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Lofoten Islands, Norway

Introduction

The Lofoten Islands are somewhat isolated as they lie well into the Arctic Circle, but their natural beauty and authentic culture attract tourists every year. These islands, whose name means “lynx foot” in Old Norse, are very rocky and little vegetation grows. Despite this, a number of animals call the islands and surrounding waters home and due to the weather and geography some of this wildlife is quite unique, such as the deep water coral reef off the coast. Among the more common animals that call the islands home are eagles, puffins, otters, and moose.

This landscape and lack of plant life makes the rocky mountains even more beautiful, but the lack of vegetation also makes the islands sparsely populated as living conditions, especially in the winter months, can be difficult. Despite their northerly location, the islands are relatively warm as the average winter temperatures are above freezing. None-the-less, the long summer day and long winter nights can be difficult to get used to.

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History & Background

Despite the northern location of the Lofoten Islands, their weather has encouraged human settlement of the islands for thousands of years and by the Viking Age in the 700s there were fortifications in the town of Kabelvag.

Unlike their neighbors in the south, the people living on the Lofoten Islands didn’t get real involved in the Viking lifestyle, although Vikings did live on the islands. Instead the islands have been the center of the cod industry. Perhaps this is what initially drew the people to the islands as the cod tend to arrive in the largest numbers during the winter months.

As Hanseatic League power in Bergen grew in the 1200-1700s, so too did the wealth in the Lofoten Islands as dried cod was one of Norway’s largest exports at the time. Since Bergen had a monopoly on the trade from northern Norway during this time, nearly all of the cod caught in the islands was transported to Bergen for shipment elsewhere. As the Hanseatic League’s trade network expanded, demand for cod increased and so too did the wealth and power in the Lofoten Islands.

Despite the fall of the Hanseatic League, the waters surrounding the Lofoten Islands are still home to cod and the islands remain home to people focused on this industry. No matter the political climate elsewhere, the culture and lifestyle in the islands have remained on the cod industry. Today this is only slightly changing as tourism has grown, but the tourists generally arrive in the summer months and the cod arrive in greater numbers during the winter months. No matter the season, nearly everyone remains reliant on the seas to bring in fish or tourists year round.

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Lofoten Islands Today

The people in the Lofoten Islands are about as grounded as anyone can be. For hundreds of years the people have lived off the seas as fishermen and today that simple lifestyle continues. The islands are divided in numerous small settlements as cities are non-existent and each town is slightly unique. The people all seem to know each other or try to find a link and common last name when they encounter each other.

This simple lifestyle dominates the islands, but modern life, technology, and tourists have guaranteed the people on the Lofoten Islands are in touch with the outside world. Rock climbing, biking, and other sports are common and modern day technology is a great tool to keep in touch or to find the schools of fish in the nearby oceans. Despite this, there seems to remain a mystery and intrigue surrounding the islands by outsiders as authors and artists have distributed enough of the culture to spark curiosity, but not a full understanding.

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