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Norwegian Culture - As varied as its nature 

Peoples associations with Norwegian history and culture vary a lot. Some would mention the vikings or the sami, and others would point to internationally famous authors, composers, actors and painters such as Henrik Ibsen, Edvard Grieg, Liv Ullmann and Edvard Munch.

If you ask people what they associate with Norwegian history and culture, their answers will vary a lot. Some will say the Vikings who sailed to foreign parts to pillage and wage war, although the Vikings were in fact also merchants who founded kingdoms on foreign soil and brought back new impulses to Scandinavia. Others will point to internationally famous authors, composers, actors and painters such as Henrik Ibsen, Edvard Grieg, Liv Ullmann and Edvard Munch. Or attractions like Vigeland's sculpture park, Holmenkollen and the stave churches, the expeditions of Thor Heyerdahl, Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen. Maybe even smoked salmon, lutefisk, reindeer meat, shrimps or cloudberries.

One thing is certain - Norway is more than untouched nature. The country has a rich history, but is poor in large historic monuments. Nature has however formed the Norwegian character and given it a kind of durability that has formed the Norwegian national identity. Thanks to the country's rich natural resources, Norway has also long been an industrial nation. There is special pride in being one of the first countries to eradicate illiteracy. Not only Vigeland's Park, the Viking ships, the Munch Museum and Nidaros Catherdral, but many, many other museums in Norwegian cities and towns contribute to spreading Norwegian culture to all who wish to know a little about the country they are visiting.



From 800-1050 AD, the Norsemen entered the European arena in a serious way. They came suddenly and intensely and frightened the daylights out of established society, which certainly was used to war, but not to the surprise tactics employed by the Vikings.

Norwegian Culture


Historical Milestones


9000 BC - 8000 BC Earliest signs of human settlement.
8000 - 4000 BC Old Stone Age, hunters and fishermen, rock carvings.
4000 BC - 1500 BC New Stone Age, early agriculture, livestock.
1500 BC - 500 BC Bronze Age, agricultural tools, jewellery, glass, weapons.
500 BC - 800 AD Iron Age, iron ploughs and scythes.
800 AD - 1050 AD Viking Age, longships, trade and conquest, runic inscriptions, voyages of discovery, Leif Eiriksson discovers America.
900 AD Norway united into one kingdom.
1030 Christianity adopted in Norway.
1130 Start of High Middle Ages, population growth, and consolidation of power both of church and crown.
1100 - 1200 Monarchy controls the church, slavery abolished.
1350 The Black Death reduces the population by almost two-thirds.
1380 - 1536 Union with Denmark through royal intermarriage.
1536 Norway ceases to be an independent kingdom.
1814 The Norwegian Constitution adopted, based on the American Declaration of Independence.
1814 - 1905 Union with Sweden.
1905 End of Union. Haakon VII crowned king.
1913 Universal right to vote for women: Norway is among the first in the world to grant suffrage.
1940 - 1945 World War II, Norway occupied by Germany.
1957 Death of Haakon VII - Olav V crowned king.
1970 Oil and gas deposits discovered off the Norwegian coast.
1981 Norway's first female Prime Minister.
1991 Death of Olav V, Harald V becomes king.


May 17th - Syttende mai

The national day of celebration in Norway, May 17th is Norway's Constitution Day. It was on this day in 1814 that Norway's constitution was signed by the national assembly at Eidsvoll, making Norway a free and independent nation. After having been a part of the Danish autocracy for 400 years, Norway now joined into a loose union with Sweden that lasted until 1905. A limited and hereditary monarchy was introduced, whereby the king would exercise his authority through a government, while Parliament (Storting) would allocate monies and make laws. The Norwegian constitution was the most modern in Europe at the time. Norwegians celebrate their national day differently than in any other country.

On May 17th, it is the colourful processions of children with their banners, flags and bands - not military parades - that play the main role. It is the spring celebration, from the lowliest backwater to the capital city, where the royal family waves to the passing procession from the palace balcony. Another special characteristic that contributes to making this a unique day is all the beautiful bunads or national costumes that more and more people are wearing in recent years. Foreigners especially seem to delight in experiencing this special occasion. (Source: The Ministry of State).


Bunads - national costumes

The Norwegian bunad came into existence about 100 years ago when a wave of national romanticism swept across the country. Their design is based on regional folk costumes that were on the verge of disappearing. All of a sudden people wanted to preserve everything that was old and traditional including the old costumes. Rural peasant customs were valued as that which was genuinely Norwegian, and it was these rural areas that had the strongest folk costume traditions.

People in the cities had long been influenced by foreign fashion trends. The first bunads were clearly related to the most familiar folk costumes. Where knowledge of old traditions was uncertain, inspiration was drawn from separate parts of costumes or from other regional elements like rose painting, wood carving or embroidery. In recent years, interest in Norwegian bunads and folk costumes has steadily been increasing. This is especially apparent on May 17th, when there is an incredible show of gorgeous costumes from all over the country.


The cradle of ski sport

In Norway, skis have been necessary because of geographical and weather conditions. A rock carving from North Norway called «the Rødøy Man» is assumed to depict a Norwegian skiing already 4000 years ago. Norse mythology speaks of skiing and hunting in the heroic poems. Telemark is considered «the cradle of ski sport» because Sondre Nordheim from Morgedal revolutionised skiing and rekindled interest in the sport in the 1870 -1880's. He began using stiff bindings around the heel so that the skier could turn and jump without losing his skies. The «Telemark» ski he constructed was narrower at the middle and became the prototype for all later ski production. Morgedal was as such a natural place for the Olympic flame to be lit before the Lillehammer Olympics in 1994.

After crossing Greenlands's inland frozen wasteland from east to west, Fridtjof Nansen wrote that «skiing is the most national of all Norwegian sports, and what a fantastic sport it is too. If any sport deserves to be called the sport of all sports, it is surely this one». Today, skiing is the no. 1 winter sport for Norwegians, and throughout the entire country there are excellent opportunities to pursue this sport.


The Pilgrims Way to Trondheim

Trondheim, or Nidaros, was Norway's first capital. Sagas tell that Olav Tryggvason founded the town by the mouth of the river Nidelva in 997 AD. Archeologists have however proven that there were settlements here long before then. The sainted King Olav Haraldsson was buried here in 1030. Nidaros Cathedral was erected over his grave, and for four centuries this city was a pilgrimage site for pilgrims seeking consolation, help and healing. The old pilgrimage way to Trondheim and to Nidaros Cathedral was reopened the summer of 1997. Since then many pilgrims have wandered to this ancient pilgrimage site.

From 1153 to 1537, Trondheim was the seat of the country's archbishop and the spiritual centre of an area including Greenland, the Faroe Islands, the Orkney Islands and the Isle of Man. Today, Trondheim is a modern city that is a major centre of learning and one of the best research environments in Europe.


The Vikings

From 800-1050 AD, the Norsemen entered the European arena in a serious way. They came suddenly and intensely and frightened the daylights out of established society, which certainly was used to war, but not to the surprise tactics employed by the Vikings. The Vikings were not just warriors and seafarers. They were also peaceful farmers and merchants. They came from what today are Denmark, Sweden and Norway. In Oslo, there are wonderful opportunities to become familiar with the Vikings and their age, especially their sea-worthy sailing vessels. Several of these beautiful long ships can be seen at the Viking ship museum and in the theme park Vikinglandet it is possible to get a good impression of how life may have been in a Viking village of that time.
(Source: The Minstry of State).