Facts and Figures
If you lived in Norway, you would call it Kongeriket Norge, or just Norge. Your eastern border would be Russia and Finland in the extreme north and, to the south, Sweden. Your northern, western, and southern coasts would be the frigid waters of the Barents Sea, the Norwegian Sea, and the North Sea, respectively. The north of the country lies above the Arctic Circle, where the sun never sets on the summer solstice. Hence, the famous name: "Land of the Midnight Sun".
The country is so long that the distance from the northernmost point to Oslo, the capital, is longer than the distance from Oslo to Rome. With 21,930 km (about 13,620 mi) of coastline (counting the inlets from the fjords) and a land area of 385,639 sq km (148,896 sq mi), the country is large and thin. Water plays an important role in its life. A chain of islands locally called the "skerry guard" or "reef guard" (Norwegian: skjærgården) protect the coast.
Norway also has some possessions outside of its traditional territory. There is Svalbard, an archipelago, and Jan Mayen, a volcanic island northeast of Iceland, in the Arctic Ocean. Bouvet Island is an uninhabited island in the southern Atlantic Ocean, southwest of the Cape of Good Hope. Finally, appropriately, Norway also claims Peter I Island, off Antarctica, and a portion of the Antarctic continent, lying between longitude 20° west and 45° east, known as Queen Maud Land.
The lay of the land
In ancient times, Norway had four main regions: Vestlandet (West Country), Østlandet (East Country), Trøndelag (Trondheim region), and Nord Norge (North Norway). Now, they also have a fifth region, Sørlandet (South Country).
Nearly 1/4 of Norway is covered with forest. Along the southern coasts, there are oak, ash, hazel, elm, maple, and linden trees; rarer are birch, yew, and holly. Along the central coasts, there are coniferous forests with Scotch Pine and Norway Spruce trees. The far north has a tundra climate, of course.
There is a lot of water in Norway, but about 1/3 of the lakes and rivers are polluted because of the industry in the United Kingdom. The Glåma River is the longest in Norway, draining about 1/8 of the country. The largest lake is Lake Mjøsa in the southeast, which was formed by glacial runoff. Several mountain ranges bisect the country, rising the highest in the south.
An extension of the Gulf Stream, called the North Atlantic Drift, keeps the Atlantic side of Norway from being bitterly cold. Even in the far north, most ports are ice-free throughout the winter. Norway also has large oil reserves, extracted from the vast reserves located along the continental shelf of the North Sea.
The land here is a steep descent from the mountains into the ocean. Glaciers carved steep fjords into the coast, the biggest of which (Sognafjorden (Norwegian: sognefjorden))extends 127 miles inland, with cliff walls sometimes rising to 1,500 m (5,000 ft). The west country also includes the coastal islands-- "skerry guard", remember?-- which are formed by the strandflate, a rock shelf lying in some places just above-- in others, just below-- the level of the sea. The wealth in this country comes from the ocean-- fishing is their main business.
One of the notable towns in the area is Ålesund. After a fire in 1904, they quickly rebuilt the town in a unique style of medieval turrets and spires. Another is Bergen, once the seat of the Hanseatic League in Norway, and Stavanger, the medieval city that is now the oil capital of the country.
The east country lies along the gradual eastern slopes of the many mountain ranges that bisect the country. Full of valleys and gently rolling hills, it has some of Norway's best agricultural land, especially around the Oslofjord. It is connected to the West Country by many valleys, the most important of these being Hallingdal. Lillehammer, site of the 1994 Winter Olympic Games, is in this area, along with Skien, birthplace of Henrik Ibsen. Other notable places include Drobak, which is not only an arts center but also the home of Santa Claus-- who has his own house and post office there, and Tønsberg, Norway's oldest city, founded in 871 CE. It had the country's largest fortress during the Middle Ages, one of the king's royal residences, and a Franciscan cloister. Finally, the capital, Oslo (once known as Christiania, and also known as "tigerstaden" or "the city of tigers"), lies on the edge of a fjord in the east country. The city has only about 500,000 inhabitants, but it is very large, because it has so many forested areas. It was (and is) the home of many famous Norwegians, like Roald Amundsen, and Edvard Munch. The Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony takes place in its City Hall every year.
