Urheia is an recreational area and cultural trail close to Risør city centre.
Risør is one of the oldest towns in southern Norway. Like other coastal towns in Norway, it is founded on timber and timber exports, shipbuilding and sailship period. Today Risør is considered to be one of Norway's best-kept town of wooden houses.
In this city walk from the city centre and uphill to Urheia you can both experience the town and the recreation area used by the locals for swimming and hiking. At Urheia you will also find Urheia Coastal Fortress and Risørflekken scenic viewpoint.
Starting point: Torvet 1, Prebensens hus:
The house was listed just after the city fire in 1861 by Jacob Wetlesen Prebensen (1808-1892). Prebensen established the J. W. Prebensen trading house in 1833. The business included shipping, shops, ship trade, ice export, wood trawling, sawmill, forestry and milling. In the 1860s J. W. Prebensen were Risor's the largest company. Prebensen handed over most of his business to his son Jacob Christian and moved to Christiania (Oslo) in 1876. The beautiful porch was probably acquired for King Oscar II's visit in 1891. The house was completely renovated after a fire in 2007.
This magnificent patrisier house is one of the city's best examples of late empire style. Notice the window fences, pillow-shaped corner tables and carved beams. The builder was shipowner Stian Herlofsen Finne (1802-1890), who also owned Holmen yard and sawmills as well as he exported ice.
With its decorations, broken corners and bay windows this house is a copy of the original house from 1861 which burned down in 1992 - almost identical to Solsiden 8. It became listed by Mrs H. D. Carstensen and later taken over by relatives.
The houses in Urbakken:
The idyllic houses up the Urheia trench road are of different age and include both villas of tall size and small "living rooms". Most are permanent homes, while some properties are by inheritance used as holiday homes. Risør houses are subject to a law that require the owner to inhabited the house for at least 6 months a year, but there are several exceptions to the rules, first and foremost for inherited properties.
Urheia Recration area:
A few steps above the first turn in Urbakken you will find a pointing sign to the left towards the nature area.This is one of the access points to Urheia, a 90 meter high hill which is the city's most popular recreation areas. It comprises 248 acres of mostly forest with narrow paths, fantastic views, benches to rest on and a lake ideal for swimming in. You will also find interesting traces of past human activity: coastal fortress from world war II, waterworks, stone fences and remains of a private park. Together they make a unique outdoor area used diligently by locals and tourists all year round.
Risørflekken became a well-known maritime brand in the 1600s after a Dutch sailer began to lime the rock so that sailors had a navigation point. With its strategic location high above the city's port it is visible 45 kilometers from land. As early as 1641, Christian Sterck, who owned the area, was commended by the king to hold the sea sign intact and this were justified by receiving a fee for ships coming into the port. During the Napoleonic Wars,1807-1814, Risørflekken was painted black in an attempt to prevent English warships from finding its way into town. In modern times, voluntary associations (Kiwanis, Lions and Rotary) have shifted to do the limestone job required every year to keep the landmark intact.
Urheia Coastal Fortress / "Festung Urheia":
The work on the German coastal fortress in Urheia began in May 1941 as one of 279 similar facilities in the occupation power "Festung Norwegen". The area was detached with barbed wire and surrounded by 37 minefields. One of the guarded entrance post was at Urbakken 23, where you still can see traces of the guard gate. The main entrance gate was at the present parking place, where also the largest barracks were placed. Between the mountain and the barracks, five large flame throwers were built as an extra fuse against attack. The fortress was never in battle, and no one died here during the war - the only reported death was associated with mining clearance after the end of the war. After the liberation in 1945, the fort was partially opened to the public. The Norwegian defense, however, took over the central facilities, where a radar station with depictions operated until the 1980s. The entire area was released and left to Risør county in 2012.
The coastal fortress command bunker:
The coastal fortress command bunkeris still very visible below the plateau and here the Norwegian defense later placed its radar, and today this is a popular viewpoint. The bunker was set into the mountain and contained a guard- and observation room, radio station, first aid room, fresh air system, generator room, etc. From here they also had direct telephone lines to all security stations and other internal facilities. In front of the bunker there was a 40 cm high window where two powerful binoculars were set up giving a good overview of the archipelago and Skagerrak. Today, the command bunker, the lower floors as well as parts of the walking gates / paths in the inner defense area are replenished and secured with railings and locked doors.
