MENNESKE OG KULTUR - Foto Brynjar Stautland

Fotograf: Rune Øvrebotten

Humans & Culture

The 8 municipalities that make up the Sunnhordland region have a population of 64.000 people, living close to the ocean. The region is easily accessible by air, boat, bus or car. The highways E39 and E134 runs through the geopark crossing fjords on bridges or ferries. Most areas can be reached in 2-3 hours from the cities of Bergen and Stavanger.


Photo: Moster Amfi

Within the Geopark, most of the inhabitants live in villages and small towns, leaving large areas sparsely inhabited. The town of Leirvik in Stord municipality is the regional centre and a hub for infrastructure where the biggest shipyard and a University branch are situated.

The Hardanger fjord and the straits divide the mainland and the islands, but also bind the population together. The need for crossing fjords and straits triggered inventions of boat technologies since long before Viking Age. Later, freight vessels, ferries, modern fishing boats, huge tankers and oil rigs were constructed in this region. Now gigantic windmills for open seas are made here. But the slim and quick rowing boat 'færing' – more or less unchanged through the centuries – are still common in these waters. The Oseberg ship from 820 AD, probably the most precious cultural treasure of Norway, was built in this region. Gjøa, the ship used by Roald Amundsen on his exploration of the Northwest Passage in 1903-1905 was also built here, a region rich on pine and oak for ship building, with energy from waterfalls and a population owning maritime experience and craftsmanship.

Sunnhordland has a rich cultural heritage stemming from ever since the first humans came here more than 11000 years ago. In addition to the oldest and longest-used quarry from the Stone Age known in Northern Europe, here is one of the oldest stone churches in Norway. Sunnhordland was a central arena for historic persons and happenings during the Viking Age, for e.g. the sagas refer to the bay beneath the mountain of Siggjo as the place where the baptized Viking king Olav Haraldson (Saint Olav) implemented Christianity by law in 1024 AD. A national jubilee remembering this essential happening for Norway will be arranged in 2024. This will take place on marble bedrock at Moster, at the same historical center where the headquarter of Geopark Sunnhordland is located.

Even if the populations in this area have been oriented towards marine resources, agriculture has been practiced most places since Bronze Age, even on the barren soils on the outer islands. However, the most important agricultural settlements are located on fertile soils found on moraines and marine terraces. Mining has been an important industry and a number of raw materials have been extracted, including pyrite, copper, gold, soapstone, greenstone, rhyolite, jasper, chlorite shale, granite and marble.

An innovative spirit prevails in the small villages and over the years a number of technical companies have emerged. The first Norwegian internal combustion engine was constructed here in 1902 by the 18 year old son of a blacksmith. The Wichmann engine played a major role in the Norwegian fisheries during the 20th century when herring was the main economical resource. Fishermen from open decked herring boats in the rough North Sea later became the chosen crew on the anchor-handler ships when the first oil rigs should be anchored up in the same tough waters from early 1970’s. An onshore oil industry developed; some of the biggest oil rigs for the North Sea have been built in Sunnhordland since 1970's. Now the same industry is demolishing condemned rigs and building the new giant windmills for open seas.

Melting water from the glacier of Folgefonna and rain produced above these mountains has been our source for electricity since 1952, for households but also for energy-demanding aluminum production with the lowest carbon footprint world-wide. The biggest windmill park in Norway was built onshore here in 2010, and now a total of 55 mills produces 443 GWh annually. Together water and wind makes Sunnhordland a net exporter of sustainable energy. Industry, fisheries and fish farming (salmon and halibut) are today the most important sources of income, thereafter farming, service business, tourism and public service. Much is in place to further development of tourism. Together with the recent approval of our region as a Sustainable Destination the UNESCO-geopark will be a tool for increasing knowledge on our geo heritage and developing a sustainable tourism.