Bergenhus Festning (Bergenhus Fortress)

Bergenhus Festning (Bergenhus Fortress)

Bergen, Norway

After a red-eye flight and six hour change in time zones… we arrived in Bergen, Norway. It was my first time going to Europe and I was beyond excited. I rarely sleep while traveling and this trip was no different. At a certain point though, you have to sleep.

02/15/2016- I woke up at 10 pm. This was no good. Nathan was awake too, and we decided to do a little exploring nearby. The streets were empty and everything was closed. It wasn’t as if we were looking for a place to be open, but it was interesting how empty and silent the city was at night compared to the hustle and bustle we saw during the day when we arrived.

We walked along the wharf, past Bryggen, and ended up near what I assumed was an old castle. All the gates were closed but we continued walking, observing the buildings behind the walls and the cityscape across the water, until we basically got to the end of the road.

Rosenkrantz Tower.
Nathan with Haakon’s Hall.

After we returned to the apartment we were staying in, I looked up where we had been. Rosenkrantz Tower and Haakon’s Hall were the buildings I was truly intrigued by. I really wanted to be able to walk the grounds of Bergenhus Fortress, even if I wasn’t actually able to go inside any of the buildings.

02/16/2016- The next day, Nathan and I were walking around the city and we approach Bergenhus Fortress from a different side… and the gate was open! I was THRILLED!

Rosenkrantz Tower with Haakon’s Hall on the right.
A view near the entrance at the corner of Bradbenken and Øvre Dreggsallmenningen.


Bergenhus Castle

Bergenhus is among the oldest and best preserved fortresses in Norway. In medieval times, the area of the present-day Bergenhus Castle was known as Holmen (The island). Holmen has a long history as a religious, royal and military centre.

The Buildings at Bergenhus Castle

Two of the buildings from medieval times still exist within the fortress grounds: Håkon’s Hall and King Magnus the Lawmender’s Keep. The keep is incorporated into the Rosenkrantz Tower.

Håkon’s Hall was constructed by King Håkon Håkonsson in the middle of the 13th century as a royal residence and banqueting hall. The hall has been the site of major national events, such as the drawing up of Norway’s first complete codex.

Me at Haakon’s Hall.
On the left, along where I’m standing is Ruiner av Solaret – Ruins of the Solar

The Rosenkrantz Tower was completed as a combined residential and defensive tower in the 1560’s. Two older structures were incorporated into the tower: the oldest from about 1270.

With its strategic position in the southern part of the grounds, the tower has been a cornerstone in the stronghold of the Bergenhus Castle.

A view of Rosenkrantz Tower near the main gate.


Holmen’s Church History

Holmen was a centre for the church from the end of the 11th century to 1531. During this era a cathedral, the bishop’s residence, a royal chapel, and a monastery were situated on the premises.

The Christ Church, Bergen’s old cathedral, was erected by King Olav Kyrre in the period 1066-1093. During the 1200s Holmen and the Christ Church constituted Norway’s political centre. The churches were torn down in 1531 after strong pressure from King Frederik I. This was done to ease the defence of the military constructions. Today, the ground plans of the Christ Church are marked by a hedge in the park north of Haakon’s Hall.

Here you can see the hedges marking Kristkirketomten – Site of The Christ Church with Haakon’s Hall in the distance.
Directly in front of Haakon’s Hall stands the Artilleribygningen – Artillery building.


Statue of St. Sunniva at Kristkirketomten – Site of The Christ Church.


The Royal Seat at Holmen

Bergen became the town of royal residency when King Øystein Magnusson moved his seat from Alrekstad to Holmen in the 12th century. His royal estate was built in wood.

The castle’s girdle-walls were built in the first half of King Håkon Håkonsson’s reign in the 1200s. These walls were supposed to protect the wooden structures from fires and foes. When the Norwegian civil wars ended around 1240, Bergen became the capital of Norway and Holmen the country’s political centre. Håkon’s Hall was then erected in the period 1247 to 1261. King Håkon Håkonsson also fortified the royal castle in stone.

Haakon’s Hall.
A view from the Kristkirketomten – Site of The Christ Church.

The King’s throne was moved out of the country when Norway came into union with Denmark in the late medieval period. However, Bergenhus still remained the political and administrative centre for the western and northern regions of Norway, but from 1660 Bergenhus’ only function was as a defensive fortification.

Det forsenkede batteri med statue av Haakon VII – The artillery battery with a statue of King Haakon VII.


Military History

Bergenhus Castle was enlarged and further fortified throughout the 17th century. The castle was at its most complete in around 1700 when Holmen and the Sverresborg fortress were united into one large fortification. The only time Bergenhus Castle has been involved in battle, however, was some years previously: August 2, 1665. A Dutch merchant and treasure fleet sought refuge from an English flotilla of warships in Bergen’s neutral port. When the English attacked, they met heavy resistance from the garrison at Bergenhus. The battle was short and has been known under the name the Battle of Vågen.

A view of Vågen Bay from the artillery battery with a statue of King Haakon VII.

During World War II, the German navy used several of Bergenhus’ buildings for their western headquarters, and they also constructed a large concrete bunker within the fortress walls.
The older buildings, including the Håkon’s Hall, were severely damaged when a Dutch ship in the service of the German navy, carrying tons of dynamite, exploded on 20 April 1944 in the harbour just outside the fortress walls.

Immediately after World War II, the Norwegian government commenced the work of restoring and protecting the area for the future.

Nathan standing at Flaggpynten (Kanoner) – Flag Point (Cannons).

02/19/2016- I honestly enjoyed Bergenhus Fortress so much that I went back a third time during my stay in Bergen, this time with Becky. We followed a path between Haakon’s Hall and the remains of Håkon Håkonsson’s second stone hall, and discovered a way into the palace courtyard! It was difficult to contain my excitement. I wanted to get to Rosenkrantz Tower so bad!

Walking into Slottsgården (the palace courtyard)
from the entrance between Haakon’s Hall and the remains of Haakon’s second stone hall.
On the left, Stallbygningen (the stable building).
On the right, Kapteinvaktmesterboligen (Residence of the Captain of the Guard).
Me standing in the palace courtyard with Haakon’s Hall behind me.
Rosenkrantz Tower.
You can see the passage of time through the different styles of masonry incorporated in one building.
Becky in front of Rosenkrantz Tower.
Interesting use of building materials and placement of windows.
I had read that Rosenkrantz Tower had dungeons…
and I pondered this while Becky and I were in this small courtyard behind the tower.

If I ever get the chance to return to Bergen, I will do my best to tour inside Rosenkrantz Tower and Haakon’s Hall.

View more great photos taken of and around Bergenhus Festning throughout our time in Bergen.

All information shared here was taken from signs within the fortress walls.

All photos were taken by me, Nathan, and Becky.