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Bergen likes to declare itself as "Gateway to the Fjords", but this pretty and bustling town has been important for far longer than fjord-based tourism. Set amongst seven hills, Bergen was founded by King Olaf the Peaceful, and for centuries was the base for the regions'; royal kings and queens.
By the fourteenth century, it had joined the Hanseatic League of trading nations, and had over 30 churches and monasteries. Little of medieval Bergen remains, so the most atmospheric part is the Bryggen, the old harbour area faced with 18th and 19th century timber trading houses. The original medieval buildings here were destroyed in a fire in 1702, so the merchants replaced them with bigger and better houses of stone and wood. Now painted in cheerful colours, cafés spill out from these old centers of trade onto the harbourside, as tourists and Bergen residents alike sit and soak up the warm sunshine.
Indeed the tall gabled buildings stand like rather proud gentlemen surveying the Vågen, the inlet that brings the sea almost to the very feet of the Torget, or town square. Here, the traditional lifeblood of Bergen, fish, is sold in a daily fish market, full so the smells and fruits of the sea, from crabs to herrings, shrimps to the ubiquitous air-dried cod. At Bergen's height, ships filled with fish would cram into the Vågen, desperate to unload, but today it's the yacht and motor cruisers that bob next to the old buildings, their owners stocking up on salmon from the market.
© 2009 Kirsty Young
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