This region is located to the north of the highest part of the mountains. Here, the main agricultural area surrounds the Trondheimsfjord, which is sheltered from the sea by the islands. The only main city is Trondheim itself, which was once called Nidaros. St. Olav was buried in Nidaros, and Nidaros Cathedral was erected over his grave, and during the Middle Ages it was a pilgrim site equal to Santiago de Compostela in Spain in importance. For four centuries, pilgrims came seeking consolation, help and miracle cures. This national shrine is also where Norwegian monarchs have been crowned.
Most of the people who live in this region live on the islands along its southern coast. Other than that, the region is mostly a barren plateau containing some of the biggest glaciers in Europe. This is the land where you can see the aurora borealis in the perpetual twilight of winter and stand in the sunlight at midnight in summer. One of the towns here is Hammerfest, the farthest north town in the world. Also, the oldest archaeological evidence of civilization in Norway comes from here-- 8000 years ago, the Sami people lived in this area.
This area has the highest mountains in Norway. The ranges include the Dovrefjell in the north, and the Jotunheimen ("home of the giants" or "home of the trolls") in the central region, which contains Galdhøpiggen, at 2,469 m (8,100 ft) the highest peak in Scandinavia. In the south is the Hardangervidda, a vast mountain plateau averaging about 1,000 m (about 3,300 ft) in elevation. Further south, along the coast, is the sunniest spot in Norway. These beaches, also sheltered by islands, are the vacation spot for Norwegians. The main city is Kristiansand.
Reindeer, polar foxes, polar hare, wolverines (Norwegian: jerv), lynxes (Norwegian: gaupe), and lemmings live in the north and in the higher mountain areas. Elk, bears (Norwegian: bjørn, deer, foxes, otters, and marten are in the south and southeast. Fish include salmon, trout, grayling, perch, and pike are common in the streams and lakes. Herring, cod, halibut, mackerel, and other species inhabit coastal waters.
The wolves (Norwegian: ulv) in Norway are severely endangered-- at last count, there was only one pack living inside the country and three living on the border between Norway and Sweden. Efforts to save them are hampered by ranchers who think that any wolf population will result in dead sheep. Sharq points out that while the wolves do kill the sheep, the farmers are well compensated by the government-- leading to some mysterious deaths.
Norway has recently come under fire from environmentalists for allowing the clubbing of baby seals for their fur. These harp seals live in the Arctic regions along the coasts. Also angering environmentalists, in 1993 commercial hunting of minke whales was resumed (after being banned in 1980), and the government sets a yearly number of whales that can be killed, based on estimates of the whale population. The quota in 2001 was 549 whales (thanks again Sharq).
Norway is a constitutional monarchy. The constitution was ratified on May 17, 1814, and was based on the United States' (however, Norway was not released from Swedish rule until 1905). The king has the executive power, although it is very limited. He makes all the government appointments on the advice of the ruling party. The legislature is the Storting, with 165 members popularly elected every four years by all citizens age 18 and older. The Storting elects one-quarter of its members to an upper house, the Lagting; the remainder constitute the lower house, the Odelsting. The king cannot dissolve parliament. Finally, there is the judicial branch, with a Supreme Court called the Høyesterett, with a president and seventeen judges. There are locally elected courts beneath this one.
The dominant political party in Norway is the Labor Party, which has been in power since 1935. They are socialist, wanting government control of industry and a planned economy. There are many other small parties in the country, including the Conservative Party, which wants free enterprise, the populist, anti-immigration Progress Party, and the Christian People's Party, a centrist Christian democratic party. The king is commander of the armed forces, and Norway is a member of NATO.
Norway is one of the most socialist countries in the world, with universal free health care and a compulsory National Pension Scheme. Starting in 1967, it provides money for the aged, those with disabilities, those rehabilitating, widows, widowers, and other benefits, including one-year paid maternity leave and universal child support.
Norway has been inhabited ever since at least 14000 years ago. These first people were hunter gatherers who came from Western Europe, followed by Germanic farmers from Sweden and Denmark who settled along the coasts. By the time written records begin, around 800 CE, the country was divided up into 29 little kingdoms. Given the long coast line, they naturally began to turn to the sea for trading and conquest.
800 CE is the traditional starting point for the age of the Vikings. After building war ships, they set out, and withing seventy-five years, had established settlements in Ireland, Britain, and Iceland and in the Orkney, Faroe, and Shetland islands. Their methods of raiding were brutal, and led to many bloody fights, especially in the British Isles. In 985, Eric the Red reached Greenland and set up a colony there; his son, Leif Eriksson reached North America only a few years later. Vikings also spread to Russia and northern France, where their descendants became the Normans.
