Explore the town that rose like a pastel-coloured phoenix from the ashes on this Alesund Art Nouveau walk.
Alesund, a fishing town and port on Norway’s west coast, has a distinctive architectural style borne out of devastation. On a stormy night in January 1904, a devastating fire raged through the town, destroying 850 houses and leaving 10,000 people homeless. Mercifully, only one person perished. In just four years, a hectic reconstruction project replaced the charred wooden buildings with those built in an Art Nouveau style with a local folkloric twist. The result is a collection of stone and brick buildings with a myriad of turrets, spires and medieval ornamentation, including intertwined animal and human faces, dragons and elaborate flowers.
Let’s explore all these buildings, and more, on this Alesund Art Nouveau walk.
Climb the 418 steps to the top of Aksla Hill for a panoramic view
For a bird’s-eye view of Alesund, head first to the town’s park. Developed in 1885 and modelled on an English park landscape, Byparken curiously has a monkey puzzle tree amongst its copper beech trees. Pride of place is given to a large statue of Rollo, a Viking chieftain who was born in Alesund and established the dukedom in Normandy in 911
A hundred meters from Rollo, a set of 418 steps snake their way to the top of Aksla Hill. The number of steps is significant; each step represents a day, and the normal turnaround for a case sent to the City Hall in Alesund is 418 days. Before the steps’ renovation in 2015, the stairs were built mainly by Lego but visitors couldn’t stop themselves from taking home bits as souvenirs!
The views from the summit are well worth the climb. Alesund has a superb setting, built on three islands stretching into the sea, with the Sunnmore Alps as a backdrop. On a clear day, you can see right out to the coast and the islands beyond.
Explore Art Nouveau buildings along Kongens Gate
Leaving the park, walk back down the steep, cobbled streets towards the next stop on our Alesund Art Nouveau walk, Kongens Gate. This street has a rich concentration of Art Nouveau buildings, each one with individual flourishes. Take a look at #21, 25 and 28 for example. Number 21 is festooned with Norwegian dragons and the masts of #25 are inspired by Norway’s stave churches. But, stylistically, number 28 screams central European Art Nouveau.
Further along Kongens Gate, look out for a set of 53 steps spiralling their way up to Lihaugatta. Just across the street, The Paper Boy, a sculpture donated by the newspaper Sunnmorsposten in 1998, makes his final delivery.
Wander along Alesundet
At the end of Kongens Gate, turn right and follow St Olavs Pass, walking south along Alesundet, the narrow stretch of water that separates two of the town’s islands, until you reach the Hellbroa. This bridge is a great spot to capture images of Alesund’s pastel-painted buildings reflected in the water.
Just over the bridge, take a peek at the two sculptures in front of you. The first is The Boy Fisherman, symbolising all the optimism of youth and hope for the future. Adjacent to it is The Herring Wife, a tribute to those women who worked at salting herring, which was one of the town’s main industries.
Visit the old town pharmacy
Across the street from these statues, with its striking tower, Apotekergata 16 is one of Alesund’s signature Art Nouveau buildings. Built as chemist’s shop and private residence, it was later restored externally but only partially restored internally. Consequently, the chemist’s shop area remains intact. As a registered pharmacist, it held a particular
nerdy appeal for me!
The pharmacy only shut for business in 2001 and the building now houses Alesund’s Art Nouveau centre, which you can visit in exchange for NOK 85 (£8) of your hard-earned cash.
Wonder at the wooden buildings of Molovegen
Continuing north along Apotekergata, pass the fortress-type buildings at #6 and #8 and then turn left into Molovegen. In a few minutes, you will reach the entrance to Alesund’s harbour. The Molovegen is home to the handful of wooden houses that survived the 1904 fire and gives us a glimpse of what Alesund would have looked like until the start of the 20th Century. Don’t miss taking a short stroll along the mole, the harbour breakwater, for great views back to Molovegen. If you have time, you could visit the Fisheries Museum at Molovegen 10 (NOK 60; £6).
Visit the spiritual centre of Alesund
Retrace your steps on Molovegen and then turn into Ovregata to reach Kirkegata. At the end of this street, you will reach the town’s handsome stone church, the last stop on my Alesund Art Nouveau walk. Consecrated in 1909, Alesund Kirke is built in an imposing Norman style and is renowned for its frescoes and stained glass windows. Well worth a peek inside but note that opening times are limited; 10 am – 2 pm, Tues – Sat.
Now retrace your steps to the town centre for a refreshing Norwegian beer or a more potent Aquavit. You deserve it!
The practical stuff
- I visited Alesund as part of a 7-day cruise from Southampton, England on P&O Britannia. This cost £1300 for sole occupancy of a balcony cabin.
- This walk is based on a guide available from the exceptionally friendly Tourist Information Centre at Skateflukala for the princely sum of NOK 30 (£3). They also offer seasonal guided walking tours. Check the website for further details.
- This walk is around 5km in length. Allow at least two hours. Interactive map here.
- The 418 steps to the summit of Aksla Hill notwithstanding, Alesund has lots of steep cobbled streets. Leave the stilettos in your suitcase. And that’s just for the gentlemen.
Have you visited any other great Art Nouveau towns or buildings? Where do you recommend?
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