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County Capital Tønsberg - History of the town

County Capital Tønsberg - History of the town Photo: Tønsberg kommune County Capital Tønsberg - History of the town Photo: Tønsberg og Omland Reiselivslag County Capital Tønsberg - History of the town Photo: Renate Blindheim
County Capital Tønsberg - History of the town Photo: Tønsberg kommune
County Capital Tønsberg - History of the town Photo: Tønsberg og Omland Reiselivslag
County Capital Tønsberg - History of the town Photo: Renate Blindheim

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Tønsberg, founded in the Viking Ages, is Norway's oldest town.
The world renowned Oseberg ship which was found just north of Tønsberg centre
bears proof of this. In the Middle Ages Tønsberg was one of the centres of
power. The towns oldest seal is from 1230-1250. Tunsberg castle, the churches
and monasteries and the Earldom of Jarlsberg, have influenced Tønsberg which
was, until 1671, Vestfold's only town. As well as being a commercial and
shipping town since the Viking ages, Tønsberg is renowned as a Hansa town and
also as a whaling town. Tønsberg is Vestfold's county town and commercial
centre. It is also the seat for Tunsberg bishopric which was founded in 1948 and
which covers the counties Vestfold and Buskerud. Tønsberg's area is 106 km² and
the number of inhabitants is 34.700. There is a large variety of shops, an
active cultural life and excellent possibilities for sport and recreation. Since
1990 the town has been involved in the project "Cycle Town Tønsberg-Nøtterøy".
Furthermore the town is working towards being a modern ecological town.

A look back into history
In his saga on King Harald Hairfair, Snorre Sturlason writes that the town of
Tønsberg was in existence before the battle of Hafrsfjord, which is dated 872.
It is because of this that the town's 1000 years' jubilee was celebrated in
1871, and 1100 years' jubilee in 1971. The archaeological excavations underneath
the premonstratensis monastery ruins in 1987-88 revealed several Viking graves
which have confirmed the age of the town. Nature itself made perfect conditions
for a settlement here at the narrow sound between Nøtterøy and the mainland. The
king or his ombudsman resided in the old court Sæheimr, today Jarlsberg Manor,
and on the farm Haugar, which can be assumed to be Tønsberg's birthplace. Haugar
became the seat for "Haugating", "Ting" for Vestfold and Norway's second most
important place for the proclamation of kings. The place has probably been named
after the two hills, kings' graves which tradition binds to King Olav, who was
king in Vestfold, and King Sigrød who was king in Trøndelagen. Both are presumed
to have fallen in battle on Haugar against their brother Eirik Bloodaxe and to
be buried on the same spot. Yet another of the son's of Harald Hairfair is
presumed to be buried in Tønsberg, Bjørn Farmann. Farmannshaugen lies in a field
south-west of Jarlsberg Manor. Vestfold's royal family stems from the
Ynglingeætten, which dominated in the 9th century. The big grave mounds in Borre
National Park and the finds of Oseberg ship and Gokstad ship, prove that this
branch of the royal family lived in luxurious conditions. When he divided his
kingdom, King Harald Hairfair appointed his son Bjørn to rule in Tønsberg. King
Bjørn Farmann spent most of his time in Tønsberg, residing at the court at
Sæheimr. It is said that he traded with many countries, and to a great extent
has influenced the growth of the town. Tønsberg was always a king's town -
sometimes carrying out the functions of the capital. Castle Rock dominates the
town - a 63 m high rock with steep sides. Castle Rock was besieged by King
Sverre in 1201-2, the longest siege in Norway's history. His grandson Håkon
Håkonsson was the sole king in Norway 1217-63. Seen in a European connection, he
is Norway's most famous king during the Middle Ages. King Håkon Håkonsson built
CASTRUM TUNSBERGIS, Norway's largest medieval castle with ring-walls, watch
towers, castles and a king's hall. He was also responsible for excavation of the
canal, so that it again became navigable for larger ships. He built his court at
the foot of Castle Rock, and instigated the foundation of a Franciscan monastery
in the middle of town and a hospital at Gunnarsbø. His daughter, Princess
Kristina, travelled from here to marry a Spanish prince in 1257. Her sarcophagus
is in the church in Covarrubias, Spain. During his reign the Norwegian state
covered Greenland, Iceland, The Faeroe Islands, Shetland, The Orkney Islands,
The Hebrides as well as the Isle of Man. Evidence of a settlement dating from
the Viking Ages has also been found in North America. Kungälv in Båhuslän was
the border with Sweden. Jamtländ and Härjedalen and large parts of Värmland also
belonged to Norway. Håkon's son, King Magnus Lagabøter, was born in Tunsberg
castle. He built a four to five storey high keep on Castle Rock, but was best
known for his legislative work which was accepted by the four "lagting" during
the course of the late 1270's. In 1270 his son, who later became King Håkon V,
was born at Tunsberg castle where he died in 1319. It is probably here that his
grandson, King Magnus Eriksson, married the French-born Princess Blanca of
Namur, who received Tunsberg castle with the whole of Tunsberg municipality as a
wedding gift from him.

