Aside from the Cathedral, the row of wharf warehouses fronting the harbour is Stavanger´s most outstanding architectural feature. In days past, the prominent gables of these houses lined the waterfront almost as far as eye could see 240 buildings at one time. Some 60 remain under preservation order. The painstaking restoration work is an on-going process. Compared to the other major ports Bergen, Ålesund, Kristiansund and Trondheim. Stavanger´s half-timbered waterfront wharf warehouses are outstanding in both construction and finish.
A TIMBER TOWN
Timber-built houses were not exclusive to this part of the world, but fires, wars and relentless progress took their toll. This has made the surviving Scandinavian timber built areas particularly interesting. The largest uninterrupted stretch of these is the section of wooden houses in Stavanger. This includes the oldest downtown areas as well as its surrounding residential areas. In fact, the houses we build in Stavanger today are still mainly of timber.
Stavanger´s position as Europe´s, perhaps the world´s largets wooden house city, carries with it a cultural responsibility. Most of the wooden houses were built between 1850 and World War ll, and range in style from classical to functionalist. A few older houses remain, as well. From the late 1700s until the 1860s, classicism was the reigning fashion.
Examples of this period can be found in Gamle Stavanger and the ABC-block. It was only after the end of the 18th century that houses were painted preferably in ocher or red. The white that is now so typical of Stavanger´s old section first appeared in the mid-19th century, when paint could be prepared chemically and zink pigment became popular and inexpensive. After the 1860 fire that left the northern part of the centre in ashes, the centre was halved.
The north side had streets that were regular, straight and relatively wide with large, late-empire houses with fireproof gables. The Swiss style was dominant around the turn of the century. The most imaginative example of this is Breidablikk manor, open to the public now. Swiss-style houses were often painted in two or three deeply contrasting colours, which enhanced the ornamentation and richness of form.
THE OLD TOWN
Gamle Stavanger contains 173 closely built, small wooden houses, all under preservation order. In 1975, the UN Architectural Heritage Year, Gamle Stavanger was selected as one of three Norwegian pilot projects - along with Røros and Nusfjord.
The preservation of Gamle Stavanger has merited several respected international awards. This section of town is like a living museum, with residents of all ages. Strict regulations govern the maintenance of the houses. Several artisans have their workshops here, and sell crafts ranging from woodwork and ceramics to knives. The Canning Museum in Gamle Stavanger is well worth a visit.
Old Stavanger consists of more than 150 old timber houses built in the late 18th and early 19th century. The site, being the best preserved collection of timber houses in northern Europe, is preserved by law as a historical monument, and gives a real impression of the old city. The houses are partly in private ownership, and partly owned by the City.
There is no fee to visit, no cars and many places to sit down and enjoy your half kilo of fresh shrimps you may have just bought from the old fisherman down at the harbour...
Stavanger as a city was founded in 1125, when it was made a bishopric and building on the Cathedral started. The huge medieval Cathedral loomed over the little water front settlement around Vågen and its 200 or so people. It was not much of a city for the first 700 years and even in 1800, Stavanger had just 2.500 inhabitants.
And then, the boom times arrived in rapid succession: herring fisheries, shipping, and the canning industry increased population ten-fold over the next 100 years. Yet another resource from under the sea - oil has brought the development of the town even further these last 30 years.
The history of Stavanger is illustrated by a new exhibition at the Stavanger Museum. The history of seafaring and trade is shown at the Maritime Museum, located in two seaside warehouses on Strandkaien quay. The Canning Museum you will find in the midst of the old town of small wooden houses.