Vágar – the first city in Northern Norway

Lofotmuseet

Storvågan • Lofoten

The town was founded on the fish trade. Fishing was good in surrounding waters all year, but the annual Lofotfisket season provided an abundance of fish. Lofotfisket began in February and lasted until April, most of the catch was hung to dry on outdoor racks to make stockfish. Stockfish can be stored a long time and transported over long distances.

Trading sessions are conducted when the season’s fish have dried and are ready for transport in June. Stockfish trading in Vágar was the basis for large fortunes and good income. King and church secured a part of the profit through taxes and levies. Vágar was the meeting place for the fishermen, the gentry and the powerful men along the coast. They used the opportunity to meet as a formal assembly to discuss legal and political issues (Tingstedet).

Stockfish was one of Norway’s first export goods. It became an important product to be traded and sold in Europe in about 1100. The economic and cultural contact the trade produced is evident in treasures that were found during archaeological explorations. The remains of a shoemaker’s workshop was found that contained a huge variety of shoes. The finest European wools had been imported, beautiful glass beads and exotic wooden carvings. A lot of shards from ceramic pots and platters from most of the countries in West- Europe were dug up, even shards from Middle-Eastern wares.

Stockfish export was of inestimable worth to the Norwegian economy. Most of the stockfish trade was based in Bergen. Fish from Vágar was essential in filling the coffers of the king, the church and the city of Bergen.

The Middle Age city of Vágar saw its golden age from 1200-1300. Most of the glory had disappeared by the end of the 1300s. It languished as an important and powerful mercantile city to become a lowly fishing village.