A brief history of Hammerfest

The history of Hammerfest began in 1620. That year, a church was founded and Hammerfest became a Tingsted, a place where people from the area would gather to discuss matters and administer justice. At the time Hammerfest had only a few dozen of inhabitants.

On the 17th of July 1789 the King of Denmark and Norway gave Hammerfest town rights. This makes Hammerfest the oldest town in Northern Norway, together with Vardø, and the northernmost town in the world as well. The country allied itself with France during the Napoleontic wars. This led to an English attack on Hammerfest in 1809 and the looting of the town.

With the advent of peace Hammerfest embarked on a period of growth. The export of fish and of oil won from walruses, seals and whales boomed. Exports went not just to Western Europe, but also to the East. Russian traders from the East, known as Pomors, became so important for Hammerfest and for the whole of Northern Norway that this era is known as the Russian Times.

A devastating town fire in 1890 destroyed much of Hammerfest. Yet the destruction led to renewal, as the inhabitants set to rebuilding the town better than before. In 1891, Hammerfest became the first town in Northern Europe and one of the first in the world to have electrical street lighting. Another addition was the construction of the Gammelveien, a gorgeous trail around Mount Salen which is beloved by hikers and joggers until this day.


In 1940 Nazi Germany occupied Norway. Fierce fighting followed between the Germans and the Russians along the border between Norway and the Soviet-Union near Kirkenes. Northern Norway was almost completely destroyed in the last year of WWII. In Hammerfest, only the old chapel on the graveyard survived the devastation.


After the war the people of Hammerfest rebuilt the town. Reconstruction era architecture can still be found in many places. The consecration of the new church in 1961 became the symbolic capstone of reconstruction. Fishing and fish processing boomed and the population grew steadily. The Findus fish factory was a household name.

In the 1980s a new era began: oil and gas. Hammerfest became a supply base for exploration and exploitation of oil and gas on the Barents sea. In 2007 the liquefied natural gas plant (LNG) opened on the island Melkøya.

Hammerfest, a town with a long history … looking forward to the future!

Find out more about the history of Hammerfest in the Museum of Reconstruction or The Polar Bear Society.