On our first visit to Bergen (see August 2013), we took a general tour of the area. This time we took a more leisurely walk past the old Håkonshallen fortress through Bryggen, the colorful cluster of buildings rebuilt after the 1702 fire by merchants of the Hansiatic League. The buildings furthest from the center of town are even newer, having been rebuilt after a 1974 fire.
Merchants and their apprentices, mostly living in bachelor quarters next to their warehouses, once worked and lived sharing communal kitchens to reduce the fire risk. The principal trade was in cod and other fish from northern Norway. Today the trade is in arts and crafts, woolens and other souvenirs for tourists.
An afternoon commercial tour took us to the Fantoft Stave Church. The Norse had their own Viking gods. A warrior wanted to die in battle. He could then go to Valhalla where he would feast and party all day and battle to the death in the evening. He would be resurrected the next day to repeat this cycle again and again until the final battle in their version of Armageddon.
However, some Viking kings and princes had their sons educated in what is now Ireland and England. They came back with Christianity, a less brutal religion. The new religion spread slowly to the remote mountain villages. At first, they would gather around a stone cross on a mound, perhaps a burial mound.
Later during the early medieval period because wood was in good supply but iron and stone were not, they built wood churches. The churches were constructed of logs that were split, notched, grooved and held together vertically without nails. They were generally small inside. On the outside, the decorations were reminiscent of their Viking heritage.
Norway had a large population of lepers. Indeed, the modern name for the disease is Hansen’s disease after a Norwegian doctor who discovered it was spread by bacteria. At the time of the stave churches, they had a little barred window or two near the altar so that lepers could stay outside but still participate.
Over the centuries, most of the stave churches were pulled down because they were too small, and the wood was recycled for other purposes. Therefore, it is impossible to say exactly how many there were. But using the bits of wood they could find, archeologists estimate there could have been as many as one to two thousand stave churches. Today only 28 remain. And it would be fair to say that there are only 27 because the Fantoft Church, which a wealthy businessman saved and moved to its present location, burned in 1990 and was reconstructed.
Original or not, the stave church was interesting to see as was the stone cross from 1035 A.D. on a mound outside.
The famous composer Edvard Grieg was born to a wealthy musical family in Bergen but grew up in Copenhagen. After establishing himself, he toured Europe playing his piano compositions and made enough money to buy land outside Bergen where he built a home. He called the estate Troldhaugen, or the troll’s hills, because he was told trolls lived in the area.
Grieg was always sickly and lost one lung to disease. We were told a statue of him was life-sized, only 1 meter 50 centimeters tall, or less than five feet. And he smoked. He died in his early sixties. But he was a charming man married to a charming wife, a singer, and they developed a wide circle of faithful friends. After Grieg’s death, his wife preserved his home as a center for small concerts similar to those Edvard and she used to give. After she was forced to sell the home and its belongings, it was eventually bought by a cousin, and he and many friends re-purchased the furnishings as well. Eventually a museum and 200-seat concert hall were added to the restored home.
Grieg’s burial place is down a walk in the side of the hill. But I was more taken with the small one-room studio he had built below the house. It only had room for a piano, a sofa and a table/desk. But a window has a beautiful view of the bays below – and it provided him the solitude he needed to compose.