A worldly city with the heart of a small town village, Stavanger, Norway has never forgotten its true nature. A wood-built port that grew into a metropolis, Stavanger sprung from the gleaming Atlantic to become Norway’s gateway to Europe.
The city’s official founding dates back to the completion of the Stavanger Cathedral in 1125, but archaeologists have uncovered evidence that people have lived in the area since the Iron Age. During the Battle of Hafrsfjord in 872, the Stavanger region was an important military center. Through 1100, the Jaeren Coast also became an important economic hub.
After the completion of the Cathedral, Stavanger evolved into a center of religion . The great fire of 1272 left much of the city and the Cathedral in ruins, but this only led the people of Stavanger to erect more churches as they rebuilt.
At the end of the Middle Ages, the Reformation dealt an economic blow to Stavanger,as the Bishops owned much of the land. Many local farmers had to move elsewhere to find work. The Bishops’ hold lasted until 1537, when their estate and the monastery were confiscated by King Christian III.
On April 8, 1940, the German freighter Roda was detained by police and ordered to move to Riska. When the freighter was unresponsive, Nils Bruun, captain of the Aeger, opened fire and sank the ship. The German military attacked Sola airport the next morning, and the German army marched into Stavanger that afternoon. Many of Stavanger’s citizens escaped to form a resistance front in Gjesdal. At the end of the war, Germans who remained were required to stay five years to help repair the damage.
In 1969, huge oil deposits in the North Sea set off a new oil boom. Stavanger became the capital of Norway’s new oil industry. This new business transformed Stavanger into one of the wealthiest cities in Europe.
Stavanger Lifestyle and Culture
From the Port of Stavanger, the heart of the city is just a few steps away. The Harbor plays host to a fish and farmers market, and the quaint cobblestone streets of Old Stavanger, lined with pretty wooden houses, are right nearby and perfect for walking and exploring, with the Cathedral of Stavanger just beyond. Small shops throughout the city sell replicas of Iron Age and Viking Age jewelry forged by local artists who lovingly recreate pieces originally made along Norway’s coast, the so-called Cradle of the Vikings. Just beyond the Cathedral is Valbergtarnet, the old fire tower built from 1850-1853.
While in the city, be sure to indulge in a Norwegian national obsession: waffles. A common afternoon snack (or a sweet treat anytime), this delicious pastry is a thinner, crispier and lighter waffle than you might expect. The dessert is served with sweet cream or with light cheese and jam.
Stavanger Sights and Landmarks
Old Stavanger, or Gamle Stavanger as it is called, is home to over 170 wooden buildings preserved from the 18th and 19th century. It is the largest concentration of wooden buildings in Europe, and is the reason why Stavanger is often referred to as a wooden city. After World War II, the neighborhood was in danger of being razed by the Stavanger city council, but was saved by the vision of local architect Einar Heden.
The Norwegian Petroleum Museum was opened in Stavanger in 1999. Seen from the harbor, it resembles a small off-shore oil platform. The museum is dedicated to the hardworking men and women in the North Sea who helped to revitalize the city of Stavanger and the country of Norway. Scientific exhibits illustrate the extraction of oil and the technological advances in the future of petroleum.
Nearby, high above the Lysefjorden, the breathtaking Preikestolen, also known as Pulpit Rock, towers nearly 2,000 feet. The dizzying cliff was formed nearly 10,000 years ago during the end of the last Ice Age as glaciers receded and the dramatic coast of Norway was revealed to the world. This sheer and pristine cliff with its flat top was left behind as other rock faces slid into the sea. Its original name was Planned Tooth, but came to be known as Pulpit Rock around 1900.
Stavanger Entertainment and Activities
In the pristine, rolling hills outside Stavanger, quaint farms and preserved land provide for people who work the earth much as their ancestors did. At Jernaldergarden Iron Age Farm, you can watch a faithful recreation of the area’s ancient lifestyle. Explore the small thatch-roofed homes and stone longhouses, where families learned to adapt and survive in a sometimes harsh climate.
At the western end of Mosteroy Island is Utstein Abbey, a beautifully preserved medieval abbey. Dedicated to Saint Lawrence during the reign of King Magnus VI, the exact age of the building has been lost to the ages. But the abbey was well established by 1160. At its height, between 20 and 30 monks lived there, and many more worked its grounds. The abbey owned a wide parcel of land that fed 250 people. Legend has it that Utstein Abbey was the estate of King Harald Fairhair around the year 1000.
Taking wing over the city, a helicopter ride over Stavanger is one of the most thrilling ways to witness this stunning landscape. Incredible views of the islands off the coast and the Lysefjord unfold as the helicopter swoops low to the sparkling waters or soars high over the mountaintops.View Cruises to Stavanger