Tønsberg kommune
Coat of arms of Tønsberg kommune
Coat of arms
Official logo of Tønsberg kommune
Vestfold within
Tønsberg within Vestfold
Tønsberg within Vestfold
Coordinates: 59°17′53″N 10°25′25″E / 59.29806°N 10.42361°E / 59.29806; 10.42361Coordinates: 59°17′53″N 10°25′25″E / 59.29806°N 10.42361°E / 59.29806; 10.42361
DistrictViken, Norway
Administrative centreTønsberg
 • Mayor (2009)Petter Berg (H)
 • Total107 km2 (41 sq mi)
 • Land106 km2 (41 sq mi)
Area rank#381 in Norway
 • Total41,486
 • Rank#21 in Norway
 • Density367/km2 (950/sq mi)
 • Change (10 years)
Time zoneUTC+01:00 (CET)
 • Summer (DST)UTC+02:00 (CEST)
ISO 3166 codeNO-0704
Official language formBokmål

Tønsberg [²tœnsbær] (About this soundlisten) is a city and municipality in Vestfold county, southern Norway, located around 102 kilometres (63 miles) south-southwest of Oslo on the western coast of the Oslofjord near its mouth onto the Skagerrak. The administrative centre of the municipality is the town of Tønsberg. The municipality has a population of 41,239 and covers an area of 107 square kilometres (41 square miles).

Tønsberg is generally regarded as the oldest town in Norway, founded by Vikings in the 9th century.[2][3][4] Tønsberg was established as a municipality on 1 January 1838 (see formannskapsdistrikt). The rural municipality of Sem was merged into the municipality of Tønsberg on 1 January 1988. Neighboring municipality of Re will be merged into Tønsberg on or before 1 January 2020.[5]

It is home to Tønsberg Fortress on Castle Mountain, which includes ruins from Castrum Tunsbergis, Norway’s largest castle in the 13th century. An outdoor music festival is held at Tønsberg Fortress every July.[6][7][8] Tønsberg is also home of Oseberg Mound, where the 9th century Oseberg Ship was excavated.

General information[]


The Old Norse form of the name was Túnsberg. The first element is the genitive case of tún (n), meaning fenced area or garden. The last element is berg (n), meaning mountain. The name originally referred to the fortifications on Slottsfjellet. The old spelling has been retained in the name of the diocese, Tunsberg bispedømme.

Coat of arms[]

The coat of arms is an old city seal from as far back as 1349. The seal shows Tønsberg Fortress surrounded by a ring wall on a mountain with the sea in front. There is also a longship in the water in front of the fortress. Around the seal are the words (in Latin): This is the seal of Tunsberg.[9]


Viking Age[]

Tønsberg is the oldest city in Norway,[10][11][12][13] founded by Harald Fairhair in the 9th century.[14] It was also an ancient capital of Norway.[15] The first time the town was mentioned by a contemporary writer was in 1130. According to Snorri Sturluson, Tønsberg was founded before the Battle of Hafrsfjord, which, according to Snorri, took place in 871. What year the battle took place is disputed, however, and most current historians believe the battle took place closer to 900. However, if the battle did in fact take place in 871, this would make Tønsberg one of the oldest present Scandinavian city. It was based upon this that the city's 1000 years jubilee was celebrated in 1871, and 1100 years jubilee in 1971. The archaeological excavations conducted in 1987–88 underneath the monastery ruins revealed several Viking graves which have served to confirm the earlier age of the original settlement.[16]

The king or his ombudsman resided in the old Royal Court at Sæheimr, today the Jarlsberg Manor (Jarlsberg Hovedgård), and on the farm Haugar, (from the Old Norse word haugr meaning hill or burial mound), which can be assumed to have been Tønsberg's birthplace. Haugar became the seat for the Haugating, the Thing for Vestfold and Norway's second most important place for the proclamation of kings. The site had probably been named after two Viking Era mounds, which tradition links to two sons of King Harald I, Olaf Haraldsson Geirstadalf, who was king in Vestfold, and his half-brother, Sigrød Haraldsson, king of Trondheim. Both are presumed to have fallen in battle at Haugar against their half-brother Eric Bloodaxe and to have been buried on the same spot.[17]

Slottsfjellet (Castle Mountain), north of the city centre, made for a near impregnable natural fortress. During the civil war era of the 12th century, it was fortified by the Baglers. The Birkebeiners besieged it for 20 weeks in the winter of 1201 before the Baglers surrendered. In the 13th century, King Haakon Haakonson set up a castle in Tønsberg, Tønsberg Fortress. The town was destroyed by fire in 1536, but Tønsberg remained one of the most important harbour towns in Norway.[18]

Whaling Epoch[]

Whale-catchers in Tønsberg, 1952.
Widerøe aerial photography of town, July 1958.

