Norway, in northern Europe occupies the western half of the Scandinavian peninsula. Nearly half of the inhabitants of the country live in the far south, in the region around Oslo, the capital.
About two-thirds of Norway is mountainous, and off its much-indented coastline lie, carved by deep glacial fjords, some 50,000 islands.
The beautiful Norwegian Fjords
Indo-European peoples settled Norway’s coast some 6,000 years ago, establishing a permanent settlement near the present capital of Oslo. The interior was more sparsely settled, owing to extremes of climate and difficult terrain, and even today the country’s population is concentrated in coastal cities such as Bergen and Trondheim.
Dependent on fishing and farming, early Norwegians developed a seafaring tradition that would reach its apex in the Viking era, when Norse warriors regularly raided the British Isles, the coasts of western Europe, and even the interior of Russia; the Vikings also established colonies in Iceland and Greenland and explored the coast of North America more than a thousand years ago.
This great tradition of exploration by such explorers as Leif Erikkson and his father, Erik the Red, continued into modern times, exemplified by such men as Fridtjof Nansen, Roald Amundsen, and Thor Heyerdahl.
Weakened by plague and economic deterioration in the late Middle Ages and dominated by neighbouring Denmark and Sweden, Norwegians turned to trading in fish and lumber, and modern Norway, which gained its independence in 1905, emerged as a major maritime transporter of the world’s goods as well as a world leader in specialised shipbuilding.
In the 1970s the exploitation of offshore oil and natural gas became the major maritime industry, with Norway emerging in the 1990s as one of the world’s leading petroleum exporters.
The northern part of the country, particularly the rugged Finnmark Plateau, is home to the Sami (also called Lapps or Laplanders), a Uralic people whose origins are obscure.
Norway’s austere natural beauty has attracted visitors from all over the world. The country has also produced many important artists, among them composer Edvard Grieg, painter Edvard Munch, novelists Knut Hamsun and Sigrid Undset, and playwright Henrik Ibsen.