When Norwegian government ministers gathered in Bergen recently, to celebrate an important anniversary of an important historical building, they ended up making some history of their own. It all provided some ceremonial relief after a sad summer and challenging early autumn.
The event that drew Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and most of his cabinet to Bergen was the 750th anniversary of the monumental building known as Håkonshallen. It was built as part of the Bergenhus fortress by King Håkon Håkonsson in 1261, for the crowning and the wedding of his son Magnus Håkonsson Lagabøte to Princess Ingeborg of Denmark.
The building survived the centuries until it was destroyed by an explosion in Bergen’s harbour during World War II. It was rebuilt in the late 1950s and remains the pride of Bergen, where its anniversary was celebrated all week long with events including a Middle Ages parade, a conference on architecture and history, a jubilee performance and special church service. The city, originally laid out in 1070 by Olav Kyrre, served as Norway’s capital until 1299 and was for many years an important Hanseatic trading port. Bergen remained Norway’s largest city until 1830.
Bergen had more than 30 churches during the Middle Ages, with Mariakirken surviving as Bergen’s oldest building from the early 1100s and still in use. Newspaper Aftenposten reported over the weekend that several of Bergen’s monumental buildings have been reconstructed in a digital 3D model of the city around 1350, through a project financed by state historical preservation agency Riksantikvaren and the City of Bergen.
The anniversary of Håkonshallen attracted not just the government ministers to a formal dinner hosted last Thursday by the prime minister, but also King Harald, and that’s why history was made the next day as well. With both the king and government in Bergen for the Håkonshallen festivities, the weekly Council of State (Statsråd) was held in Bergen, too.
It was the first time since the late King Haakon VII’s coronation tour in 1906 that a Council of State, normally held every Friday at 11am at the Royal Palace in Oslo, was held in Bergen. King Harald hosted it at the royal residence in Bergen, Gamlehaugen, and it was festive as well, with local school children waving flags outside on an unusually clear and sunny day after lots of rain.
Gamlehaugen itself is also owned by the state and used by the royal family. It’s located outside downtown at Fana, not far from the historical residence of composer Edvard Grieg called Troldhaugen. The property was bought in 1898 by shipowner and politician Christian Michelsen, who later served as prime minister when Norway broke out of its union with Sweden in 1905. The mansion was constructed and ready for occupancy around 1900 and parts of it are open to the public during the summer months.
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