Stavanger a Jewel on the West Coast


The location around Stavanger was probably one of the first areas in Norway to be settled. Presumably these first settlers came from other North Europeans countries some 12.000 years ago. At that time most of the North Sea was dry land.

The climate on that time was mild, and the countryside was covered with dense forests. Large quantity of ice had pressed down upon the land for millenia, the North Sea penetrated further into the land than it does now. Small elevations in the landscape used to be islands or peninsulas, with sheltered bays and sounds in between.

Today Norway is primarily a mountain range and 50% is bedrock. A mere 2.8% of the land is cultivated soil; 5% is lakes, 20% is productive forest; and less than 1% is populated.

All the rest is mountains or other unproductive ground. While it is true that Norway has second lowest population density of any country in Europe, and is the fifth largest country in terms of area, the areas left unpoplulated are empty primarily because they are uninhabitable.

From the farest North, way above the Artic Circle, to the tip of the southern coast - just a ferry ride away from the rest of Europe - this is one nation, with many similarities along its entiere lenght. Yet dancing i rhytm with the similarities are the unbelivable and intriguing differences. Topography in Norway is a matter of spectabular contrasts.

In the fog and the rain and the snow this is a land of dark magic and trolls. In the sunlight, the sparkle, the softness of berry time, this land is ebullient, laughing, celebrating life.

Once upon a time Viking long ships claimed Norwegian territorial waters as their own.

Once upon a time much later, graceful white sails danced quietly and smoothly against she sky.

Once upon a time there came billowing black clouds of smoke issuing from steamship plying these northern seas.

Tucked in between Viking ships at ancor, sailing ships on a visit, steamships unloading cargo, there were always and ever the small proud fishing vessels. One, two, perhapes more craggy-faced fishermen would look up from their endless work sith nets and lines and wonder if life might be better aboard the larger ships, without the ever-present smell of fish.

Today`s Stavanger and the North Sea has a different silhouette against the horizon. Strange awkward looking oil platforms, without a single sleek sailing line, are towed from fjord to the deep ocean - to become entire cities at sea. Monster crane ships fill harbors that once overflowed with herring.

Ever more gigantic cruise ships sail up countless fjords bringing tourists from as far away as China who are courious about this country: Norway - whose name meant Land of the North or the North Way to the world one thousand years ago. Norway, whose name means that today.

And still, bobbing between the platforms, avoiding the wake of the cruise ship, can be seen the small wooden fishing boats, looking even more vulnerable today than they did a few hundred years ago.

Is todays`s Norway modern? Is Norway up-to-date? Or is it living with one foot in the distant, romanticized past and one in the dreamer`s 21st century?

The visitor to the fjords or the small villages everywhere in this country exclaims over the thatched roofs, the wooden houses built as they were built 160 years ago, the fish set out to dry in the air as they have been for as long as man has fished the coastal waters.

Behind the tourist`s Norway there is another country: a country making advanced electronic equipment; a nation reclaiming oil and gas from ever deeper and more treacherous waters, using ever more advanced techniques; a nation striving to become an international economic force throught the sale of products and expertise.

One fact is incontrovertible: Norway is successfull. It is rich and getting richer.

Although North Sea oil is the most visible reason for Norways`s current succes and wealth, it is the growt of more traditional - but new and modern - industries that will maintain the nation into the 21st Century.

The political leaders, economists, analysts continualle tell the people that the income from oil must be carefully spent in order to build traditional industries, and to find new industry, to fit the future.

An ongoing problem is the honest, often entirely too idealistic and blind, desire to protect and subsidize older industries, some steadily losing money, in order to protect jobs. Voter pressure, plus genuine caring, has caused many mistakes and cost the nation funds which could have been spent to build up new and viable industry for the future.

But it was oil that gave this small country of just over four million the essential boost it needed to get back on its feet. There are many oil companies in Stavanger today, but the story of just one of them is the story of the adventure. Today Norway appears to be the land of opportunity thanks to the North Sea oil and gas and an incredible wave of good fortune over the past 30 years.

Stavanger is the centre of the oil industry, Stavanger is the port to fjord-Norway, the gate to the rainbowcountry, your door to the Land of Midnight Sun: Visit Stavanger !

Michael Holmboe Meyer`s Stavanger History Guide