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History of Tromso

Tromso_PanoramaThe history of Tromso and the areas around go all the way back to the ice age. Through the decades the town has grown rapidly, but many places you can still experience the city's foregone years and varied history.

The early years

People have been living in the Tromso region since the end of the ice age. Way back then it was the Sami people that first braved the arctic, settling down in the fjords. In those first years the Samis pretty much had the area to themselves, fishing and living off the lands as the ice melted away.

Around AD890 the Vikings came to the area. Remnants of settlements from the Iron Age have been found on the South-Western side of Kvaloya and also on the Tromso island itself.

Tromso likes to front everything which it has ‘the northernmost’ of. This goes all the way back to the 13th century, when the northernmost church in the world was built in the city. The church was the Sanctae Mariae de Trums juxta paganos ("The Church of Saint Mary in Troms near the Heathens") and was built in 1252. The church does not exist today, but in the Elverhoy church on the island you can see a wooden Madonna which most likely featured in this very first church.


Around the same time as the church was built, the islanders felt the need to build a turf rampart, to protect the inhabitants from raids from Russia and Karelia. This rampart, called Skansen, today hosts the oldest house in Tromso, Tollbua (in English – the Tull-house). Tollbua was built in 1789, as the trade monopoly in Bergen ceased to exist. This meant that people in Northern-Norway could trade with anyone, and Tromso as a trade hub was born.

Becoming a city

In 1794 Tromso was awarded city status. The fact that there were only about 80 people living in the city didn’t seem to curb people’s urban aspirations. In the 1800’s Tromso got the nickname ‘Paris of the North’.

It might be hard to believe as you wander among the Gore-Tex-clad people of Tromso on a late Saturday night today, but 200 years ago, visitors were surprised to find such a fashionable, well spoken and cultural little place.

FiskebaaterGateway to the Arctic

During the Napoleonic wars, times were hard in Tromso, as in the rest of Norway. In 1812 the English attacked the city. In the battle at Poelsehavna (in English: Battle at the Sausage Port) the Danish-Norwegian troops held their ground, and put the Brits off attempting to enter the city. It was during these times Tromso grew to become the “Gateway to the Arctic”. The Pomor-trade with Russia became increasingly important, and the trade in fish, seal and whale products from the Arctic Ocean reached from Arkhangelsk in the North to Bordeaux in the South.

Tromso’s growing expertise in arctic hunting and arctic weather conditions also meant that the city became a natural starting point for Arctic explorers. Roald Amundsen, Umberto Nobile and Fritjof Nansen all spent time in Tromso, and Amundsen’s expedition to the North Pole in 1926 set off from Tromso.

FInd northern lights holidays.

Tromso during the war

Tromso acted as the capital of the free Norway for three weeks following the occupation of Oslo and the South in April and May 1940. The government and the royal family all fled to Tromso at the outbreak of the war, and stayed there until the English cruiser “Devonshire” took them across to England on the 7th June 1940.

The occupation of Tromso was more or less peaceful, and the city itself escaped any major damage during the war. The German battleship “Tirpitz” was sunk in Haakoeybotn outside Tromso on the 12th November 1944, killing over 1,000 German soldiers. Large parts of the ship still lie at the bottom of the sea outside Tromso, and are even visible on Google Earth 69°38′50″N 18°48′30″E .