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Bryggen, Bergen
Bryggen, Bergen.
Photo: Bergen Reiselivslag / Lars Korvald - visitBergen.com
Travel Trade

From ancient petroglyphs to mighty fjord landscapes and early industrial areas: Eight Norwegian landmarks and areas are included on UNESCO’s list of the world’s most important natural and cultural sites. 

Published: 16 July 2018

An important function of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) is the conservation of nature and constructions that are not only significant to human history, but are considered irreplaceable as well.

The selection is based on ten criteria, ranging from innovation and historical importance to unique nature.

These World Heritage Sites are found all over the world. Right now, there are more than 1000, covering everything from iconic man-made constructions such as The Great Wall of China, the Sydney Opera House and the pyramids of Egypt to gigantic national parks, historical settlements and different cultural and natural landscapes.

Norway was listed with two World Heritage Sites for the first time in 1979, and the latest site was added to UNESCO’s list in 2015 – and ceremoniously opened by Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit earlier this spring.

Here are the eight natural and cultural wonders making it to the list so far.

Rjukan-Notodden Industrial Heritage Site 

Vemork, Rjukan
Vemork, Rjukan.
Photo: Nancy Bundt / visitrjukan.com

The industrial cities Rjukan og Notodden are Norway’s most recent addition to the World Heritage Sites. It was included on UNESCO’s list in 2015, and the Norwegian Crown Prince recently marked the occasion in an official ceremony.

In this part of Telemark, pioneering work took place at the start of the 20th century, as the transition from coal to hydroelectric industrial power played an important part in what is known as “the second industrial revolution” in Northern Europe.

Dams, tunnels, power stations, railways and ferries are remaining artefacts from an industrial adventure unfolding in the dramatic Norwegian nature.

Here, in a remote valley, the biggest power stations of their time was located. The transport system developed here also contributed to an international standard for electric railroad operations.

Rock Art of Alta

Photo: Peter B. Straumann / www.nordnorge.com

Among the man-made World Heritage Sites in Norway, the oldest one by far is found in the northernmost part of the country. Their exact age is a subject of discussion among scholars, but the petroglyphs and rock paintings in Alta, Finnmark are an estimated 4000 to 6000 years old – making them the most important artefact of the early hunter-gatherer life in the high north discovered thus far. 

The rock art includes more than 6000 carvings and 50 rock paintings, with motifs ranging from animal figures and humans to religious images and geometrical shapes. The largest occurrence of petroglyphs is found in Hjemmeluft, where walking paths and guides makes it easy to immerse oneself in this unique era of northern life.

The real extent of the petroglyphs was not discovered until 1973, and they were included on UNESCO’s list – described as “an exceptional testimony” of “high artistic quality” – 12 years later.

Bryggen in Bergen 

Bryggen, Bergen
Bryggen, Bergen.
Photo: Bergen Reiselivslag / Robin Strand / visitBergen.com

The beautiful wooden buildings overlooking the bay Vågen remains one of Bergen’s central meeting points to this day. The area dates back to 1070, when the city was founded by king Olav Kyrre. Around 1200, Bergen became an economical and administrative hub in Norway, with Bryggen as an increasingly centre of commerce.

From the mid-1300s to the mid-1700s, Bryggen was the headquarter for the Hanseatic League, a trade confederation where Germany and Norway (among others) exchanged goods such as stockfish, salt, beer, jewellery and grains. This was a fertile period for cultural exchange as well, and several German words and expression have been internalised by the western city’s residents because of it.

The area has had its shares of great fires throughout history – the last one in 1955 – but Bryggen has been protected locally since 1927, and it’s still possible to sense the historical vibe as you pass along the slightly leaning buildings. Bryggen was one of the first two sites to be listed by UNESCO in 1979.

Urnes Stave Church

Urnes, Luster
Urnes, Luster.
Photo: Espen Mills / Matlangsnasjonaleturistveger.no / Visitnorway.com

Among the world’s oldest wooden constructions still intact are the stave churches, most of which are located in Norway. In medieval times, there were between 1000 and 2000 of them all over the country – today, only 28 are left standing. Oldest of them all is probably Urnes Stave Church, which experts believe to be the fourth church building erected at this particular place in 1140.    

