Industrial port and capital of Hordaland county on the southwest coast of Norway; population (2003 est) 211,200. It is Norway's second-largest city and a major shipping centre. Industries include shipbuilding, engineering, steel, electrical equipment, off-shore oil services, and fish processing. Often called the ‘gateway to the fjords’, Bergen is a major centre for tours of the fjords of Norway's west coast. Founded in 1070, Bergen soon became the largest city of medieval Norway, and became a member of the Hanseatic League in the mid-14th century.
Bergen was founded by King Olav the Peaceful, and for the next 200 years was not only a leading commercial town but also a political centre and royal seat. From the 14th century the Hanseatic merchants established themselves in the town at Bryggen, and played an important part in the development of its commerce, so that it became one of the main trading ports of northern Europe. During the disturbances accompanying the Reformation (16th century), most of the old city's churches and monasteries were destroyed. However, Bergen remained Norway's leading city until the rise of Oslo in the 19th century. The centre of the city was rebuilt after a serious fire in 1916, and other medieval buildings were rebuilt after World War II, during which Bergen was heavily damaged.
The town is set amid the scenery of the surrounding ‘Seven Mountains’ and Hardangerfjord. The centre of Bergen, between Vagen Harbour and Pudde Fjord, has been extensively modernized, but the city has spread considerably from there, most recently owing to its involvement with the Norwegian oil industry. Many of the white wooden houses of the old harbour (Bryggen, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site), with its medieval warehouses, are still in use. Mariakirken, an old stone-built church, dates from the 12th century, as does the wooden stave-church at Fantoft. The Bergenhus fort, parts of which date from the 13th century, contains the Hakonshall (1261), a royal residence in the Middle Ages. Norway's second university, opened in 1946, is in Bergen, as is the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration. Bergen is also the national centre for oceanographical and marine biological research and fisheries administration. Since 1909 Bergen has been linked with Oslo by rail over the mountains; Flesland airport, 20 km/12 mi to the south, was opened in 1955; there are ferry services from Denmark, Iceland, Scotland, and the Faroe Islands.
Since the Middle Ages the city has been a centre of culture. There are several museums and art galleries, including the Museum of Arts and Crafts and the Hanseatic Museum. Bergen has its own National Theatre where Henrik Ibsen was manager for five years. Nearby Troldhaugen was the home of the composer Edvard Greig, in whose honour an international festival of music and drama has been held annually since 1953. Bergen was also the home of the violinist Ole Bull, and Ludvig Holdberg, the dramatist, was born here.
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