Churches and monasteries
When Christianity came to Norway at the end of the 10th century, the first
church in the county - probably a wooden church - was erected at the king's
court Sæheimr. By 1100-1200 the town had several churches built in stone. 1. St.
Lawrence's Church, where the present Cathedral is. 2. The Church of Our Lady,
which was where today's market is. 3. St. Olav's Church, an impressive round
church, which was a part of the Premonstratensian Monastery. The ruins can be
seen near the library. 4. The Franciscans monastery and church, where the
so-called "Sættargjerden in Tunsberg" was agreed, was situated in the square
Torvgaten, Gråbrødregaten, Øvre Langgate and Tjømegaten. 5. St. Peter's Church,
which was revealed during archaeological excavations in 1972 and 1985 in Ø.
Langgate 50/67. The west entrance to the church has been re-built in the
Archaeological Section of Vestfold County Museum. 6. St. Michael's Church on
Castle Rock, which was a place of pilgrimage. 7. Sem Church, Vestfold's and
possibly Norway's oldest stone church which is still in use. 8. St. Stephen's
Church was situated beside the hospital at Gunnarsbø. 9. St. Thomas' Church is
also mentioned in the Sagas, but was probably a wooden church. 10. In addition
the Oslo bishop had a summer residence with a chapel at Teie Manor on Nøtterøy.

Fire and Plague
The Black Death in 1349 and the following plagues dealt a severe blow to the
population and the active church life. In 1503 Tunsberg castle was plundered and
burned, and in 1536 the town was reduced to ashes by fire. Large properties
which had belonged to St. Olav's monastery were rented out to "lensherren" at
Auli, which earlier had been St.Olav's monastery's main farm. "Lensherrene"
later lived at the Royal Court of Sæheimr, and in 1671 the area was changed into
a county.

Hanseatic Town Tønsberg
From 1250 - 1530, Tønsberg was one of Norway's three Hanseatic Towns with
it's own Hanseatic Trade Office. Tønsberg's main trading connections were with
Rostock, Wismar and Stralsund. In the year 2000, Tønsberg participates at the
Hanseatic Days in Zwolle, Netherland.

Shipping town
The 17th and 18th century were influenced by the control of the Dutch and the
English over the seas and the importance of the timber trade. The importance of
the town's own ship-owners increased, and in 1806 Tønsberg was the third largest
shipping town in the country. The increase in shipping was the cause of several
shipyards being established and also other industries like Tønsberg Rope
Factory. When Denmark/Norway entered into the Napoleon War in 1807 new crises
arose. About 1850, Tønsberg customs district had the largest fleet in the
country based on timber. Because of the success of the sailing ships Tønsberg's
tonnage increased by four times. Oceans all over the world became the
meeting-place for the ships of Tønsberg.

Whaling town
Tønsberg district's prosperity increased in the 1850's because of good
international market trends for shipping. On top of this a new industry began to
create income for the town. In 1847 Svend
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County Capital Tønsberg - History of the town - Photo: Tønsberg kommune

County Capital Tønsberg - History of the town

Tønsberg, founded in the Viking Ages, is Norway's oldest town. The world renowned Oseberg ship which was found just north of Tønsberg centre bears...

County Capital Tønsberg - History of the town

Source: Visitnorway


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