MENNESKE OG KULTUR - Foto Brynjar Stautland

Fotograf: Rune Øvrebotten

Humans & Culture

The 8 municipalities of Sunnhordland have a population of 65,000 people. The E39 and E134 run through the region, crossing the fjords via ferries and bridges. The majority of Sunnhordland can be reached within 2-3 hours from Stavanger in the south or Bergen in the north.


Photo: Moster Amfi

Sunnhordlanders live in villages of various sizes, with the municipal centers being the largest. Large parts of Sunnhordland's approximately 3000 km² land area are natural areas with few interventions, and the region has 70 small and large nature reserves or protected natural areas. Leirvik in Stord is the regional center, a transportation hub, and the location of the largest shipyard, Aker Solutions, as well as the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences.

The Hardangerfjord both separates and unites the region. The urge to cross the fjords has provided the basis for boat building here long before the Viking Age. In modern times, fishing boats, ferries, tankers, and oil rigs have been constructed, and in recent years, gigantic offshore windmills. However, the traditional boat, the 'Færing,' more or less unchanged since before the Viking Age, is still in use in our waters. The Oseberg ship, Norway's most famous cultural object, was also likely built in southern Sunnhordland, and the Gjøa, with which Roald Amundsen sailed through the Northwest Passage in 1903-1905, was built in Rosendal. The region is rich in pine and oak for boat materials, harnesses energy from rivers and waterfalls, and has a population with long-standing traditions and expertise in maritime crafts.

Sunnhordland has a rich cultural heritage dating back to the first humans who arrived here after the Ice Age over 11,000 years ago. In addition to having the oldest and longest-operating stone quarry in Northern Europe, Hespriholmen, you can find perhaps Norway's oldest church here. Sunnhordland was a central stage for historical figures and events throughout the Viking Age. For instance, the Gulathing Law refers to Moster as the place where the first Christian assembly was held in the country, in 1024. Prior to this, Tora Mostrastong, Håkon Adalsteinsfostre, and Olav Tryggvason left their marks here, and later Erling Skakke, who built Halsnøy Monastery for the coronation of his son Håkon. A national jubilee is set to be celebrated at Moster in 2024, marking the Christian assembly held at Moster in 1024.

Even though the people and economy in the region have traditionally been oriented towards the sea and fishing, agriculture has been part of the culture since farmers arrived here in the younger Stone Age and Bronze Age. Primarily on the fertile moraine landscapes and coastal terraces, but also out on the islands in western Sunnhordland. Mining has also been an important industry in periods, extracting various metals and rocks, including pyrite, copper, gold, soapstone, greenstone, rhyolite, jasper, chlorite schist, granite, and marble.

An innovative spirit characterizes these communities, relatively far from urban centers, and the business landscape is characterized by numerous enterprises, both small and very large, of local origin. The first Norwegian internal combustion engine that survived the prototype stage was constructed in Sunnhordland in 1902 by the 18-year-old son of a blacksmith in Rubbestadneset. He was tired of rowing. The Wichmann engine subsequently played a key role in the motorization of the Norwegian fishing fleet during the first two-thirds of the 20th century when herring was a primary resource for the country. Fishermen from here, with experience from open boat decks in the North Sea, then became preferred crew on the vessels that placed and supplied oil rigs in the North Sea from the 1970s to the present day. Onshore oil industry rapidly developed; some of the largest oil rigs in the North Sea have been built in Sunnhordland since the 1970s. Now, the same industry is responsible for dismantling decommissioned rigs while simultaneously constructing new wind turbines to harness sustainable offshore wind energy.

Smelting and rainwater from Folgefonna have been our energy source since 1952, both for households and industries, such as energy-intensive aluminum production with the world's lowest carbon footprint. The largest wind turbine park in Norway was completed here in 2010, with 55 turbines producing 443 GWh annually. Wind and water make Sunnhordland a net exporter of sustainable energy. Today, industry, fisheries, and aquaculture (salmon and halibut) constitute the most important sources of income, followed by agriculture, service industries, tourism, and public services. There's a lot of potential for developing the tourism industry in the region. Along with the new certification as a Sustainable Destination, the Geopark Sunnhordland UNESCO Global Geopark aims to increase knowledge about our geological heritage and develop sustainable geotourism.