Yes, it’s an industrial heritage but it is also the site of one of the most spectacular commando operations during World War II.
The UNESCO World Heritage List includes over a thousand properties of outstanding universal value. They are all part of the world’s cultural and natural heritage.
Date of Inscription: 2015
Category: Cultural site
UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre’s short description of site no. 1486:
Located in a dramatic landscape of mountains, waterfalls and river valleys, the site comprises hydroelectric power plants, transmission lines, factories, transport systems and towns. The complex was established by the Norsk-Hydro Company to manufacture artificial fertilizer from nitrogen in the air. It was built to meet the Western world’s growing demand for agricultural production in the early 20th century.
The company towns of Rjukan and Notodden show workers’ accommodation and social institutions linked by rail and ferry to ports where the fertilizer was loaded. The Rjukan-Notodden site manifests an exceptional combination of industrial assets and themes associated to the natural landscape. It stands out as an example of a new global industry in the early 20th century.
The heritage list seems to be expanding with more “company towns” like these two. In Norway there could have been several more on the List, for instance Høyanger, Odda and Sauda, all mentioned in the Norwegian application to be nominated as a World Heritage. At the end of the day, Rjukan and Notodden pulled the longest straw and won the prize. They deserve it.
Our visit was just a few weeks after the final decision in the World Heritage Committee. We gave priority to the train station called Mæl, a place where the cargo trains from Rjukan would be driven on board ships and then transported on the next leg of railroad to Notodden and longer.
We also visited the old hydroelectric turbines at the Vemork power plant. This is where Nazi-Germany with the help of Norsk Hydro produced “heavy water” with the purpose of developing a nuclear capability. After four attacks by the Allies, they gave up.