The buildings at the World Heritage Site Bryggen are the remnants of an old urban settlement along the eastern side of the Vågen bay. The settlement was re-built following a fire in 1702, which consumed most of the city. About a quarter of the houses are still standing, arranged in tenements, that is long rows of wooden houses on either side of a common passageway. The typical Bryggen building is a warehouse of 2 or 3 storeys, without any kind of insulation. The open galleries facing the passageways have wooden posts and beams. The inner part of the warehouse is built using a cog joint construction. The roof consists of common rafters with an underroof made of rough boards and thatched with unglazed tiles. The wooden buildings are in many cases built on a layer of crossed beams, so-called joists. The majority of the roofs are also equipped with small arches with hoists for loading goods.

At the back of the tenement rows, we find fire proof stone buildings dating back to the 15th and 16th century. Most of the buildings at Bryggen were intended as warehouses, but they also housed basic offices and served as living quarters for merchants, gesells (the second in command or foreman) and apprentices. At the far end were the common assembly halls, which also served as living rooms and dining halls for the people working at the tenement. Today’s buildings, however, reflect the changing needs and wants of the city’s inhabitants. Along the harbour front, the original wooden frames of the baroque era have been supplanted by empire-style windows. The wooden panelling was not installed until the 1730s. Before that, the gables had visible timber fronts, heavily decorated with acanthus leaves. About 1900, the warehouses on street level were refurbished and turned into shops, with large windows facing the harbour. Until 1920, the old quay, with its wooden cargo boom and waterfront shed, was still intact in front of the row of houses.

Out of the four German offices from the Hanseatic period, only Bryggen remains, and it is therefore particularly important to preserve all available information on these buildings. The distinctive wooden settlement conforms to a pattern established as early as the 12th century, which have been in constant development through 7-8 centuries. The architecture is characterised by a European building tradition, while the materials and some of the construction techniques have their roots in Norwegian traditions. Following urban redevelopments, war damages and fires, about ¼ of the original settlement is still standing. Bryggen was listed as a Norwegian cultural heritage site in 1927, and was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979.

Jakobsfjorden in the late 1990s. Photo: The Bryggen Foundation.

Many of the distinctive architectural features of Bryggen have been preserved because the buildings have been surveyed on different points in time. The earliest known documentation of Bryggen dates from 1885, and it includes drawings by the architect Peter Blix of the tenement Dramshuset, one of the tenements at the southern part of Bryggen, which has since been torn down. Christian Koren Wiberg also carried out extensive surveying work on both the buildings and the ground beneath them, in connection with the City Council’s decision to demolish the Southern part of Bryggen in 1899. No scale is given on the drawings, and they are therefore not surveys in the strictest sense of the word. However, a proper survey of all the tenements at Bryggen, from the building housing the meat market (Kjøttbasaren) to Dreggsalmenningen, the square at the very end of Bryggen, was carried out by the architect Jens Zetlitz Kielland around the year 1900. Later surveys have added both details from Bryggen and individual buildings, as well as more systematic surveys of the whole area. After the establishment of the Bryggen Foundation in 1962, this organization has been responsible for carrying out the preservation and restoration work, and is also conducting a highly accurate survey of this unique World Heritage site

Sources and further reading:

Einar Mørk, Bryggen, catalogue published by the Bryggen Foundation.

Einar Mørk,  Eldre Bergens-Arkitektur VIII, Bergens arkitektforening, 2011.

Many thanks to Einar Mørk for letting us use his sources.