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Visit Vardø, the gateway to the North-east Passage and the Barents Sea – and Norway’s only town in the Arctic climate zone. Vardø has a fascinatingly varied history as the oldest town in North Norway; the oldest fishing village in Norwegian Lapland, a fortress town, the centre for the Pomor trade between North Norway and Russia, and the centre for medieval witch hunts. Vardø is also a millennium site, marked by the seaside promenade, the Brodtkorbsjåene buildings and the cultural trail to historical attractions at Steilneset. Commerce: Fishing, services and ever-increasing tourism. Vardø has delightful landscapes, an exciting climate and wonderfully friendly inhabitants. The town’s many festivals reflect the seasons – the Blues festival in the dark season, the wintertime snowball fight festival, the lively summer markets and Michaelmas in the autumn.
The biggest witch hunt in Norway went on in Vardø in the 17th century. In Norwegian Lapland, about 90 people were found guilty and sentenced to be burned at the stake, mostly in Vardø. The fires were lit at Steilneset, where the cultural trail now leads and where a monument is planned to the innocent victims of witch hunts, most of whom where women. For more information, visit the Vardø section of the Varanger Museum.
Vardø’s importance as a site of national cultural heritage was highlighted when it was named regional millennium site in 2005. (Norwegian regional authorities have each named one “millennium site” to mark the start of the new millennium.) The millennium site covers the seaside promenade, stretching from the steam ship quay to the mouth of the tunnel, and the cultural trail in Steilneset.
Not all the town’s wooden buildings were lost during the Second World War, and you can still find charming examples of the very traditional wooden houses, wharfs and quays in the town’s architecture.
Vardø has a rich collection of memorials to its Polar history, research and fisheries. These include the statue of Fridtjof Nansen to mark his expedition to the North Pole on board the Fram from Vardø; the memorial plaque to Maximilian Hell’s visit to Vardø and his observation of the Transit of Venus. There are also several statues symbolising the importance of the sea and fishing for the local community and coastal settlements.