A short walk from central Stavanger, sits the rustic cobbled streets and perfectly preserved wooden structures of Gamle Stavanger.
Stavanger is Norway’s fourth biggest city, behind Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim. Situated in Rogaland county on Norway’s west coast, there is something unique that sets Stavanger apart from the country’s other larger cities.
A large part of Stavanger is made up of timber structures. With 8,000 wooden houses, it is the largest wooden city in northern Europe. As a result of so many detached buildings, the city stretches out over some 71 square kilometres.
A large proportion of the city’s wooden houses were built in the eighteenth or nineteenth century. The oldest of them are perfectly preserved in the city’s historic Gamle Stavanger or Old Town.
The Old Town is located on the west side of Vågen, only a short walk from the harbour area and central Stavanger. It covers an area all the way down to the harbour front and the Canning Museum.
Originally it consisted of 173 buildings but in recent times the count has risen to include some 250 houses, shops and museums. Its streets sit on the steep hillside, but despite this, all of the town is accessible by foot. Wheelchair access is also possible – and easier – if you approach from behind the maritime museum.
Read more: Major events in Stavanger
The houses on Øvre Strandgate, the cobbled main street, are all wooden, small and white. To see the Old Town in all its full glory, it is best to visit in the summer season. When blooming hanging baskets line the streets and scented rose bushes creep over white picket fences. On the flip side, the well-maintained streets can also offer a pleasant walk on cold winter's day.
The appreciation of Gamle Stavanger would not have been without the intervention of one man.
Old Stavanger’s saviour
After World War II, it was decided that Stavanger would be redesigned. The plans included demolishing many of the old wooden buildings and replacing them with more modern structures made out of concrete.
But one man spoke out about the plan. The city’s architect, Einar Hedén, argued that the original wooden structures were unique and should be treasured, not raised to the ground.
It is perhaps with little surprise that Hedén saw the beauty in the buildings, the amateur painter clearly had an eye for good aesthetics. He saw the beauty when others did not. His involvement was crucial in securing the town's future.
Who owns the houses?
Most of the 250 properties are privately owned, with the municipality also owning some buildings. The small size of the houses served a purpose in preceding centuries – it meant they could to be easily dismantled and moved if residents ever wanted to relocate.
Gamle Stavanger has changed over years, from the undesirable to the sought after. In more recent times they are ideal for anyone who has an appreciation of history and who wants a central location.
The local government has won a number of awards in recognition of their efforts in the preservation of this historic part of the city. The Council of Europe’s 1975 European Architectural Year gave credit to Gamle Stavanger for its upkeep.
Other places in Norway who have received similar praise was Nusfjord, a small fishing village in Nordland and Røros, a former mining town in Sør-Trøndelag.
Not only is the Old Town well maintained, it also functions. Most houses have occupants and operate as everyday homes. Some of the bigger harbour front buildings have offices, museums and shops in them.
Over years, Gamle Stavanger’s popularity has soared, and not just on the property market. It has become one of the region's number one tourist hotspots. This small corner of Vågen is right up there with Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock) as a tourist attraction. So if hiking is not your thing then a quiet stroll around this idyllic part of the city is great alternative.
The Old Town provides the perfect photo opportunity, a place where it is difficult to take a bad photograph. The impeccably well-kept houses and streets are an amateur photographers' best friend.