Bryggen, the old wharf of Bergen
Bryggen is a historic harbour district in Bergen, one of North Europe’s oldest port cities on the west coast of Norway which was established as a centre for trade by the 12th century. In 1350 the Hanseatic League established a “Hanseatic Office” in Bergen. They gradually acquired ownership of Bryggen and controlled the trade in stockfish from Northern Norway through privileges granted by the Crown. The Hanseatic League established a total of four overseas Hanseatic Offices, Bryggen being the only one preserved today.
Bryggen has been damaged by a number of fires through the centuries and has been rebuilt after every fire, closely following the previous property structure and plan as well as building techniques. Bryggen’s appearance today stems from the time after the fire in 1702. The buildings are made of wood in keeping with vernacular building traditions. The original compact medieval urban structure is preserved with its long narrow rows of buildings facing the harbour, separated by narrow wooden passages. Today, some 62 buildings remain of this former townscape and these contain sufficient elements to demonstrate how this colony of bachelor German merchants lived and worked, and illustrate the use of space in the district. It is characterized by the construction of buildings along the narrow passages running parallel to the docks. The urban units are rows of two- to three-storey buildings signified by the medieval name “gård”. They have gabled facades towards the harbour and lie on either one or both sides of the narrow passages that have the functions of a private courtyard. The houses are built in a combination of traditional timber log construction, and galleries with column and beam construction with horizontal wooden panel cladding. The roofs have original brick tiling or sheets, a result of fast repairs after an explosion during World War II. Towards the back of the gård, there are small fireproof warehouses or storerooms (kjellere) built of stone, for protection of special goods and valuables against fire. This repetitive structure was adapted to the living conditions of the Hanseatic trading post. The German merchants took up winter residence in the small individual wooden houses and the storerooms were used as individual or collective warehouses. A true colony, Bryggen enjoyed quasi-extraterritoriality which continued beyond the departure of the Hanseatic merchants until the creation of a Norwegian trading post in 1754, on the impetus of fishermen and ship owners of German origin. Today, Bryggen is a significant part of the historic wooden city of Bergen.