The name Aurland
The name Aurland is believed to derive from the Old Norse words aurr (which means "gravel") plus land (which means "land" or "district").
Aurland lies 200 kilometres (120 miles) from the west coast of Norway in the south-eastern part of the county Sogn og Fjordane, along the Aurlandsfjord and the Nærøyfjord. These are fingers of the world's longest and deepest fjord, the Sognefjord.
In 2005, the Nærøyfjord was entered as part of the site The West Norwegian Fjord landscape on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Aurland is bordered by two municipalities in Sogn og Fjordane county, Lærdal to the north-east and Vik to the west, two municipalities in hordaland county, Voss to the south-west and Ulvik to the south and one municipality in Buskerud county, Hol to the south-east.
Most of the area is composed of fjords and mountains with small populated areas concentrated in the lower river valleys at Aurland, Nærøy, Undredal, Flåm and Vassbygdi.
Wild and beautiful nature dominate the community from the fjords to mountaintops that are 1,200 to 1,800 metres (3,900 to 5,900 ft) above sea level. There are two permanent glaciers in Aurland: Storskavlen and Blåskavlen
The earliest inhabitants lived by hunting and fishing until they gradually started farming about 2,000 years ago. Agriculture is still important with the rich valley floors and abundant mountain pastures. As in all of Western Norway, the area was overpopulated in the middle 19th century, and cotters were forced to clear land far up the mountainsides. This difficulty led to emigration, and in the 20 year period after 1845, 1,050 people moved out of the community—most of them moving to, America, with hopes and dreams of a better life in “the promised land”.
Tourism came to the community as early as the middle of the 19th century, in the form of sport fishing and hunting. Tourists from England were dominant during this time and one can still find English names for mountaintops, hunting cabins, and fishing holes.
Later, a different type of tourist came to the region. These tourists came to enjoy the natural beauty of the area. These tourists created a need for jobs in the form of transportation and lodging. Three or four ships would anchor in the Nærøyfjord at a time which created the need for scores of horse drawn carriages to take the tourists up to Stalheim hotel.
Aurland has a typical inland climate with mild winters at the lower levels, early springs, and warm summers. A yearly average of 470 millimetres (19 inches) of precipitation make Aurland one of the driest areas in Norway. In comparison, Bergen receives 2,500 millimetres (98 inches) of precipitation per year.
Aurland has rich and varied flora, which is more typical of eastern rather than western Norway. The mountain plant life is especially rich since the bedrock contains calcium rich deposits of phyllite.
The oldest bedrock in Aurland is the Precambrian rock which thrusts through younger layers in the north-eastern part of the municipality. Above the bedrock we find, in varying thickness, a layer of phyllite. The third layer is massive out-thrust rocks, called Jotundekket. The rocks in this covering are magmatic, formed a little below the Earth's crust.
Part of the scenery took its shape 9,000 years ago, at the end of the ice age. The ice's advance was either halted or continued, according to the climatic conditions, and moraine ridges and gravel terraces were deposited along the glacier front. They are still visible today south of the Flåm church.
On the western side of the Aurlandsfjord, there is rock that was pushed up into mountain ranges several million years ago. The fjord itself was gouged out of an earlier valley. Aurlandsvangen is typical of the lower areas, lying on an old river delta—the land is very flat and fertile. The mountainsides are steep causing frequent rock slides and avalanches.
The Aurlandsdalen valley is a well known hiking trail in Norway with its fabulous nature and contrasting countryside. The valley is rich in history and packed with culture. One can take the hike in serveral stages: From Geiteryggen where the path starts, it is a four hour hike to Setinbergdalen. This beatiful mountain lodge oppened in 1895, but is unfortunately closed for the time being, so you will have to walk for another three hours to Østerbo turisthytte or Østerbø fjellstove. In the upper part of the trail, there are beautiful views of mountain peaks, snow glaciers, and lakes, and if you are quite lucky, toy can catch a glimpse of wild raindeer.
Further the trail leads down the narrow and wild Aurlandsdalen, «the valley over all valleys», which is one of Norways most popular and mentioned hiking routes. Here you walk in a genuine culture landscape, where the trail follows old horse tracks and partially is placed on carved out shelves in the mountain side, past abandoned farms and settlements, the most famous being Sinjarheim.
The route from Aurland to Hol has been the shortest connection between western and eastern Norway since prehistoric times. Thus the valley has been an important connection line for commercial journeys and cattle drives through and along the valley and over the surrounding mountain highlands.
The Flåm Railway is a masterpiece in engineering which is one of the most exciting railway journeys in the world. This journey from Flåm to Myrdal is twelve miles long (19 km), a descent of 866 metres (2,841 ft). It has 20 tunnels with a total length of almost 6 kilometres (3.7 mi). 80% of the Flåm railway has a gradient of 55%. To cope with the enormous change in height over such a short stretch, the track runs partly through tunnels which spiral in and out of the mountainside. The gradient is quite exceptional for a normal railway and the carriages are fitted with five different brake systems, any one of which is sufficient to stop the train.
The Undredal stave church is a simple, small one-nave (ship) church that was built around 1150. It is located in the village of Undredal. It is one of the oldest preserved stave churches in Norway.
The Vangen Church was built in 1202. The building was financed by a powerful family who lived in Aurland in the Viking Age and onwards. The church is built in the early Gothic style influenced by English architecture. A document written in 1714 tells us that the English merchants used to stay in Aurland during long periods to buy different articles and they are supposed to have taken part in the building of the church. Most likely they would have been the master builders.
In 1725, the Danish-Norwegian government was experiencing financial problems and King Frederick IV sold the church. The church remained as private property until the late 19th century. Then the municipality bought Vangen church back for 500 kroner.
At the last restoration in 1926, the original colors and designs were uncovered. Then the ceiling was taken away and the baldachin over the pulpit was brought back again. A new altarpiece was made. The Norwegian artist Emanuel Vigeland made the stained glass windows (two of the windows in the chancel illustrate the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and the one in the middle is Jesus Christ, the Savior).
Business and industry
Farming was traditionally the main source of income in Aurland, especially meat- and milk production. Though decreasing, farming is still important, but tourism plays an increasing role in Aurland, with the Flåm Railway line and Aurlandsdalen as the main attractions.
Large-scale hydropower production started in Aurland in the late 1960ies, and the total production capacity from E-CO Energy’s plants today is 1274 MW.
Small scale producers of agricultural products in Aurland offer visitors a variety of experiences.
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