Haakon’s Hall

Norway Bergen Attractions - Haakon's Hall
Norway Bergen Attractions - Haakon's Hall

Written by Professor Knut Helle, University of Bergen.

Haakon’s Hall in the center of Bergen has taken its name from its first builder, King Håkon Håkonsson, and was erected between 1247 and 1261. In the latter year it was in use as “The Stone Hall” at the wedding and coronation of King Magnus Lagabøte (the Lawmender), Håkon’s son and co-ruler. The hall was the largest and most imposing building in the royal residence at “Holmen” (the holm), the political centre of the 13th-century Norwegian kingdom. It was obviously built for the great occasions in the history of the monarchy and the realm, but also for practical daily use.

From the late Middle Ages onwards, Norway was without a resident monarchy, and the original functions of the hall lapsed. At about 1520 it was used for storage purposes. It was allowed to stand roofless during part of the 17th century, but sometime around 1680 it was refitted as the storehouse of Bergenhus Castle. It was precisely this storage function which allowed it to survive under various roof-forms, until, about 1840, it was rediscovered for what it had originally been.

The Haakon’s Hall was restored in 1880-95 and richly decorated in 1910-16. In 1944 a German ammunition ship exploded in the harbor just below. The Hall caught fire, and was so damaged that only the walls remained. The present internal equipment of the building is the result of the following restoration. The walls are standing much as they stood after the restoration of 1880-95, but the stonework has been relieved of plaster. The Hall is again in ceremonial use on important occasions, and is also used for concerts.

With its base of 37 x 16,4 m and its three floors, the Hall is the largest secular medieval building still standing in Norway. It was built of local stone, and the corners, window and door casings were of worked soapstone. Its closest parallels were probably contemporary Gothic stone halls in England.

The Haakon’s Hall original main entrance was obviously through the upper doorway in the south gable end, leading into the great hall. Access to this entrance was apparently gained by way of external wooden galleries and staircases. Today a new, covered staircase, used as the royal entrance, leads up from the palace yard. The public entrance is through a side building and further up to a new opening in the east wall of the great hall. From this passage one may also descend to the two lower floors of the Hall, each divided into three rooms.

We start by walking all the way down to the basement. In the two northern rooms the bedrock juts out, and the narrow slit windows strengthen the assumption that this floor was originally used for the storage of provisions.

With its comparatively large windows and ample space, the middle storey was well suited to be a living and working area in the daily work of government. Today the middle room has been replaced by a gallery which covers only part of the original floor. From here we are impressed by the solid stone vaults which were erected as a fireproof foundation for the floor of the great hall after a fire in 1266. The original floor of the great hall rested on timber joists and girders carried by corbels in the wall and square soapstone pillars. Remnants of the latter can still be seen at the foot of the pillars which were erected after the fire of 1266. The vaults reduced the headroom of the middle storey so much that the floor had to be lowered accordingly.

The corbels which carried the original floor are still visible a little above the gallery level in the middle room.

On the outside of the east wall of the Hall there are traces of an extension at the northern end, probably the private royal apartment. From here the king had access to the middle storey of the Hall through a passage within the north gable wall and probably also through a door in the east wall of the middle room.

We leave the middle storey through the door in the south gable end and ascend the stairs to the original main entrance. The late Gothic portal leading into the great hall was probably set into the south wall in the 15th century, and replaced an earlier portal.

Now the great hall comes into full view 33 m long, 13 m wide, and 17 m high to the ridge. The light flows in through the stately row of seven two-piece Gothic windows in the west wall and the large gable windows. Both the windows and the arcading behind the high table have been reconstructed from archaeological remains; the restoration of the west windows is quite certain. Much of the old stonework was preserved, almost to the top of the long walls. The gables, however, had largely to be reconstructed, since the Hall in its days as storehouse had a hipped roof. The external stepped gables were reconstructed on the basis of the oldest extant depiction of Bergen, the Scholeus print from c. 1580.

All the woodwork and the internal embellishment are our contemporary contributions to the Hall. But the roof is copied after the medieval roof truss of the church of Værnes in Nord-Trøndelag. The east wall is decorated by Sigrun Berg’s tapestry, “Primstaven” (the calendar stick), and the front of the high table by a tapestry of Synnøve Aurdal. The latter has also woven the tapestry on the musicians’ gallery, designed by Ludvig Eikaas.

Situated in the center of Bergen, next to the Rosenkrantz Tower, and in walking distance from the Fish Market.

Norwegian name: Haakonshallen.
Location: Center of Bergen.
Distance to Fish Market: 600 meters.
Address: Bergenhus
Telephone: +47 55 31 60 67.
Norway Bergen attractions - Haakon's Hall inside
Norway Bergen attractions – Haakon’s Hall inside