On the western side of the main harbour is the city’s star turn, Gamle Stavanger. Though very different in appearance from the modern structures back in the centre, the buildings here were also the product of a boom. From 1810 until around 1870, herring turned up just offshore in their millions, and Stavanger took advantage of this slice of luck. The town flourished and expanded, with the number of merchants and shipowners increasing dramatically. Huge profits were made from the exported fish, which were salted and later, as the technology improved, canned. Today, some of the wooden stores and warehouses flanking the western quayside hint at their nineteenth-century pedigree, but it’s the succession of narrow, cobbled lanes behind them – along and around Øvre Strandgate – that shows Gamle Stavanger to best advantage. Formerly home to local seafarers, craftsmen and cannery workers, the area has been maintained as a residential quarter, mercifully free of tourist tat: the long rows of white-painted, clapboard houses are immaculately maintained, complete with picket fences and tiny terraced gardens. There’s little architectural pretension, but here and there flashes of fancy wooden scrollwork must once have had the curtains twitching among the staunchly Lutheran population.
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