Founded c.1070 by Olaf III (Olaf Kyrre), Bergen soon became the largest city of medieval Norway. It was often the royal seat, and the earliest coronations took place there. The city became an establishment of the Hanseatic League in the mid-14th cent. The Hansa merchants, enjoying extraterritorial privileges, imposed their unpopular rule on Bergen until 1560, and thereafter continued to have influence until the late 18th cent. During the disturbances accompanying the Reformation (16th cent.), most of the city's old churches and monasteries were destroyed. However, Bergen remained Norway's leading city until the rise of Oslo in the 19th cent.
The center of Bergen was rebuilt after a severe fire in 1916. Nevertheless, the city retains many impressive monuments of its medieval past. One of its most famous buildings is Bergenhus fortress, which contains Haakon's Hall (1261); it was rebuilt after being heavily damaged in World War II. Other old buildings include the Quay, a group of wooden quayside houses rebuilt in their medieval style after a fire in 1702; St. Mary's Church (12th cent.); Fantoft Stavkirke (12th cent., destroyed by fire in 1994 and reconstructed); and, just south of Bergen, the 12th-century ruins of Norway's first Cistercian monastery.
One of the chief cultural and educational centers of Norway, Bergen has a university (founded 1948), a school of economics and business administration, several scientific institutes, and a Hanseatic museum. Bergen's theater was founded (1850) by the composer and violinist Ole Bull and gained international recognition under such directors as Ibsen and Bjørnson. The dramatist Ludvig Holberg and the composer Edvard Grieg were born in Bergen.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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