Vestfold was located west of the Oslofjord, as the name indicates. It included many smaller, but well-known towns in Norway, such as Larvik, Sandefjord, Tønsberg and Horten; these towns run from Oslo in an almost constant belt of urban areas along the coast, ending in Grenland in neighbouring region Telemark. The river Numedalslågen runs through the county. Many islands are located at the coast. Vestfold is mostly dominated by lowland and is among the best agricultural areas of Norway. Winters last about three months, while pleasant summer temperatures last from May to September, with a July average high of 17 °C (63 °F).
Vestfold was traditionally known for shipping and sailing. Sandefjord was formerly a headquarters for the Norwegian whaling fleet, and Horten used to be an important naval port. The coastal towns of Vestfold now engage in fishing and shipbuilding. Some lumbering is carried on in the interior. The area also includes some of the best farmland in Norway. Vestfold was the only county in which all municipalities had declared Bokmål to be their sole official written form of the Norwegian language.
Vestfold is the old name of the region which was revived in modern times. Fold was the old name of the Oslofjord, and the meaning of the name Vestfold is the region west of the Fold (see also Østfold). Before 1919, the county was called Jarlsberg og Larvik Amt. The amt was created in 1821, consisting of the two old counties of Jarlsberg and Larvik. In the Viking age, Vestfold also referred to Eiker, Drammen, Kongsberg, Lier, now in Buskerud.
Vestfold is mentioned for the first time in a written source in 813, when Danish kings were in Vestfold to quell an uprising amongst the Fürsts. There may have been as many as six political centers in Vestfold. At that time Kaupang, which was located in Tjølling near Larvik, had been functioning for decades and had a chieftain. Kaupang, which dates from the Viking Era, is believed to be the first town in Norway, although Tønsberg (which dates from ca. 900) is the oldest town in Norway still in existence. At Borre, there was a site for another chieftain. That site held chieftains for more than one hundred years prior to 813.
An English source from around 890 retells the voyage of Ottar (Ottar fra Hålogaland) "from the farthest North, along Norvegr via Kaupang and Hedeby to England", where Ottar places Kaupang in the land of the Dane - danenes land. Bjørn Brandlien says that "To the degree that Harald Hårfagre gathered a kingdom after the Battle of Hafrsfjord at the end of the 9th century - that especially is connected to Avaldsnes - it does not seem to have made such a great impression on Ottar".
Kaupang is mentioned under the name of Skiringssal (Kaupangen i Skiringssal) in Ottar's tales.
By the 10th century, the local kings had established themselves. The king or his ombudsman resided in the old Royal Court at Sæheim i Sem, today the Jarlsberg Estate (Jarlsberg Hovedgård) in Tønsberg. The farm Haugar (from Old Norsehaugr meaning hill or mound) became the seat for Haugating, the Thing for Vestfold and one of Norway's most important place for the proclamation of kings.
The family of Harald Fairhair, who was most likely the first king of Norway, is said to have come from this area.
The Danish kings seem to have been weak in Vestfold from around the middle of the 9th century until the middle of the 10th century, but their rule was strengthened there at the end of the 10th century. The Danish kings seem to have tried to control the region until the 13th century.
Whaling was an important 19th century industry in coastal cities such as Larvik, Tønsberg, and Sandefjord, which was the world centre for the world's modern whaling industry. Not only did men from Vestfold County make up practically all the crew on the Norwegian whaling fleet, but many were also involved in the whaling industry in other nations. As an example, the first phase of modern Australian whaling was almost entirely based on workers from Larvik. While the first whaling station in the Faroe Islands was established by Sandefjordians, Larvik played a similar role for the Shetland Islands. Tønsberg initiated much of the whaling industry in Iceland and the Hebrides.
Vestfold is Norway's smallest county, with the exception of the city-county of Oslo. It lies on the western shore of the Oslofjord. Vestfold borders with Buskerud County in the north and with Telemark County in the west. It is bordered by Skagerrak in the North Sea to both the south and east. The county has a total area of 2,157 square kilometres (833 sq mi) and has a 980 kilometres (610 mi) coastline. Vestfjellet at 634.04 metres (2,080.2 ft) is the tallest peak in the county. It is also home to 1,407 islands.Nøtterøy (60 square kilometres (23 sq mi)) is the largest island in Vestfold, while Tjøme (39 square kilometres (15 sq mi)) is the second-largest island.
There is a total of 634 freshwater lakes in Vestfold, with a total area of 79 square kilometers. Large lakes include Farris, Eikeren, Goksjø, Hallevannet, Akersvannet, and others. Vestfold makes up 0.7 percent of Norway's total land area. Ten Norwegian municipalities are larger in size than Vestfold County. As an example, Kautokeino municipality in Finnmark County is over four times larger than Vestfold County. The county of Finnmark is 22 times larger than Vestfold.
The county's soft soil is composed of varieties of moraine and sedimentary soils. The Ice Age left large parts of Vestfold below sea level, and the most cultivated soil can be found on the marine terraces. Marine clay and sand cover most of the lower lying country in the south-west and north. The Vestfold moraine, a continuation of the Østfold moraine at Moss, is an ice-formed formation which stretches as a cohesive gravel ridge through the county, from Horten in the east to Mølen in the south.
Færder National Park was the county's first national park when the decision was formalized by King Harald V on 23 August 2013. The visitor center is at World's End, and was officially opened by Queen Sonja on 26 June 2015. The national park lies in Nøtterøy- and Tjøme municipalities, and is made up of 325 square kilometres (125 sq mi) of ocean and 15 square kilometres (5.8 sq mi) of land. It stretches from Ormøy in the north to Færder Lighthouse in the south. It is one of two marine national parks in Norway, and is made up of coast, skerries, islands and sea bed.
