The History of Lofoten

Lofoten’s history revolves around fish

The population has fished all year round, usually together with small farms. But it´s the seasonal fishing for Skrei that has been most important. Nature´s so arranged that every year from January to April, large quantities of Skrei (Norwegian-Arctic cod) come from the north to the waters around Lofoten to spawn. The fishing that goes on these months has provided livelihoods and abundance to the people who have lived here at all times.

Evidence in Lofoten from the Stone Age, show people who made a living from fishing 6000 years ago. They used fish hatcheries and fish hooks made of bones and horns. Natural resources also laid the foundation for one of Northern Norway’s the most influential chieftain’s seats in the Viking Age. At Borg, lies the world’s largest longhouse from the Viking Age ever discovered, an impressive 83 meters long. You can visit this place and travel more than 1,000 years back in time as you ascend into the reconstructed chieftain’s house.

*Image credit: Hallvard Kolltveit – Lofotmuseet

Stockfish – the most important fish product in Lofoten

Throughout the Lofoten Islands, the conditions are perfect for the natural drying of fish. Around 1100 AD, the catch and production of stockfish were so great that it gave rise to the emergence of Vágar – the first medieval town in Northern Norway. The spawning fish came in such large quantities that it was more than abundant for the population of Lofoten. Therefore, visiting fishermen from all parts of Northern Norway wanted to participate in the Lofoten fishery. They had to sail and row over great distances in open boats, many in traditional Nordland boats. Its estimated that 30,000 men could travel to Lofoten during the fishing season. They rented fishermen’s cabins (rorbu) for housing in fishing villages. They also sold their catch from these cabins. The fisherman cabin tradition is at least 1000 years old. You can learn more about this in Kabelvåg, where you can visit “Væreiergården” with fishermen’s cabins, and experience life underwater at the Lofoten Aquarium.

Reine Rorbuer - Classic Norway
Reine Rorbuer – Classic Norway (Hallvard Kolltveit – Reine Rorbuer –

The fishermen’s cabins were rented out by squires, also called “nessekonger”. They were landowners and had the exclusive right to trade, buy, and dry fish. The stockfish was transported to traders in Bergen before it was sold to Europe. Stockfish has been an important export commodity that has generated substantial revenues for Norway.

Stockfish on Røst
Stockfish on Røst (Solveig Helland)

The stockfish trade and fishing villages ensured economic and cultural contact with the outside world. The Norwegian Fishing Village Museum at Å in Lofoten gives you an exciting insight into the importance of fishing villages. Explore the many houses in the fishing village with or without a guide. And don’t miss the bakery! Stockfish has its museum at Å. The Norwegian Telecommunications Museum in Sørvågen showcases the communication history. The history of “Fiskarbonden” at Skaftnes farm is also worth seeing.

Fish is important till this day

The distinctive nature and strong culture of Lofoten have attracted many artists. Over the past 150 years, Lofoten has been depicted in art in many different expressions. Art galleries and craft outlets can be found in many places. Kaare Espolin Johnsen, one of Northern Norway’s beloved artists, has his gallery in Kabelvåg.