Larvik is perhaps best known for its beech forest and as the birthplace of the scientist Thor Heyerdahl. During the Viking Age, Kaupang became a hub for trade. A little-known fact, however, is that Larvik received its charter as a town on 29th September 1671. That’s’ why the town of Larvik celebrated its 350 years anniversary in September this year.
It was in 1671 that Ulrik Fredrik Gyldenløve, the governor-general of Norway, chose Larvik as his main place of residence and built the Manor House and the church at Tollerodden. Located on the shore of Viksfjord, not far from Larvik, it was the first town-like settlement in present-day Norway.
But according to Larvik Town Museum, we have to go further back in time to understand the history behind the emergence of the city of Larvik.
The Reformation and the change of power in Denmark-Norway in the 1530s opened up opportunities for ambitious nobles. From their new positions as suzerains, they established themselves as business leaders in Norway.
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The main farm Fresje by the Farris lake quickly became a center for the important timber trade. At that time, 30 people were in the service of the nobleman Claus Brockenhus, and in total it may have been an “indigenous population” of around 100 people. Eventually, merchant citizens also came from the trading places Tønsberg and Skien on a regular basis.
An anniversary is not something that arises spontaneously, rather it is a politically determined act. It points as much forward, as it explains the past. In Larvik, as in many other cities in the early 20th century, there was a strong interest in local history. The “discovery” of Larvik’s past, with Gyldenløve and his genuine count’s residence, became a small national sensation. The story of the creation of the county and the city of residence was so unique and the splendor so strong, that the event overshadowed all previous events.
Let’s make the city’s history visible on its 350th anniversary of the city’s founding, the municipal council decided, and this year the anniversary was celebrated with various activities around the entire city.
One of Larvik’s venerable estates from 1792, Festiviteten, opened its doors after several years of renovation. The Festiviteten has an exciting history.
The municipality spent over 25 million kroner and even more years to save the historic building, but eventually, they gave up. Then, one day, everything changed. When no one else wanted to invest in the old building from 1792, a new owner, Thore Liverød, bought the property for one Norwegian krone. The municipality’s politicians who had tried to give it away, tear it down, refurbish it and sell it, were happy to get rid of the problem.
Larvik is also called the city of poesy. It has more than 100 installations spread around in the city.
On the Bøkker mountain in the town center the Ritala/Eggertsson Architects in cooperation with the Larvik-based artist Chris Bould have created an art and architectural installation called “Tanzy Fumitory”.
One of them takes the form of a stage, and will be a space for time-limited exhibitions and cultural events for the city’s artists and cultural actors for the next two years. The name Tanzy Fumitory is taken from Chris Bould and his literary work «The Tanzy Fumitory ».
On the opening night of the Anniversary there was a performance of Arne Nordheim’s fanfare Recalls and Signals, played by Nanset Wind Ensemble conducted by Odd Terje Lysebo.
In the culture house Bølgen (The Wave), there were several events with both concerts and exhibitions. The impressive wave-shaped cultural center the Wave houses a gallery that during the festival had an interesting mix of cultural events such as a photo exhibitions and a world premiere of a film on Norwegian ocean landscapes made by the Norwegian photographer Terje Rakke. The Wave was designed by the famous Norwegian architect Niels Torp.
For the occasion, the green oasis Herregårdshagen in Larvik was transformed into a temporary garden with “experiences for all the senses”. 20 students and teachers had joined forces to create this facility as an interpretation of Norway’s first and largest baroque garden facility that was originally located here in the 17th century.
One might think that traditions such as city anniversaries and similar celebrations of events linked to towns and countries, are not suitable for our time. It tastes perhaps a bit of old-fashioned solemnity and squeaky party speeches.
However, the tendency is the opposite; we celebrate more than ever and the need for history as a reference is strong. History is used to create pride and community – in other words, identity. It points as much forward, as it explains the past. In Larvik, as in many other cities in the early 20th century, there was a strong interest in local history.
On a stroll at Tollerodden by the port of Larvik, you should pay a visit to the Trinity Church Larvik Kirke. It was commissioned in 1677 and finished in 1763. A monument outside is the creation of Arne Vigeland, who was commissioned to erect a memorial to Norwegians who died in World War II. Inside its chief treasure is Suffer the Little Children to Come Unto Me, an altarpiece painting by Lucas Cranagh that was commissioned by Duke Gyldenløve.
Hotel Farris Bad is THE place to stay when in Larvik. The spa hotel is one of the largest spa-departments in Scandinavia and we’ll give you an extensive review of it in the near future.
Famous people from Larvik are among others Thor Heyerdahl, composer Arne Nordheim, master boat builder Colin Archer and author Anne Holt.
Larvik 350 Years Anniversary, text and photos by Tor Kjolberg (except where otherwise noted).
Feature image (on top): Moonshine over Larvik harbor. Painting by J. C. Dahl (National Museum)