Throughout its history, Bergen has been ravaged by over 30 large fires, and many of them have also affected the Bryggen area to a greater or lesser extent. The first known fire to have affected the wooden buildings at Bryggen took place in 1120, and Bryggen was again struck by fire in 1130, 1170, 1198, 1248, 1332, 1413, 1429, 1476, 1527, 1702, 1955 and 1958. On this page, Bergenskartet, you can see the extent of the fires.

It turns out that the oldest fires have left traces in the cultural deposits at Bryggen, and these traces are a good way of dating events that have taken place at Bryggen in historical times. Archaeologists call these traces “fire layers”, and during excavations at Bryggen and other places in Bergen, they are visible as black layers of coal, ash and burnt objects in the ground.

Still from an animated film about the cultural deposits, with the black fire layers clearly visible. Produced by Arkikon for Bergen City Museum.

Fire has always been a major threat to the densely packed wooden houses at Bryggen, and throughout history, numerous measurements have been put in place to prevent fire from breaking out, or, in the worst case, from spreading. After the fire of 1476, clear rules for fire prevention were introduced within the Hanseatic community at Bryggen, and this largely kept any fires at bay until the great fire of 1702. This fire left almost 90 percent of the city in ruins, and all of the wooden buildings at Bryggen were lost. All the extant wooden houses at Bryggen were rebuilt after this fire.

Map showing the extent of the city fire of 1702. The map is drawn by Bækken Grafisk, based on information provided by Ingfrid Bækken and Anne Brit Vihovde. Source: Bergenskartet.no

 

Further reading:

Hansen, Gitte:

Prestrud, Ragnhild Helene, 2007: Bryggens brannvern – en modell til etterfølgelse. Brannvernstiltak for det Hanseatiske kontoret etter 1702.  M.A. Thesis in History, UiB