Known as the “Gateway to the Fjords,” Bergen, Norway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its postcard picture perfect wooden buildings with pointed gables facing the harbor. This part of the city dates to the 14th century, when the city joined the Hanseatic League, becoming a major northern trading center. These colorful buildings rival the Victorian style “painted ladies” of San Francisco for photo worthiness.
What was the Hanseatic League? This was an alliance of several powerful German trading cities that arose in the Middle Ages and long monopolized the profitable trade in raw materials between Scandinavia and the Baltic States. Its outposts reached as far as Riga and Tallinn, with Bergen its’ northernmost partner. This was a demanding organization, the merchants lived a monk-like existence forbidden to marry or dwell outside their trading colony.
To learn more about the Hanseatic League pay a visit to the Hanseatic Museum, one of the best preserved historic buildings in the city. Constructed in 1704, it is furnished in the style of a Hanseatic merchant of the 18th century with areas designated for living quarters for the owner/manager and for the sailors and apprentices as well as an area where fish were pressed and stored in barrels for shipment overseas.
Another architectural treat of Bergen is Hakonshallen (Hakon’s Hall) a medieval castle built y King Haakon Haakonsson, in the mid 13th century when Bergen was the political center of Norway. The castle was extensively damaged during World War II but has since been restored.
Another architectural delight is the Mariakirken (St. Mary’s Church), the oldest building in Bergen, was built of stone in the Romanesque style in the early 12th century. Worthy of a look inside is the pulpit, donated by the Hanseatic merchants in 1676; it is considered an excellent example of baroque decorative art.
To obtain a panoramic view of this entire city has to offer ride the Floibanan, a funicular that will take you up 320 meters (1000 feet) to the top of Mt. Floyen. This is a busy spot for both locals and tourists. You can sip a cup of coffee as you take in the view or if you are feeling more energetic there are several hiking trails including one that will take you back down to the city.
Most travellers usually see Bergen as part of a “Norway in a Nutshell” tour that departs from Oslo and takes you via train across Norway’s mountainous spine filled with forests, lakes and glaciers to the little town of Flam, and then onto Bergen to join a ship that will cruise the fjord area. This is unfortunate because Bergen is such a beautiful city with so much to offer you could easily make this city a destination of its own.