Bergen

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Many fall in love with Bergen, Norway's second-largest city, at first sight. Seven rounded lush mountains, pastel-colour wooden houses, historic Bryggen, winding cobblestone streets, and Hanseatic relics all make it a place of enchantment. Its many epithets include "Trebyen" (Wooden City; it has many wooden houses),"Regnbyen" (Rainy City, due to its 200 days of rain a year), and "Fjordbyen" (gateway to the fjords). Surrounded by forested mountains and fjords, it's only natural that most Bergensers feel at home either on the mountains (skiing, hiking, walking, or at their cabins) or at sea (fishing and boating). As for the rainy weather, most visitors quickly learn the necessity of rain jackets and umbrellas. Bergen is even the site of the world's first umbrella vending machine.

Residents take legendary pride in their city and its luminaries. The composer Edvard Grieg, the violinist Ole Bull, and Ludvig Holberg, Scandinavia's answer to Molière, all made great contributions to Norwegian culture. Today their legacy lives on in nationally acclaimed theatre, music, film, dance, and art. The singer Sondre Lerche, pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, choreographer Jo Strømgren, and author Gunnar Staalesen all live in Bergen. Every year a host of lively festivals attracts national and international artists.

This harbour city has played a vital role in the Norwegian economy. Before the discovery of North Sea oil and Bergen's subsequent role in the development of Norway's oil industry, the city was long a major centre of fishing and shipping. In fact, Bergen was founded in 1070 by Olav Kyrre as a commercial centre. In the 14th century, Hanseatic merchants settled in Bergen and made it one of their four major overseas trading centers. The surviving Hanseatic wooden buildings on Bryggen (the quay) are topped with triangular biscuit-cutter roofs and painted in red, blue, yellow, and green. Monuments in themselves (they are on the UNESCO World Heritage List), the buildings tempt travelers and locals to the shops, restaurants, and museums inside. In the evening, when the Bryggen is illuminated, these modest buildings, together with the stocky Rosenkrantz Tower, the Fløyen, and the yachts lining the pier, are reflected in the waters of the harbour—and provide one of the loveliest cityscapes in northern Europe.