historical Norwegian farm, winter feed for the domesticated animals was a precious resource. Sometimes it was harvested and temporarily stored far away from the farm.
The Fjord horse is one of today’s oldest and purest horse breeds. Its historical habitat is Norway's western coast, with its deep fjords and steep mountainsides.
After the end of World War 2, the Norwegians all took part in lifting their country well and truly into the 20th century.
The Norwegian farm horse was a reliable and powerful companion. But by the late 1960s, they were almost all gone. Enjoy this video-collection of wonderful vintage photographs.
Budrått is a Norwegian noun that means the output of milk products on a farm - such as cheese and butter. The word is often associated with what was produced during the summer on the seasonal mountain or forest pasture farm - the seter.
The Black Death – mother of all plagues - ravaged humankind in the mid-1300s. A Norwegian scholar takes us through the lead up to the disaster.
Kløvhest is a Norwegian noun that means packhorse. Well into our own time, the Norwegians used horses to help transport goods through a challenging landscape.
In 1836, milkmaid Kari Moen from the community of Sauherad in Telemark, Norway, was attacked by a bear. She almost lost her life that day.
In 1997, His Majesty King Harald V of Norway came to the Norwegian Sami Assembly with an essential and overdue apology.
In 1942, Hans Hyldbakk wrote the history of the local cotter's holdings in Surnadal, Nordmøre, Norway. The book was updated in 1966.
Whether it be on a rainy day - or a beautiful summer’s day like this one - the coastal paths take us through some pleasing stretches of Norwegian scenery.
Mead and beer are both alcoholic drinks known from Norwegian history. The Norwegians call them «mjød» and «øl». But do you know the difference between the two?
For more than a thousand years, Norwegian farmers sent their livestock to feed in the forests and the mountains. Today, this way of life has almost disappeared.
In the old Norwegian farming society, a husmann was a man who was allowed to build his home on a small section of a farm’s land, and pay with his labour instead of rent.
For the old Norwegians, making butter was simply a way of preserving the fresh summer milk - turning it into a type of food that could be stored.
Norway’s full independence came in AD 1905, and was the culmination of a process that had lasted for several decades.
To make sure he could tide the animals over the long and cold winter, the historical Norwegian farmer utilised all available resources.
In the year AD 1537, King Christian 3 of Denmark-Norway embraced the Lutheran Reformation, and the Norwegians went from being Catholics to Protestants. The king confiscated the Catholic Church’s considerable wealth, a welcomed addition to the royal coffers. Norway more or less ceased to exist as a sovereign state and became a province under Denmark.

Follow us on social media

Norwegian history