Skien is the capital of Telemark by virtue of being the oldest and largest town and where the county administration is located. Its population is 50,000, of which some 30,000 live in what might be termed old Skien.
Skien's history goes back to the 9th century.
The town is situated where the vast quantities of water from the Hardangervidda plateau flow into the Skiensfjorden.
This was a natural staging post for goods en route for the hinterland, and an equally natural place for inland products to be collected and then shipped out.
The timber trade was important to the commerce of the town and Skien was, for a time, Norway's biggest lumber town.
It is also the birthplace of Henrik Ibsen.
The Ibsenhuset, the town's biggest cultural centre, busts and memorial columns, street names and signs, together with large Ibsen collections in the town's museums - are all evidence that the local population is aware of this fact.
Since the 17th century the town has been regularly reduced to ashes every hundred years.
The last time this happened was in 1886 when the whole of the town centre was destroyed.
The architectural style of the turn of the century is, therefore, now predominant. The last old buildings are to be found in Snipetorp, a street which lies higher than the town centre, enabling it to escape the fires.
Here, for example, is the house that Knud Ibsen moved into when he had to leave Venstøp and where his son Henrik also lived for a short time, before he decided to seek his fortune and left the town - never to return.