Stavanger, the south-western gateway to the Norwegian fjords, boasts a very picturesque Old Town.
The small wooden houses along narrow streets right by the inner port area were in the 1950’s threatened by urban renewal – the nice word for demolition. That process was stopped and we can now fully appreciate the effort of the previous driving forces. “Gamle Stavanger” now has the largest surviving wooden house settlement in northern Europe.
It must be added that the fight for preservation is an ongoing battle. For many years at least the municipally owned houses remained badly damaged or even developed into a state of deterioration. A policy of selling them out to dedicated private owners seems to have succeeded. Still we find parts of the area in a comparatively poor condition.
Most of it is, however, is well kept. Almost year round it is embellished with a floral splendour out of this world. Here, they wish both themselves, neighbours and visitors all well.
Old Stavanger has experiences to offer, during the summer there is also a bite to catch. The latter is perhaps not as dramatic as we are just at the edge of the compact and culinary vibrant city centre of Stavanger. We find artisans, such as pottery workshops, and not least the Norwegian Canning Museum about midway in Øvre Strandgate – the main street.
A small park
In the middle we find a small city park, a small drinking fountain and a magnificent Alpine garden (“steinbed”). This part of the larger wooden city of Stavanger is maintained by public protection provisions and local involvement. This is both an outdoor museum and a vibrant living environment. True enough, there are not many families here, the demographics are to a large extent based on couples or singles of all ages. Some owners also have a “cottage” in the city, and live in what we normally call the countryside.
A canning museum
The Norwegian Canning Museum is housed in an old canning factory – you will notice from the high chimney. Here we get a glimpse of what built Stavanger in the late 1800s and well into the 1900s. The museum offers very interesting exhibitions – and knowledgeable guides. Here, you can also taste freshly smoked brisling (for the export market called sardines), you get to practice adding the fish into a can (tin) (plastic fish, that is), and you get an insight into how the now important printing industry grew based on the graphic design and production of labels – the so-called “iddisar“. The machine industry is also presented, including the technical-industrial development that made mass production of canned goods for the world market possible. Read more about it.
In the museum’s backyard, or to the side, we also find the home of a working family, a small house with an interior decoration representing different parts of the 1900s: The first floor has a display of furniture and other objects from the 1920s and the second floor from 1960. It is an incredibly fascinating journey through the relatively near past. They serve good waffles in the back yard.
Have a look at this video from “Old Stavanger” and read more below.
There is a main street that runs through the entire Old Town, Øvre Strandgate. Below it the Mellomstraen street runs parallel along parts of the route, while the Nedre Strandgate runs at bottom, right between the docks and the Old Town uphill. Small, partially steep streets and steps connect these longitudinal thoroughfares.
Other interesting (wooden) parts of Stavanger
Visitors seeking out Old Stavanger should have a look at the parts outside this core. I’m particularly thinking of the wooden houses near the town hall, in Olav Kyrresgate, but also of the picturesque communities across the city centre towards Storhaug, most notably near Nytorget and Blåsenborg. (These are outside the beaten tourist tracks – but within easy walking distance of the compact city centre.)
A thousand years ago, the Vikings of the Stavanger region “discovered” Iceland, then Greenland and finally America. Almost two hundred years ago, Stavanger was the departure port for the first Norwegian emigrants to the New World – America. Today Stavanger acts as a gateway to the fjords for foreign visitors. Cruise ships call at the port frequently throughout the summer, and it’s a pretty amazing sight with one, two or even three at a time tucked into the narrow harbour – towering over the Old Town.
Find images of Old Stavanger in the Norwegian language article on Sandalsand Norge.