The very first buildings in Bergen were alongside the harbour called Bryggen. The World Heritage Site of Bryggen is all that remains of an ancient wharf on the east side of Bergen´s central harbour, Vågen. Bryggen has been the nervecentre of the city for hundreds of years and the silhouette of it´s ancient gables is perhaps the most familiar image in all of Norway. In 1360 the Hansas, a German guild of merchants, set up one of their import/ export offices on Bryggen and dominated trade for the next 400 years.
Many times Bryggen has been devastated by fire, and the Great Fire of 1702 reduced the whole city to ashes. But Bryggen was quickly re-built on top of foundations that had been here since the 11th century. Bryggen is now on UNESCO´s World Heritage List and the city of Bergen is a designated World Heritage City.
To meander through Bryggen´s narrow alleyways made even darker and more mysterious by overhanging balconies, is to step back into a time hardly touched by the passage of centuries. Althoug 61 of Bryggen´s buildings are preserved and protected they are not a museum. Bryggen´s spectacular wooden architecture shelters a living community of shops and offices; artists´ studios; crafts-people´s workshops, and restaurants.
Bryggen in Bergen was inscribed on UNESCO´s World Heritage List in 1979. Harald Hårfagres royal farm, Alrekstad, and the farm of Bjørgvin had their boat houses at Vågen before Olav Kyrre gave Bergen "city status" ca 1070 AD. The tradition of long narrow buildings that face the sea, separated by passages, comes from the city´s earliest history.
For more than 500 years the Hansa trading system was followed in Bryggen. It was first challenged by the growth of new cities, the introduction of the steam ship and a growing fishing industry. The remnants of the Hansa period´s city structure inspired both by European and Norwegian building traditions are inscribed on UNESCO´s World Heritage List.
The first German traders came to Bryggen in the 1230´s. After many years with restrictions, the Germans were granted special privileges in 1278 which gave them permission to spend the winter in Bergen, salvage rights, and permission to buy property. The export of dried fish and import of grains were the most important trade goods.
The urban constructions at Bryggen consisted of one, or most often two narrow series of houses, forming double buildings. These were divided in several rooms with a common entrance. These were combined living quarters, offices and warehouses in two or three floors.
Bryggen documents a traditional wooden construction pattern that demonstrates the history of the earliest large trading ports in Northern Europe. The structure of the farms with parallel series of houses at right angles to the docks has existed since the medieval period, despite the city fires.