Norway - Bergen, west from the Floifjeld
( Originally Published 1907 )
Direction—We are facing west, so the open ocean must lie beyond those islands which wall-in the horizon. Surroundings—We are only part way up the Floifjeld; it rises steep and rugged behind us.
It is the oldest and most picturesque part of the town that we see now. Bergen has grown so much during the last thirty or forty years that streets have spread and been well built up over an area as large as this, farther south (left) beyond our present range of vision. The railway station is down in that part of the town—the terminal of a seventy-mile line over to Vossevangen at the east. Before long a railway will be completed from here to Christiania. A number of the oldest streets are crowded close under this hill, too far to the right for us to see from here.
This is the favorite outlook over the town—tourists come up here, usually in carriages like the one which stands waiting: some come up on foot, making short cuts by means of stairs built over the hillside, and are glad of the chance to rest on that bench. Such benches are set along the road at spots where the view is considered particularly good. We ourselves are peculiarly fortunate in finding clear air-actually bright sunshine ! Rainy days are so many here in the course of the year that numberless jokes are made about the climate ; the annual rainfall actually does amount to seventy-two inches, so the jokes have a good basis of fact. They say, for instance, that the first gift Bergen etiquette prescribes for a new-born baby is a waterproof cloak. According to local tradition this horse should shy at the sight of a man with-out an umbrella. Legend says that a Bergen ship-master was once coming home after a long voyage, and, seeing bright sunshine on the red-tiled roofs of these Bergen houses below us, he thought he had mistaken his port and put out again to sea !
That large steamer down in the harbor is an ocean-liner ; the smaller vessels are chiefly fishing boats. Those warships anchored over in the Puddefjord beyond the town are German vessels escorting H. M. Emperor' Wilhelm II on the occasion of a visit here (1905). Bergen has now no military defences worth mentioning, though an old fort still standing down by the mouth of the harbor (we do not see it from here) was considered powerful in the Middle Ages. Eight hundred years ago, and for several centuries after that, the kings of Norway held their court here—the old palace of King Olaf Kyrre stood close by the foot of this hill, near that cathedral with the square wer. Some of the sixty vessels with which Sigurd the "Jerusalem-farer" sailed to the Holy Land in 1107 started from this very harbor on their long voyage away around Europe and through the Mediterranean Sea, bearing sturdy Norsemen to fight around the walls of old Jerusalem.* In the twelfth century, when the home kingdom was itself in a turmoil of civil wars, the most important battles were fought in this harbor or right off-shore.
It was probably out from this harbor that a Scottish ship sailed in 1290 or thereabouts, carrying "the king's daughter o' Norroway" to mount the throne of her Scottish grandfather ; (Eric Magnusson had married Margaret of Scotland). Histories say little about it, but the famous old Scotch ballad, Sir Patrick Spence, preserves the legend. Scotland is only forty-eight hours' away by steamer, over beyond those islands straight ahead, but the North Sea is treacherous, and the second-sight of Sir Patrick's reluctant seamen boded true. The Norroway princess never reached shore.
"Half o'er, half o'er to Aberdour
For the last four hundred years, commercial interests have predominated here in Bergen—this is one of Europe's greatest centers for the fish trade, and here, too, arrive a large proportion (about $9,000,000 worth) of the country's imports from other countries. Forty-five per cent. of the national revenue is derived from duties on coffee, tea and sugar.
Old Sagas record Norway's early recognition of the importance of foreign trade. Like all other people of spirit, in old times, the Norsemen accounted it perfectly fair to seize English, Irish and French valuables as the prize of victorious warfare, but, after the fighting was over, they frankly took to barter as a means of securing further supplies. Egil's Saga tells how : ___
"Thorolf had a large seagoing ship ; in every way it was most carefully built, and painted nearly all over above the water-line. It had a sail with blue and red stripes, and all the rigging was very elaborate. This he made ready, and ordered his men-servants to go with it ; he had put on board dried fish, skins, tallow, gray fur and other furs, which he had from the mountains. All this was of much value. He sent it westward to England to buy cloth and other goods that he needed. They went southward along the coast and then out to sea. When they arrived in England they found a good market, loaded the ship with wheat and honey, wine and cloth, and returned in the autumn with fair winds."
A twelfth century historian records: ___
"Some time after, King Sverrir held a Thing (council) in Bjorgyn (Bergen) and spake: `We thank all Englishmen who bring hither wheat and honey, flour or cloth, for coming. We thank also all men who bring hither linen, wax or kettles. We will also name those who have come from the Orkneys, Hjaltland, Faroes, Iceland, and all who bring into this country things useful for it."
At the present time Bergen capital alone supports a mercantile fleet comprising over one hundred steamers and nearly three times as many sailing vessels, large or small. Several great ship-building establishments conduct a prosperous business over beside the Puddefjord, west of the town.
There are more than a hundred factories, large and small, within the municipal limits, and five thousand employes earn their bread making leather, wood pulp, woolen cloth, matches, etc., etc. The increase of such manufacturing industries accounts for the recent growth of the town as a whole.
That large open space down in the nearer part of the town, at the left, is the principal public square ; those modern buildings close by are the exchange, banks, insurance offices and the like. That square is practically part of a still larger open space, for it ad-joins the principal market-place at the head of the harbor. We cannot see down into the marketplace at this moment, because buildings at its southeast side cut off our view, but we shall presently go down there (Positions 49 and 50) to see what is going on. A little farther to the right, close by the harbor, a few minutes' walk northwest from the cathedral with the square tower, stand some famous old warehouses which we shall also take pains to see when we go down into the town (Position 51). Now look directly over the head of the waiting coachman and find, at the farther side of the harbor, a large building with an arcaded lower story and three upper stories generously provided with windows. We shall, by and by (Position 52), stand in a square beside that building and look across the harbor to some interesting historic landmarks which stand now too far to our right to be visible.
The conspicuous white buildings away out near the northwest end of the town peninsula include a fine new city hospital.
Now to go down into the town. Look on the city map (Map 6) and find our forty-ninth position, where it is set down in the square at the head of the harbor. As the red lines end on the side of the Floifjeld, this height must evidently form the background of our view.