The center of the world’s modern whaling industry was concentrated in Tønsberg and neighboring Sandefjord.[19] Tønsberg along with neighboring Sandefjord and Larvik were dominant whaling towns in Norway. While whalers from Sandefjord established the first whaling station in the Faroe Islands, whalers from Tønsberg initiated whaling in Iceland and the Hebrides.[20]

During the 1850s, Tønsberg turned into a base of operation and source of expertise for whalers in the Arctic- and Antarctic Oceans.[21] Tønsberg has been called “the cradle of modern whaling.[22] In the 1892 publication “Handbook for Travellers in Norway” by John Murray, Tønsberg is described as “the centre of the Norwegian whaling and sealing industries in the Arctic Ocean.”[23]

The first whaling ventures to Antarctica was led by engineer Henrik Henriksen of Tønsberg.[24] Henrik Johan Bull was another famous whaler from the district, famous for his expions to Antarctica. Bull traveled from Australia to Tønsberg in order to learn from local whaler Svend Foyn, who is recognized as the pioneer of the modern whaling industry.[25]

One of the city’s most prominent residents, Svend Foyn, was a pioneer who embarked on an 1847 expion to the Arctic, which led to a catch of 6,000 seals. Soon Tønsberg Harbor was home to a large fleet of sealing vessels, and the sealing industry grew further after the 1849 repeal of Britain’s Navigation Acts. The hunters turned the seals to near extinction in the Arctic Ocean, and therefore turned to Bottle-nosed whales during the 1870s. Norway maintained a monopoly on European whaling until 1883, first and foremost due to Svend Foyn’s patent rights to whaling techniques and inventions. Over-hunting in the Arctic eventually drove the whalers to Antarctica. By the beginning of the 20th century, Tønsberg had lost its preeminence in the whaling industry to the neighboring city of Sandefjord.[26][27] Sandefjord, which lies just south of Tønsberg, later became known as the world’s whaling capital.[28][29][30]

World War II[]

During the German occupation of Norway in World War II, the Berg concentration camp was constructed near Tønsberg. In 1948, Tønsberg became the cathedral city of the Diocese of Tunsberg (Tunsberg bispedømme), created when the counties of Buskerud and Vestfold were separated from the Diocese of Oslo.


Tønsberg Wharf in city centre.

Tønsberg is a city and municipality in Vestfold County, on the western shore of the Oslofjord. Tønsberg lies north of Færder, south of Horten, and north-east of Sandefjord. It is the ninth-largest city in Norway (by population). The city center lies just north from Nøtterøy Island. Besides Tønsberg proper, the municipality is also home to the villages of Barkåker and Sem. The village of Åsgårdstrand is partly in Tønsberg, although most of the village is in Horten municipality.[31]

Tønsberg Station is 5–10 minutes walking from the main square in the city centre, known as Torvet. From the main square is a few hundred meters along Rådhusgaten to the waterfront Tønsberg Wharf ("Tønsberg Brygge"), where most cafes, bars and restaurants are located. Just south of Tønsberg are the islands of Nøtterøy and Tjøme, which are popular tourist destinations.[32]

The highest point in Tønsberg is Undrumsåsen at 145 meters (476 ft.). The villages of Vear and Hognes/Bjelland were merged into Tønsberg on January 1, 2017. The neighboring municipality of Re will be merged into Tønsberg on or before January 1, 2020.[33]

Nature preserves[]

Tønsberg is home to five nature preserves:[34]

Presterødkilen Nature Preserve.

It is also a plant preserve at Karlsvika where the goal is the preservation of the threatened species Fineleaf Waterdropwort (Oenanthe aquatica), a rare species of the Water dropwort in Norway.[35]


Historical population
Source: Statistics Norway. Note: The municipality of Sem, Norway was merged with Tønsberg 1 January 1988.

