Bergen (Norwegian pronunciation: [ˈbærɡən] (listen)) is a city and municipality in Hordaland on the west coast of Norway. As of 5 January 2013, the municipality had a population of 267,800 and Greater Bergen had a population of 393,700, making Bergen the second-largest city in Norway. The municipality covers an area of 465 square kilometers (180 sq mi) and is located on the peninsula of Bergenshalvøyen. The city center and northern neighborhoods are located on Byfjorden and the city is surrounded by mountains, traditionally held to be seven mountains. Many of the extra-municipal suburbs are located on islands. Bergen is the administrative center of Hordaland and consists of eight boroughs—Arna, Årstad, Åsane, Bergenhus, Fana, Fyllingsdalen, Laksevåg and Ytrebygda.
Trading in Bergen may have started as early as the 1020s, but the city was not incorporated until approximately 1070. It served as Norway’s capital in the 13th century, and from the end of the 13th century became a bureau city of the Hanseatic League. Until 1789, Bergen enjoyed exclusive rights to mediate trade between Northern Norway and abroad. The remains of the quays, Bryggen, is a World Heritage Site. The city was hit by numerous fires. The Norwegian School of Economics was founded in 1936 and the University of Bergen in 1946. From 1831 to 1972, Bergen was its own county. In 1972 the municipality absorbed four surrounding municipalities, and at the same time became a part of Hordaland county.
The city is an international center for aquaculture, shipping, offshore petroleum industry and subsea technology, and a national center for higher education, tourism and finance. The city’s main football team is SK Brann and the city holds the unique tradition in buekorps. Natives speak the distinct Bergensk dialect. The city features Bergen Airport, Flesland, the Bergen Light Rail and is the terminus of the Bergen Line; Bergen Port is Norway’s busiest. Four large bridges connect Bergen to its suburban municipalities.
The city of Bergen was traditionally thought to have been founded by king Olav Kyrre, son of Harald Hardråde in 1070 AD, four years after the Viking Age ended. Modern research has, however, discovered that a trading settlement was established already during the 1020s or 1030s. Bergen gradually assumed the function of capital of Norway in the early 13th century, as the first city where a rudimentary central administration was established. The city’s cathedral was the site of the first royal coronation in Norway in the 1150s, and continued to host royal coronations throughout the 13th century. The functions of capital city were lost to Oslo during the reign of King Haakon V (1299–1319). In the middle of the 14th century, North German merchants who had already been present in substantial numbers since the 13th century, founded one of the four kontors of the Hanseatic League at Bryggen in Bergen.
The principal export traded from Bergen was dried cod from the northern Norwegian coast, which started around 1100. By the late 14th century, Bergen had established itself as the centre of the trade in Norway. The Hanseatic merchants lived in their own separate quarter of town, where Middle Low German was used, enjoying exclusive rights to trade with the northern fishermen that each summer sailed to Bergen. Today, Bergen’s old quayside, Bryggen is on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Site.
Hieronymus Scholeus’s impression of Bergen. The drawing was made in about 1580 and was published in an atlas with drawings of many different cities (Civitaes orbis terrarum).
The city’s history is marked by numerous great fires. In 1198, the Bagler-faction set fire to the city in connection with a battle against the Birkebeiner faction during the civil war. In 1248, Holmen and Sverresborg burned, and 11 churches were destroyed. In 1413 another fire struck the city, and 14 churches were destroyed. In 1428 the city was plundered by German pirates, and in 1455, Hanseatic merchants were responsible for burning down Munkeliv Abbey. In 1476, Bryggen burned down in a fire started by a drunk trader. In 1582, another fire hit the city centre and Strandsiden. In 1675, 105 buildings burned down in Øvregaten. In 1686 a new great fire hit Strandsiden, destroying 231 city blocks and 218 boathouses. The greatest fire to date happened in 1702 when 90 percent of the city was burned to ashes. In 1751, there was a great fire at Vågsbunnen. In 1756, a new fire at Strandsiden burned down 1,500 buildings, and further great fires hit Strandsiden in 1771 and 1901. In 1916, 300 buildings burned down in the city centre, and in 1955 parts of Bryggen burned down.
In 1349, the Black Death was inadvertently brought to Norway by the crew of an English ship arriving in Bergen. In the 15th century, the city was several times attacked by the Victual Brothers, and in 1429 they succeeded in burning the royal castle and much of the city. In 1665, the city’s harbour was the site of the Battle of Vågen, where an English naval flotilla attacked a Dutch merchant and treasure fleet supported by the city’s garrison.
Throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, Bergen remained one of the largest cities in Scandinavia, and was Norway’s biggest city until the 1830s, when the capital city of Oslo became the largest. From around 1600, the Hanseatic dominance of the city’s trade gradually declined in favour of Norwegian merchants (often of Hanseatic ancestry), and in the 1750s, the Hanseatic Kontor finally closed. Bergen retained its monopoly of trade with Northern Norway until 1789.
A historic photochrom of Bergen near the end of the 19th century. Visible are Domkirken in the bottom left side and Korskirken in the foreground, Bryggen with its many boats and the Bergenhus Fortress in the background.
During World War II, Bergen was occupied on the first day of the German invasion on 9 April 1940, after a brief fight between German ships and the Norwegian coastal artillery. On 20 April 1944, during the German occupation, the Dutch cargo ship Voorbode anchored off the Bergenhus Fortress, loaded with over 120 tons of explosives, blew up, killing at least 150 people and damaging historic buildings. The city was subject to some Allied bombing raids, aiming at German naval installations in the harbour. Some of these caused Norwegian civilian casualties numbering about 100.
Bergen was separated from Hordaland as a county of its own in 1831. It was established as a municipality on 1 January 1838 (see formannskapsdistrikt). The rural municipality of Bergen landdistrikt was merged with Bergen on 1 January 1877. The rural municipality of Årstad was merged with Bergen on 1 July 1915. The rural municipalities of Arna, Fana, Laksevåg, and Åsane were merged with Bergen on 1 January 1972. The city lost its status as a separate county on the same date. Bergen is now a municipality in Norway, in the county of Hordaland.
In 1972, Bergen was unified with the neighbouring municipalities, of Arna, Fana, Laksevåg, and Åsane, abolishing its county status and setting its present boundaries.
The Old Norse forms of the name were Bergvin and Bjǫrgvin (and in Icelandic and Faroese the city is still called Björgvin). The first element is berg (n.) or bjǫrg (n.), which translates to mountain(s). The last element is vin (f.), which means a new settlement where there used to be a pasture or meadow. The full meaning is then ‘the meadow among the mountains’. A suitable name: Bergen is often called ‘the city among the seven mountains’. It was the playwright Ludvig Holberg who felt so inspired by the seven hills of Rome, that he decided that his home town must be blessed with a corresponding seven mountains – and locals still argue which seven they are.
In 1918, there was a campaign to reintroduce the Norse form Bjørgvin as the name of the city. This was turned down – but as a compromise the name of the diocese was changed to Bjørgvin bispedømme.