Early inhabitantsThe earliest traces of human civilisation found around Vardø go back six or seven thousand years. Those settlements were based around a hunter gatherer lifestyle. Archeological findings suggest that there has been a stable settlement in Vardø for around three thousand years and the first people to arrive were Samis, the natives of Norway. Vardø became one of the administrative centres of the North of Norway when the first fortress and church were established, back in the thirteen hundreds.
Fortress and witch huntsThe first fortress was built in order to more clearly define the eastern borders of Norway, as the borders between Norway and Russia were unclear. The fortress also played an important role during the witchcraft trials in Finmark, where 91 people lost their lives on the pire between 1620 and 1680, after being accused of witchcraft or being in league with the devil. Those executions had negative consequences for the inhabitants in what was a large but sparcely populated area of Finmark.
Fisheries and tradeThe proximity to the rich fishing waters of the Barents Sea laid the foundations for a period of prosperity in Vardø. The trade with the Russian Pomors during the seventeen and eighteen hundreds was based on an exchange of Norwegian fish for Russian grain, and marked the start of Vardø’s boom years. By 1886 fishing exports constituted more than half of all Norwegian exports with Vardø making the largest contribution.
War and reconstructionThe proximity to Russia played a role in the German war campaign in Vardø. The Kiberg – Vardø region was a cornerstone of the German defence strategy and defence of the supply lines to the northern front. On August 23rd 1944, the entire Medtbyen precinct was in flames and only 135 buildings were left standing.
Medtbyen was rebuilt in the post war years and the architecture in Vardø is generally influenced by that reconstructive style. The city also enjoyed a modernisation of the fishing industry and expansion of the residential areas. The parliament decreed that the city should be rebuilt on the island, against the wishes of the people who wanted it moved to the mainland.
DownturnDuring the 1980s, the waters around Vardø were hit by a seal invasion, tighter regulation of fishing quotas and a collapse of the fishing industries and an all-encompassing downsizing of public sector activity. The population of Vardø was reduced by half in the period 1980 – 2010 because of unemployment, a general exodus and pessimism. This let to a decay of the buildings and infrastructure, bad morale among the inhabitants and a generally negative reputation for Vardø.
Despite the ups and downs, people in Vardø have generally stood by and supported their city. The cultural life has flourished and a broad spectrum of festivals and cultural events has emerged. This has led to a feeling of greater optimism and well-being.
Tourism and in particular bird watching are becoming more popular, which is helping the local gastronomy, attractions and accommodation providers.
Hundreds of new jobs have been created in Vardø in recent times and this has greatly strengthened the local economy. The municipality has chosen to build a new school, new kindergarten and a new local multipurpose cultural centre in the heart of the city. These all equip Vardø with a solid infrastructure for education, cultural life and youth activities.