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Norway's "Blue City"

Sortland Norway Bjørn Elvenes The 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 to change your bus"?

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. 

Ellingsenbrygga old harbor harbour Sortland Norway Hirtigruten coastal steamers Northern CapeThe 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.

Next page: Sortland links

The Blue City Sortland links

Photos courtesy of Virtual Sortland.