Medieval castles in Norway

Akershus Fortress

Akershus Fortress or Castle is a medieval castle that was built to protect Oslo, the capital of Norway. The first construction on the castle started around the late 1290s, by King Haakon V, replacing Tønsberg as one of the two most important Norwegian castles of the period (the other being Båhus). It was constructed in response to the Norwegian nobleman, Earl Alv Erlingsson of Sarpsborg’s earlier attack ...
Founded: 1290s | Location: Oslo, Norway

Bergenhus Fortress

Bergenhus fortress is one of the oldest and best preserved castles in Norway. It contains buildings dating as far back as the 1240s, as well as later constructions built as recently as World War II. The extent of the enclosed area of today dates from the early 19th century. In medieval times, the area of the present-day Bergenhus Fortress was known as Holmen (The islet), and contained the royal residence in Bergen, as wel ...
Founded: 1240s | Location: Bergen, Norway

Tønsberg Castle Ruins

Dating in 871, Tønsberg is commonly believed to have been the oldest Norwegian town and one of the oldest recorded fortified locations in Norway. According to Snorri Sturluson, Tønsberg was founded before the Battle of Hafrsfjord under which King Harald I of Norway united Norway under his rule. Tønsberg was an important trading center and site of Haugathing, the Thing (assembly) for Vestfold and one of Norway's most im ...
Founded: 871 AD | Location: Tønsberg, Norway

Sverresborg Castle Ruins

Sverresborg was built by king Sverre Sigurdsson (ca. 1150-1202) in the mid 1180s, 250 meters northeast of Bergenhus fortress. King Sverre Sigurdsson also had a Sverresborg built in Trondheim. It is thought that the fortress had an outer wall of stone and inner buildings of wood. A saga mentions that 600 men and 40 noble women lived in the fortress ca. 1207.Sverresborg was the site of several battles during the Civil war e ...
Founded: 1180s | Location: Vågen, Norway

Vardøhus Fortress

In 1251, an embassy from the Republic of Novgorod to King Haakon IV Haakonson of Norway complained of clashes between the Norwegians and the Karelians in northern Finnmark. A Norwegian embassy was dispatched to Novgorod where a treaty (the original of which is unfortunately now lost) was signed to conclude a peace between the two countries, including the Novgorod tributary land of Karelia. The first fortification was erec ...
Founded: 1306 | Location: Vardø, Norway

Steinvikholm Castle

Steinvikholm Castle is an island fortress built between 1525 to 1532 by Norway"s last Catholic archbishop, Olav Engelbrektsson. Steinvikholm castle became the most powerful fortification by the time it was built, and it is the largest construction raised in the Norwegian Middle Ages. The castle occupies about half of the land on the rocky island. The absence of a spring meant that fresh water had to be brought from ...
Founded: 1525-1532 | Location: Stjørdal, Norway

Sverresborg Castle Ruins

Sverresborg or Sverre Sigurdsson"s castle was a fortification built in the medieval city of Nidaros (later Trondheim). It should not be confused with Sverresborg in Bergen. Sverre Sigurdsson was king of Norway from 1184-1202. In the winter of 1182/1183 he initiated construction of Sverresborg (one of the earliest Norwegian fortresses) to provide him a more secure and more easily defended base from which to work. The ...
Founded: 1182-1183 | Location: Trondheim, Norway

Isegran Fortress Ruins

Isegran is the first place in Fredrikstad mentioned in history. The Earl of Borgarsyssel, Alv Erlingsson, also called MindreAlv, had a small fortress on Isegran in the late 1200s. In the 1670s, the island was fortified with a large battery platform, Isegran tower, and later a small fort was built to protect the river. Until 1685 Isegran was the royal shipyard for the danish-norwegian fleet and during the Great Northern Wa ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Fredrikstad, Norway

Audunborg Castle Ruins

Audunborg or Hegrenes-borga castle was built in stone from 1276 to 1286 probably by English craftsmen from Bergen. The rectangular building was 22 by 13 metres and had three stories. There was a store room in the ground floor, living quarters on the next floor, and a feast hall in the top floor. It had large windows and arches. The building itself had water on three sides and was thus easy to defend. It is also thought th ...
Founded: 1276-1286 | Location: Jølster, Norway

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Bergenhus Fortress

Bergenhus fortress is one of the oldest and best preserved castles in Norway. It contains buildings dating as far back as the 1240s, as well as later constructions built as recently as World War II. The extent of the enclosed area of today dates from the early 19th century. In medieval times, the area of the present-day Bergenhus Fortress was known as Holmen (The islet), and contained the royal residence in Bergen, as well as a cathedral and several churches, the bishop's residence, and a Dominican monastery. Excavations have revealed foundations of buildings believed to date back to before 1100, which might have been erected by King Olav Kyrre. In the 13th century, until 1299, Bergen was the capital of Norway and Holmen was thus the main seat of Norway's rulers. It was first enclosed by stone walls in the 1240s.

Of the medieval buildings, a medieval hall and a defensive tower remain. The royal hall, today known as Haakon's Hall, built around 1260, is the largest medieval secular building in Norway. The defensive tower, known in the Middle Ages as the keep by the sea, was built around 1270 by King Magnus VI Lagabøte, and contained a royal apartment on the top floor. In the 1560s it was incorporated by the commander of the castle, Erik Rosenkrantz, into a larger structure, which is today known as the Rosenkrantz Tower.

In the Middle Ages, several churches, including the Christ Church, Bergen's cathedral, were situated on the premises. These however were torn down in the period 1526 to 1531, as the area of Holmen was converted into a purely military fortification under Danish rule. From around this time, the name Bergenhus came into use. Building work on the Christ Church probably started around 1100. It contained the shrine of saint Sunniva, the patron saint of Bergen and western Norway. In the 12th and 13th centuries it was the site of several royal coronations and weddings. It was also the burial site of at least six kings, as well as other members of the royal family. The site of its altar is today marked by a memorial stone.

In the 19th century, the fortress lost its function as a defensive fortification, but it was retained by the military as an administrative base. After restoration in the 1890s, and again after destruction sustained during World War II, Bergenhus is today again used as a feast hall for public events. During World War II, the German navy used several of its buildings for their headquarters, and they also constructed a large concrete bunker within the fortress walls. The buildings, including the Haakon's Hall, were severely damaged when a Dutch ship in the service of the German navy, carrying approximately 120 tons of dynamite, exploded on 20 April 1944 in the harbour just outside the fortress walls, but the buildings were later restored.

Bergenhus is currently under the command of the Royal Norwegian Navy, which has about 150 military personnel stationed there. The fortifications Sverresborg fortress and Fredriksberg fortress also lie in the centre of Bergen. Haakon's Hall and the Rosenkrantz Tower are open for visits by the public. Koengen, the central part of Bergenhus Fortress is also known as a concert venue.