Even if they have different shapes and sizes, they usually have one thing in common.
Text: Petter Løken
You might have seen it before: the spectacular barn built by the farmer Lars Petter Olsen Valldal in Valldal, in Møre and Romsdal county in 1885.
More than three million people have seen the picture of the barn with its distinct, circular barn bridge on Imgur, the online image sharing community. The photo was taken by the award-winning photographer Oddleiv Apneseth.
Eva Røyrane, author of the book The Barns of Norway. Photo: Jan M. Lilleboj
Legend has it the farmer spent seven years constructing the special barn bridge after the barn itself was finished.
But this specific, gradually well-known barn is not alone. Far from it.
You see them everywhere you travel in Norway. Some beautiful and magnificent, others marked by the ravages of time – standing like monuments of the past.
The barns have been landmarks in the cultural landscape of Norway for centuries.
“While there are still hundreds of thousands of them, many are sure to disappear”, says Eva Røyrane, author of the book The Barns of Norway.
Together with Apneseth, the photographer, she spent two summers travelling all over Norway to collect stories and take pictures of more than a thousand Norwegian barns.
Even if the barns come in different shapes and sizes, they have one thing in common:
“They are mostly painted red – because that was the cheapest colour”, states Røyrane.
The barn is the farmer’s centre of activity, says the author.
“It’s the large building that would contain the farm animals, food for the livestock, farm equipment and also act as storage for grain”, Røyrane says.
Until 1850, the Norwegian farms normally consisted of several smaller buildings, but in modern agriculture that was no longer practical.
“The barn brought the farmer into the monetary society, and played a big role in farming during the barn’s heyday between 1850 and 1950”, she says.
The even older farmsteads, by the way, are still standing in places across Norway, as well as in open-air museums.
Thanks to its rich, fertile farmlands, the Trøndelag counties in particular are important breadbaskets for Norway. That fact is reflected in all the great barns in the area. Their farm buildings had to accommodate a large herd of cattle, as well as hay and grain.
“The houses on a typical big farm in Trønderlag forms a square, framing the yard”, the author says.
Even if the barns normally are painted red, you sometimes find one in yellow or white. Then you can be fairly sure that a prosperous farmer used to live there.
Furthermore, the Trøndelag’s barns are often built at an angle and with a gateway that you drive through to get into the yard.
Barns can also have fun, local characteristics. In Stadsbygd at Fosen, for instance, you find barns with doors painted in a more expensive blue colour.
“It can be explained by the fact that the farmers here also made money from cod fishing in Lofoten in Northern Norway. We call it a local barn dialect”, Røyrane says.
The barn bridges give access to the second floor. These also differ from district to district. Some have roofs, while the big farms in Trøndelag have stone bridges with no superstructure.
According to Røyrane, the barns have constantly had to adapt to new uses. As in other countries, farming in Norway has been through a great technological development, like the invention of the tractor and the silo.
Many of the Norwegian barns are still in use, but after 1950 an increasing number of farms have constructed buildings specialised for a new era in agriculture instead. For example by building houses exclusively for sheep husbandry.
Today’s farmers often have their animals in new farm buildings, and sometimes also in large, specialised barns that they share with their neighbours.
“Nowadays, the typical Norwegian barn is mostly unused. The owner isn’t practising farming anymore, and he or she just lives on the farm”, says Røyrane.
A lot of the barns just function as storage rooms, but since it’s such a great expense to maintain these signature buildings, many choose to tear them down.
Travelling around the Norwegian countryside you most likely will experience that many barns have been adapted to new purposes.
“We found barns used as second-hand stores, party venues, production premises for local food, music studios, fitness centres and dormitories”, Røyrane says.
The barn at the monastery on Tautra island just outside Frosta in North Trønderlag county, is dated as far back as the 1700s. Today it’s used as a cafe.
“Today, many consider the barn as a resource that can be used for activities that bring a new income to the farm”, the author says.
Ullernlåven, Ullern gård
Sør Odal, Hedmark
The biggest second-hand store barn in Norway. Contains a cafe.
Read more about Ullernlåven (in Norwegian)
Buggegården Horten, Vestfold
Activity farm with animals, tractors, and family shows.
Read more about Buggegården (in Norwegian)
Brewery and bar. Store offering fresh fruits.
Read more about Lindheim Fruktgård (in Norwegian)
General store, museum and animals in the yard.
Read more about Veikåker gård (in Norwegian)
Nordre Ekre gård
Farm hotel and restaurant.
Read more about Nordre Ekre gård
Valldal, Møre og Romsdal
Museum and a special barn bridge made in stone.
Inderøy, Nord Trøndelag
Activity farm with animals, production premises for local food, general store and restaurant.
Read more about Berg gård (in Norwegian)
Vuddudalen, Sør Trøndelag
Candle factory outlet, museum and cafe.
Read more about Kortmanns lysfabrikk (in Norwegian)
Gallery, cafe and accommodation.
Read more about Guddalstunet
Rural museum. Coast sami farm with turf huts and hay barn.
Read more about Holmenes gård (in Norwegian)