Halsnøy Monastery is situated in the midst of the lush fjord country in Sunnhordland, on one of the old spits, or “necks”, that has given name to the island. Gently sloping fields lead down to the sea on both sides, in the south towards the Kloster Fjord, to the north towards the sheltered Klostervågen.
The stately Kvinnherad Church with its characteristic profile set out against the mighty Malmangernuten in the background, gives you a rare feeling of being present in a historic landscape as you come around Nes and face the well-kept houses at the Skåla farm. The church at Skåla is one of four “fjordungskirker” (one of four main district churches) and this farm was the centre of this coastal administration district.
On the farm of Arnatveit, high up on the slope above the highway, an old smokehouse remains standing in the courtyard of the main farm property, in the place of the old common courtyard. Today this farm lies at the outskirts of a large housing estate. Most of the farmland of the other farm properties has been sold to benefit the city’s need of sites for the new community of Arna.
In the 1300s Bergen was a trading centre of European dimension. The town is thought to have had around 7000 inhabitants and was the largest and most important in the country. In a European context it was an average size town. At this time the most tightly built town area was still mostly east of Vågen from Holmen in the north to Vågsbotn in the south. Already in medieval times, latest in the 1340s, this area was called Bryggen.
In 1266 “brann hallin i Biorgyn” (the hall in Biorgyn burned down) the Icelandic annals recount. The building we call Håkonshallen must be one of the “two good stone halls” built on the initiative of king Håkon Håkonsson, identical to the “stone hall” in which the most prominent male guests sat during the wedding and crowning celebrations of the successor to the throne, Magnus, in September 1261. At the crowning of the Håkon himself a long boatshed had to serve as venue. The hall is built on the pattern of European imperial halls, while the details point to English models. Håkon had close contacts with king Edward, who had recently built Westminster Hall.
Apart from the king’s estate at Holmen, Håkonshallen and the lower floors of the Rosenkrantz tower, the three parish churches in the centre of Bergen are what have been preserved from medieval Bergen: Mariakirken, Korskirken and Olavskirken (the cathedral). The Romanesque base of the tower from Nonneseter monastery church on the spit between the two Lundegård lakes can still be seen in the landscape, while the other medieval buildings now lie in ruins: the town’s oldest town hall and wine cellar at Nikolaikirkealmenning, Lavranskirken and Maria Gildeskåle between Mariakirken and Bryggens Museum and the Katarina hospital on the north side of Dreggsalmenningen.
In the Scholeus engraving (section on the right) from the 1850s the fortified king’s estate at the entrance to Vågen has become a modern Renaissance palace – Bergenhus palace. The church edifices have disappeared. The picture is now dominated by the tower “the small castle by the sea”, which had recently gone through a considerable enlargement.
Vågsbotn was the name of the innermost part of the eastern part of town from Auta-almenning (today’s Vetrlidsalmenning), skirting the bottom of Vågen to Allehelgenskirken (All Saints’ Church) (at the present Allehelgensgate). In early medieval times Vågen reached almost all the way to Olavskirken (the Cathedral). It was a relatively wide bay inside the premonitory where Korskirken was built. The area was therefore much shorter than what is known as Vågsbunnen today.
Alrekstad (later Årstad) is the birthplace of Bergen. The estate was an estate for Harald Hårfagre and several of his descendants: Eirik Blodøks, Håkon den gode og Olav Tryggvason. These first kings moved with their courts and guardsmen from estate to estate. From these estates the king ruled the country.
At Halnefjorden, a few hundred metres east of Halne mountain lodge, lie the remains of two stone sheds – Halnelægeret. Some generations ago the cattle drovers stopped here in the summer; they were the cowboys of their time. But Halnelægeret already had a long history before the cattle drovers came.