Right before 900, Harald I, the heir to a kingdom in the south of the country, attempted to unify Norway. Throughout his reign, he contended with domestic strife and external threats from Sweden and Denmark. When he died in 940, his sons divided up the kingdom, squabbling, and destroyed the unity.
Olaf I, the great grandson of Harald I, came to the throne in 995. He had been educated in England and converted to Christianity, and he wanted to convert Norway from its pagan ways. He began this task, but died in a battle with Denmark. Olaf II succeeded him and took up the work of conversion, killing anyone who wouldn't be baptized. After annoying nearly everyone, and being forced to flee to Russia for a time, he returned and died as a martyr, becoming Norway's patron saint. In 1035, another king, Magnus I, united Denmark and Norway; in 1389, Margaret I would bring Sweden into the alliance. In the intervening years, internal strife among the smaller kingdoms continued, with the landlords rising against the kings constantly. Norway became part of the trading empire of the Hanseatic League. The Little Ice Age, beginning in the early 14th century, froze the seas around Greenland and Iceland. The colony on Greenland disappeared; a hundred years later travelers found only the remains of the settlement and the cows roaming free. Historians still debate why this happened. (Can someone please tell me the name of the node about this so I can link it?) The Black Death in 1350 wiped out anywhere from 1/3 to 2/3 of the population of Norway.
Over the next four centuries, Norway was dwarfed in importance by Sweden and Denmark, and ruled by minor Danish officials. It stagnated, and the population remained very low. Finally, in 1814, the Napoleonic Wars changed its situation. After Waterloo, Denmark, as an ally of France, had to sign the Treaty of Kiel, giving Norway to Sweden. Norway rebelled, but eventually agreed, in exchange for its own navy, army, customs and legislature under the Act of Union of 1815. However, the seeds of nationalism were planted. As revolution rocked Europe in 1848, Norway began to demand independence. In 1860, Sweden proposed revisions to the Act of Union, but Norway demanded more. After a protracted struggle, Norway proclaimed its independence in an overwhelming vote in August, 1905.
During World War I, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway joined together to form a neutral league, strengthening their ties. The Great Depression hurt the economy severely. Once World War II began, in 1939, Norway maintained its neutrality. Unfortunately, German maritime warfare along the Norwegian coast made neutrality increasingly difficult. On April 8, 1940, the United Kingdom and France announced that they had mined Norwegian territorial waters to prevent their use by German supply ships. The next day German forces invaded Norway. The National Union party helped the Germans so they could proclaim themselves the rulers of the country, and King Håkon and his cabinet were forced to flee to London, which became the seat of Norwegian government for the next five years. A Resistance sprang up within Norway, but it was not until May 8, 1945, that the German forces surrendered. King Håkon returned to Norway in June. To punish traitors, the death penalty, abolished in 1876, was restored. The leader of the National Union Party, along with some 25 other Norwegians, was executed for treason.
Since World War II, Norway has joined the United Nations and NATO. To help rebuild their economy after the war, Norway became one of the founding members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) in 1959.
The Sami are the aboriginal population of Norway, living in the extreme North. Their culture still exists today, although some of the old forms of their language have died out; now, in the northern schools, the main Sami dialect is being taught.
The national currency is the krone, which is printed by the Bank of Norway, established in 1816.
The scenes of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back were filmed in Norway.
For some Norwegian culture, read Henrik Ibsen or Sigrid Undset, two authors I greatly enjoy. Or, listen to Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King".
Since I go to school in Washington D.C. right on Embassy Row, when I decided to write a node about Norway, I hopped on my bicycle and rode about a mile and a half down Massachusetts Avenue to 34th St NW, where the Norwegian Embassy is located. As a university student, its easy to get into any of the embassies (on Halloween, you can go right down the Row, getting ethnic food from many of the embassies). The embassy is a square, imposing three-story stone building, with the requisite security. Inside, I received many goodies, including a super-cool tourism poster with a picture of a stark rock fjord towering over icy blue water, and nice brochures telling me all about the country. So... if you're wondering where I got some of my information... there you have it. The Lonely Planet Travel Guide to Norway was also a big help.