"A Fish for a Shot" - Lofoten History

The start of the biggest "city" of Lofoten - Svinøya.

2019-04-2914:10 Vegeir

The biggest town in Lofoten is home to 4720 people. Still the town has an urban feel, with restaurants, activity providers and a lively harbour. The “downtown” of Svolvær has moved and changed quite a bit in the towns 191 years history. In 1828 Gunnar Berg aquired half of Svolvær from his brother in law, Lars Thodal Walnum. The price was 3000 “specidaler” (currency at the time, equals approx. NOK 12000). At this time Svolvær, with close to 60 inhabitants, was one of the larger fishing villages in Lofoten. He immediately started to build his main house and wharfs, and 25th of January 1831 he got a license to work as an innkeeper and a merchant. After the opening of Krambua (the first shop in town) at Svinøya, the town centre moved from «Øvreværet» (below Svolværgeita) to Svinøya. People started to settle on the islands around, and Krambua in Svinøya became the natural centrum.

The main house later got the name Gammelgården (The old house) and was a private home up to 2018. Today it`s called The Landowner`s Residence and is rented for accommodation and private dinners through Svinøya Rorbuer. The old trade wharf across the street is today the restaurant Børsen Spiseri, and the reception of Svinøya Rorbuer is at “Krambua”, the old shop. A visit to Krambua takes you 100 years back in time. Here you can see old merchandise and advertising posters from the days when filtered cigarettes where good for you. In the connected restaurant, Børsen Spiseri, you can taste many variations of the local specialty Stockfish from Lofoten. At Børsen Spiseri they like to call it “untravelled food”.

In 1850 merchant Berg got the license to sell liquor. The license was valid only in the periods from 1st February to 30th April (winter fisheries for arctic cod – Lofoten fisheries) and from 15th June to 15th July (when the stockfish was taken down from the racks). For the Lofoten fisheries a «liquor-binge» was installed in Krambua. A dedicated clerk was manning the liquor station. The payment for a shot of liquor was one fish, and the clerk threw the «liquor-fish» in the binge. At the most it could be 1200 fish in the binge after one day.

In 1860 Gunnar Berg maintained 81 rorbu cabins, which could accommodate a total of 1200 fishermen. When John Berg in 1993 started to renovate many of these rorbu cabins were in very bad repair. His purpose was to rent the rorbu cabins to visiting tourists. The first summer 3 rorbu cabins were ready, and John Berg continued his work to renovate old cabins. He even built several new ones. May 23rd 1995 he was proud to officially open Svinøya Rorbuer with 13 rorbu cabins (46 beds) and restaurant Børsen Spiseri with 70 seats.

Today it`s 50 rorbu cabins to house 220 persons in Svinøya, restaurant to seat up to 190 persons, conference facilities for up to 150 persons in the Gunnar Berg gallery, yoga center, fish landing station and more. A wide selection of activities such as; sea eagle safari, fishing, snowshoe hike, skiing, mountain hikes, northern light tours, photo tours, fishing village walk, are available for both residents and visitors. Many of these rorbu cabins are from Gunnar Berg`s era. They have been renovated several times to meet the demands of comfort and needs of today.

Svinøya is, now as then, a vibrant fishing village in the town of Svolvær.

 

Svinøya i dag