The church, built in Romanesque style, doesn’t just stand out because of its old age, but for its stately carvings and good condition as well. The staves carrying the structure is lavishly decorated, and the carvings depict motifs such as crucifixes, mythological creatures and plant-shaped ornaments.    

Urnes Stave Church is still open to the public every day, and it’s possible for groups to order a guided tour. The church was the second of Norway’s sites to be listed by UNESCO in 1979, and it has been owned by the National Trust of Norway since 1881. 

Struve Geodetic Arc

Photo: Christian Roth Christensen / Visitnorway.com

An international project initiated by German astronomer Friedrich Georg Willhelm von Struve in 1845, the Struve Geodetic Arc aimed to map Earth’s shape and size by measuring the distance from Hammerfest in Norway to the the Black Sea. A large number of measuring points were placed along almost 3000 kilometers through Norway, Sweden and Russia.   

In Norway, Struves geodetic points can be found at four places: Meridianstøtten at Fuglenes in Hammerfest and the mountain tops Lille-Raipas / Unna Ráipásaš in Alta, Luvddiidčohkka (Lodiken) in Kautokeino and Bealjášvárri / Muvravárri in Kautokeino. The former is a particular popular and unique attraction, as well the northernmost among the measuring points. 

The project lasted for almost 40 years, and was the first international project Norway participated in as a nation. The Norwegian measuring points was listed as a World Heritage Site in 2005, along with 32 others in other countries. 

The Vega Archipelago

Vegaøyene, Nordland
Vegaøyene, Nordland.
Photo: Anton Ligaarden / Visitnorway.com

6500 islands, islets and reefs by the Helgeland coast make up Vegaøyan – The Vega Archipelago – which was inducted into UNESCO’s heritage list in 2004. In this area, the foundation for the modern sea nation was laid as the first settlements were established more than 10 000 years ago. In order to survive, the people here had to be resourceful in order to survive. 

As the Northern Norwegian fishing community was announced as a heritage site, UNESCO stated: “The islands bear testimony to a distinctive frugal way of life based on fishing and the harvesting of the down of eider ducks, in an inhospitable environment. The Vega Archipelago reflects the way fishermen/farmers have, over the past 1500 years, maintained a sustainable living and the contribution of women to eiderdown harvesting.”

In modern times, the archipelago has been awarded with the Sustainable Destination brand, and the British newspaper The Guardian has ranked Vegaøyan among the world’s 20 undiscovered island gems. The teeming animal life includes more than 230 different bird species.   

West Norwegian Fjords

Photo: Øyvind Heen / Visitnorway.com

The only Norwegian UNESCO listings based on solely natural criteria are the Geiranger fjord and the Nerøy fjord, both highlighted as prime examples of the unique fjord landscape and described by the organization as “exceptional natural beauty”.  

In addition to the breathtaking nature, where glaciers and waterfalls meet glimmering fjords and dramatic mountains, the cultural landscape – often characterized by old farmhouses and outhouses – adds an extra dimension to the area. At Norwegian Fjordsenter in Geiranger, it’s possible to dive deeper into the universe of fjords, with exhibitions covering geology, history, biology and environment. 

The West Norwegian fjords were listed by UNESCO i 2005. 

Røros Mining Town 

Photo: CH / Visitnorway.com

In 1980, the mining town of Røros was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. 333 years of mining and urban agriculture had created a totally unique city on the mountain plains.

The mining town has preserved much of its original character with its street layout from the 1600s and the wooden houses from the 1700s and 1800s. The area’s nature is beautiful and secluded, with old log flumes providing a paddling route between the lakes.

In 2010, the World Heritage site was expanded to include the surrounding area, which is called the Circumference. The basis for doing so was the important testimony that the Circumference provides us about how mining operations transpired as well as how the inhabitants have adapted to the mountain terrain, local nature, and cold climate.


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