Tønsberg proper plus the nearby urban area makes Tønsberg the 9th most populous city in Norway, and the second-most populous city in Vestold County (after Sandefjord). City of Tønsberg is home to 51,061 residents as of 2016, whereas 17,073 residents were living on the Nøtterøy side of the border. Smaller communities in the municipality includes the villages of Barkåker (2016 pop. 1,696) and Sem (2,392). Åsgårdstrand on the Horten border lies in-between Horten- and Tønsberg municipalities. The village of Åsgårdstrand therefore has 176 residents living on the Tønsberg side of the border, despite a large majority of village residents residing in nearby Horten municipality. The city experienced a 20.8% population growth between 2000–15, compared to 14.0% for Vestfold County as a whole. Furthermore, Tønsberg Municipality has the highest urbanization rate in Vestfold. While 94.6 percent of residents in Tønsberg Municipality are residing in cities, the equivalent number for Vestfold County is 84.8 percent.[36]

As of 2018, the largest minority groups were Lithuanians (1.11%), Polish (1.68%), Iraqis (1.06%), Swedes (0.75%), and Syrians (0.64%).[37]

Population stats[]

On 1 January 2009, the population of Tønsberg municipality was 38,914.[38] The population of the urban area, Norway's tenth most populous, was 46,091. 30,061 lived in Tønsberg municipality, while 16,030 lived in Nøtterøy municipality. The urban area extends from Eik in the north, to Tolvsrød, Vallø and Ringshaug in the east and Borgheim on Nøtterøy in the south. Tønsberg municipality contains four additional urban areas: Sem, with 2,147 inhabitants of which 2,100 live in Tønsberg and 47 live in Stokke; Barkåker, with 1,292 inhabitants; Åsgårdstrand, with 2,847 inhabitants of which 2,794 in Horten and 53 in Tønsberg; and Vear, with a population of 3,502 of which 2,263 live in Stokke and 1,239 live in Tønsberg.[39]


FK Tønsberg is the premier football team in Tønsberg, currently playing in the 2. Divisjon as of 2017. Tønsberg Vikings is the local hockey team. The club played in the GET-ligaen until 2014.

Tourist sites[]

Ruins of St. Olav's Church.

Perhaps the most important landmark in the town is Slottsfjellet, the tower standing on the hill. It was erected in 1888 as a memorial to Tønsberg Fortress (Tunsberg festning), the old fortress, of which just fragmentary ruins remain today. Below the mountain there is a museum dedicated to "Slottsfjellet" and Tønsberg. There are several exhibitions here about whaling and the fortress, Tønsberg Fortress. Several streets in the town are named after old kings of Norway.[40]

Ruins of St Michael's Church.

Other notable tourist sites include:

Oseberg Mound[]

Oseberghaugen, the Oseberg burial mound from early Viking era.

Tønsberg is the site of Oseberg Mound, a Viking era burial mound. The Oseberg Ship was found in the Oseberg burial mound in 1904. This Viking era longship is now in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo. Archaeological excavations in 1904 uncovered history's largest and richest example of craftsmanship from the Viking Age. In addition to the Oseberg Ship, Oseberghaugen contained the Oseberg carriage, five beautifully carved bed-posts shaped like animal heads, four sledges, beds, chests, weaving-frames, household utensils and much more. Scientific examinations in 1992 now date the burial to 834 AD, and indicate a probability that it was Queen Alvhild, the first wife of King Gudrød, who was buried here.[46]

When unearthed, the ship was buried in blue clay and covered with stones beneath the 6-meter high Oseberg Mound.[47]


Øvre Langgate street (Tønsberg)

Tønsberg is mostly a shopping town and an administrative centre. It is also noted especially for its silverware. The city is served by the railway line Vestfoldbanen, which runs in a loop through the city before reaching Tønsberg Station.

Notable residents[]

Lene Nystrøm, the main vocalist in Aqua, is from Tønsberg.

Popular culture[]

Tønsberg has been featured as a location in several films:[48]


Twin towns – sister cities[]

The following cities are twinned with Tønsberg:[49]


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External links[]