The fortress's four permanent cannon positions were equipped with French field cannons called the Canon de 105 L mle Schneider, that was conquered during the German invasion of France. They could be moved in a 50 degrees angle to each side and had a range of up to 16,500 meters. They covered all the irrigation routes to Risør and the sea area outside. In connection with the gun settings a network of deep trenches were created and led the crew to and ammunition bunkers.The canon settings were covered with large nets and twigs in order to hide from being spotted from the air.
Urheia fortress contained a wide range of bunkers of varying sizes and for different purposes, both for crew and ammunition. These were "standardized" bunker types found at many other defense forces along the coast. The requirement was that they were to be built with 1 meter thick reinforced concrete. Some of the bunks in Urheia had curved concrete top and, others had several layers of pine sticks that were crossed before they were covered; some were built on the ground, others were forced down beneath the ground. After the war, several of the bunks were destroid, while the The Norwegian Defence team took some in use in connection with the creation of a radar station in the area. Today, several of the bunkers are locked, but those who are open to the public appear as they were built during the war and testify to an important part of our history.
Breast protection and running graves:
Breast protection and trenches were built to protect the German soldiers from attacks by air and sea. The breast protection consisted of a nicely built stone wall with a good height and with several smaller rooms in the wall where the soldiers could apply for coverage. It is still visible from the first cannon setting and towards the Urvannverket and the valley below the lake. The trenches were mostly blown down in the mountains and used as safe access route between the cannons, machine guns and air defense positions and the various bunkers. With few exceptions, they are well-preserved, and you can still see signs of the communication network. They were often set with inside trimmings of wood to protect the soldiers from splints and ricochets, and were camouflaged with wood, pine and bark.
The Urheia fort was surrounded by 37 mining fields. A total of 2066 mines were issued, all carefully recorded on maps of scale 1: 100. The precise maps simplified cleaning up, starting on July 7, 1945. The work was carried out by 39 German soldiers under the supervision of English paratroopers. During the work, one of the mines exploded and a German soldier died. This is the only reported loss of human life in Urheia in the years that the coastal fortifications existed.
Urvannverket was built in the 1880s and was Risor's other public waterworks after the Barbulivannverket (18), which was opened in 1879 - until then, the city's inhabitants had to collect water from public wells. This helped to ensure Risør's water supply for over 100 years. After both this and Barbulivannverket were phased out as drinking water sources in the 1980s, it became a popular area for summer-time bathing and ice skating in the winter.
In the 1870s, Stian Herlofsen Finne and his wife Clementine Carstensen built the Furuly villa in Urheia. At that time there was no road up to this area, so the arrival was through Finnes property at Solsiden 8 and up the steep hill. Later, a road was taken from Urbakken. The house was originally used as a summer residence, but eventually became the permanent residence of the family. Around Furuly, Clementine Carstensen created a large garden with ponds, plantations, walks and a gazebo on the edge abow Solsiden. Today there is little or nothing left of the house and the park, although you can spot the remains of the house foundation. Furuly was demolished by Germans during World War II, as they thought it would help the Allies to locate the fort in Urheia.
The Barbulivannverket (water supply) was the first public waterwork in the county of Risør, opened in 1879, with a capacity of 50,000 cubic meters. The following year, only 17 houses of inland water were connected to the new waterworks, but demand was high, so already in the same year money was allocated to build the dam in Barbulia higher and increase the dimensions of the water pipes down to the city. The Barbulian plant was discontinued as a drinking water source in the 1980s, and today it is part of the public free area.
Lighting house and floodlights:
At the top of the path from Solsiden towards Urheia there used to be a gazebo with a view of the city and the ocean. It is uncertain what year it was built, but it is assumed that it was sometime in the second half of the 19th century. Where the gazebo was located, Germans blasted out a spotlight position. In connection with this, two crew bunkers were built, one overlooking the city. In front of and partly next to the front bunker, a trench was laid with the foundation for a machine gun. In front of the light box and the machine gun, four minefields were set as a barrier against attack from the city side. Trenches were also under contruction towards the Urheia plant, but they were not completed before the war was over. The two crew bunkers at the lightscreen station were restored and secured by the county of Risør in the 1990.