Norway's "Blue City"
ABOVE: Bjørn Elvenes, the artist who
conceived the "Blue City" project, brushes paint onto a building in
Sortland, Norway. INSET: A newly painted building of the Ellingsen Docks in the
old harbor. (Photos: Virtual Sortland.)
How do you react when Lonely
Planet: Norway describes your city as "a modern and rather
unappealing town" that "has little to offer but an overnight stop or a
petrol station to help you move on"? And what do you say when a Rough
Guide author writes, "The only reason to visit...is to change your
If you're a native of Sortland, in Norway's Vesterålen region, you don't
waste time writing nasty letters to the guidebook publishers--instead, you use 50,000
litres of paint to create "The Blue City" of the North.
inspiration for The Blue City came from Bjørn
Elvenes (see photo), whose concept led to the formation of a private
steering committee in 1998. Elvenes, a local artist, had chosen blue as a symbol
of Sortland's maritime and fishing heritage. His idea was to paint all 17 blocks
of the inner city in various shades of blue, with judicious use of contrasting
colors to create a distinct identity and three-dimensional presence for each
building within an overall design motif.
The first buildings--mainly storehouses along the waterfront--were painted in
summer of 1999, and the project has continued over several years.
Why visit Sortland?
One obvious reason for visiting Sortland is the chance to see how the city's
downtown has been transformed with paint rollers and paint brushes. Sortland is
also a handy spot for cod fishermen, who can cast their lines from Norway's
13th-longest bridge. Hikers are invited to walk up the nearby Steiroheia
mountain for views of the coastal scenery and the Northern Lights, and budget
travelers can catch buses to towns throughout the region.
How to get there
Norway's popular Norwegian Coastal Voyage (Hurtigruten) ferries
call at Sortland, making it easy for tourists to stop off and enjoy a day or a
night in The Blue City while cruising the North Cape. See my NCV link on page 2.
Photos courtesy of Virtual
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