Pathfinder News Story 3

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Photo: Jouko Rautanen

The city of Bergen, Norway, is one of 800 sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Bergen was one of the main centers of the Hanseatic League, the powerful trading network that for nearly 400 years linked northern Europe’s major ports in an economic alliance.

Implementation of the UNESCO World Heritage List began in December 1975, three years after the concept was approved by the United Nations. Since then 180 countries have signed the U.N. Convention. As a result, more than 800 cultural and natural properties located in 135 countries are now under protection. This is a list of the treasures of this planet, the legacies of civilizations and natural wonders.

Bergen is one of 400 properties designated an irreplaceable part of the architectural and artistic heritage of humankind. Established by King Olav Kyrre around 1070, Bergen was the only shipping port for Norway, with fish being the only Norwegian product exported for at least four centuries.

By the 13th century, the Bergen wharf was the economic center of the city. About 30 warehouses held imports such as grain, pottery, glass, fabrics and wine from the Rhine Valley and the dried fish for export. In 1360, Bergen was chosen as a trading port (“Kontor”) for the Hanseatic League (along with Novgorod, Bruges, and London), a coalition of German traders that dominated trade throughout Europe for about four centuries.

The Bergen Kontor was a community of German men—women were not allowed in the wharf area except between spring and autumn. For the rest of the year, they returned to their villages. Eventually the population grew to about 1,000. A variety of rules governed life in this community, especially the ban on lighting fires in order to avoid fires sweeping through the closely packed wooden buildings. Periodically, in spite of the rules, fires did destroy some buildings. Because of the pace of shipping, the community followed the same design as it rebuilt the wooden buildings—two or three stories with wood planks serving as walkways between buildings. German control of the wharf began to wane in the early 1600s. By 1754, Norwegians permanently regained control of the wharf; however, they kept the same buildings, regulations, and the common trading language of German.

Today the world’s oldest trading center contains only 58 structures which have been partly rebuilt following the original criteria. They house restaurants, art galleries, and the Museum of the Hanseatic League.

For more details, see “The Great Book of World Heritage Sites,” written by Marco Cattaneo and Jasmina Trifoni, VMB Publishers, White Star, Italy (ISBN:  88-540-0365-4)

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