Situated on Norway’s southwest coast, the city of Stavanger is the third largest in the country. Historically, it’s an interesting city because it’s repeatedly bounced back from downturns and reinvented itself. As a result, modern Stavanger is a thriving, cosmopolitan city but a great deal of importance is still placed on its colorful history. The old sits happily alongside the new with some impressive museums paying tribute to Stavanger’s rich industrial heritage while wealth generated by newer industries is reflected in the cutting edge design of some of the buildings associated with the oil industry.
It’s known that Stavanger was an important and thriving military centre around the ninth and tenth centuries but its importance increased significantly in the early twelfth century when it was designated a bishopric. This distinction saw Stavanger develop further in economic terms but its importance in religious matters was usurped by the city of Kristiansand in the early seventeenth century when the bishopric was moved there.
Stavanger saw a marked decline from which it did not recover until the nineteenth century. Fortunately the herring industry helped Stavanger get back on its feet. The Stavanger Museum is an excellent place to find out about the city’s association with the fishing industry in particular and about Stavanger’s past in general. As well as the herring fishing, associated industries such as ship building and repair, and canning have contributed to Stavanger’s prosperity over the years.
Another industry has also played a part in Stavanger’s success story. At the end of the 1960s oil was discovered in the North Sea off the coast of Norway and Stavanger, due to its location, became the on-shore hub of the operations to extract and export the oil. The history of Norway’s (and Stavanger’s) connection with the oil industry is laid out in the Norwegian Petroleum Museum.
The main attraction in Stavanger is Gamle Stavanger” or the Old Town. Here you can see a small collection of well preserved traditional wooden buildings dating from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries but the chief sight is the twelfth century “Domkirke” or cathedral, St Svithun’s. It was originally built in the Anglo-Norman style but it has a striking addition in the form of a thirteenth century gothic choir.
Joint holder of the title European City of Culture for 2008, Stavanger offers access to a wide variety of artistic and cultural activities and exhibitions. Music, in particular, is central to Stavanger’s cultural scene with annual jazz and classical music festivals drawing in crowds from all over Norway and beyond. Furthermore, Stavanger is closely connected with the rock and alternative music scene with many of Scandinavia’s most popular bands being based or springing from here.
Stavanger is home to several striking art installations including Anthony Gormley’s “Broken Column” which comprises a series of iron “men” located around Stavanger from the city’s art museum to the sea. It took the local authorities over four years just to decide whether they wanted the sculptures, by the British artist responsible for the iconic “Angel of the North”, to be shown in Stavanger at all.
For the people of Stavanger, the great outdoors is as important as the arts. Lysefjorden is a popular hiking area and climbers head for two places of particular interest: the “Pulpit Rock” or Prekestolen is an enormous rock that gives the impression of hanging precariously over the fjord while Kjeragbolten is a large rock that is embedded in the cliff side over one thousand meters above the fjord. Both are stunning and highly memorable places to visit. This is fjord country and the scenery is spectacular. The closest fjord to the city is Hafrsjord which happens to be the site where, in AD 872, King Harald fought the battle that made Norway one single kingdom. Commemorating this event are three huge bronze swords situated on the southern shore of the fjord. The swords measure 10 meters tall and representfor peace and unification. Harald’s sword is slightly larger than the other two and all three are planted in solid rock to represent peace.
Like people all over Norway, the people of Stavanger are keen on snow sports and there are several winter sports within easy reach of the city. Floodlit skiing is available in Sandnes while the resort of Brekko offers both Nordic and biathlon skiing. The well regarded resort of Sauda can be reached by boat within two hours.
With good international flight connections and playing host to a number of international cruise liners as well as North Sea ferry services, Stavanger is an excellent and interesting choice for a break.