Mølen in Larvik is home to Norway's largest stone beach and is an ancient burial site consisting of 230 cairns, some exceeding 35 metres (115 ft) in diameter. Excavations have dated the rock piles to about 250 A.D. It was the first UNESCO Global Geopark in the Nordics when established in 2008. Mølen is one of Larvik's most popular tourist attractions. It is home to over a hundred species of rock, including Norway's national stone, Larvikite, which is named from the area. It is a crucially important seabird habitat, where over 316 species of bird have been recorded.
Vestfold County has experienced a large reduction in number of municipalities. As of 1949, the county was home to 19 rural municipalities and seven city municipalities. There were 14 municipalities as of 2016, but the number will decrease to 8 by 1 January 2020.
As of 1 January 2017 the number of municipalities in Vestfold County was reduced from 14 to 12.
As of 1 January 2018 the number of municipalities in Vestfold County was reduced from 12 to 9.
According to Statistics Norway, Vestfold County is home to 244,967 residents as of 1 January 2016. Immigrants made up 11.9 percent of the population in 2017. Most immigrants were from Poland (4,287 people), followed by Lithuania (2,794) and Iraq (1,549). Despite of its small size, Vestfold has the third-highest population density in Norway. However, the population density may still be considered low; as an example, the population density of the Netherlands is four times higher than that of Vestfold County.
Sandefjord is the most populous city of Vestfold County; one in four people from Vestfold are from Sandefjord, or 25.2 percent of the county population.
Jotun is one of the world's largest manufacturers of paints and coating products.
Traditional industries in Vestfold have included whaling and ship building. For over 50 years in the 19th century, Sandefjord and partially Tønsberg functioned as the world centre for the whaling industry. However, whaling ended in the 1960s and the ship building industry has gradually reduced since the 1980s. Information technology is currently a growing industry, and the county is home to large web shops such as Komplett, MPX.no and netshop.no. 18.9 percent of the county's total area is used for agriculture, the highest percentage of any county in Norway. 70% of agricultural lands are used for the cultivation of grains. Vestfold's farming area makes up five percent of Norway's cultivated areas. However, by area, Vestfold only makes up 0.7 percent of Norway's land area.
Vestfold has Norway's most expensive vacation homes. Sandefjord had Norway's most expensive vacation homes in 2012, while Tjøme had the most expensive homes as of 2010. General property values appreciated 28.3 percent between 2010-2015.
The pier in Nevlunghavn, the southernmost point in mainland Vestfold (excluding islands).
Summer tourism is an important industry in Vestfold, particularly in coastal communities such as Sandefjord, Tjøme and Stavern. Coastal cities also have large numbers of vacation homes. There were 534,724 hotel stays in 2015, where the purpose was vacationing for 236,895. Most international tourists were from the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Denmark. There were 781,459 stays at rental cabins or campgrounds in 2015. Consequentially, the population increases drastically during summer months in municipalities such as Sandefjord, Tjøme, and elsewhere. The population at Tjøme goes from 4,500 to around 50,000 each summer. The population of islands such as Tjøme often quadruple during summer, while summer communities as Stavern often sees a doubling or tripling.Tjøme Island is home to nearly as many vacation homes as residential homes.
While Tjøme has the nickname Sommerøya ("the Summer Island"), Sandefjord is nicknamed Badebyen ("the Bathing City") due to its many beaches and former spas. Sandefjord is known for its many great beaches, and it is primarily known as a summer resort community. It first became a bathing destination when sulphur was discovered in 1837. The city gained further recognition when Sandefjord Sulfur Spa and Resort (Kurbadet) was established in 1837. The bath was one of the most visited in Europe during the late 19th century.
Vestfold is home to 21 churches dating to medieval times. It is also home to one stave church, Høyjord Stave Church in Andebu (Sandefjord). Nearby Andebu Church also has Norway's oldest parish register, dating to 1623. The city of Sandefjord proper is home to Europe's only museum dedicated to whaling, Sandefjord Museum in the city centre. This museum also owns Southern Actor, a whale-catcher turned museum ship. Southern Actor is the only whale-catcher from the Modern Whaling Epoch still to be in its original working order. Also at Sandefjord Harbor is the Harbour Chapel (Bryggekapellet), which is the only floating church in Norway and most likely Europe, perhaps the only floating church in the world.
There are two international ferry connections, both operated by Color Line. Larvik is connected to the Danish town Hirtshals, the other route is between Sandefjord and Strømstad in Sweden. Fjord Line is also a ferry operator between Sandefjord and Strømstad. In addition there is a domestic route connecting Horten and Moss.
Istrehågan is an ancient burial ground which dates to the Roman Iron Age around 1500-500 BCE. It is located at Jåberg in Tjølling, on the border between Sandefjord and Larvik. The rock settings at Istrehågan resemble a ship. It is 24 metres (79 ft) long, and 9 metres (30 ft) meters broad. Archaeological excavations made in 1959-61 uncovered
remains of bones, bear claws, pottery shards, a brooch, and more. At Haugen farm on the Sandefjord side is Vestfold County's largest collection of petroglyphs.
Borre mound cemetery most likely contains graves belonging to kings of the Yngling dynasty. It is mentioned in the poem Ynglingatal as the burial site of one of two kings belonging to the royal dynasty of the Ynglingas.
Kaupang in Skiringssal (Larvik) is home to remains from the oldest Nordic town yet discovered. It was a trade centre established around year 800, making it one of Scandinavia's earliest urban sites. The settlement was abandoned in the mid-10th century. It is located in Kaupang Bay in Viksfjord, Larvik. Archeological finds include melting pots, jewelry parts, casting moulds and casting models. Most of Kaupang remains not excavated. There are replicas of Viking homes at Kaupang today, giving insight to how homes were constructed during the Viking age.
Oseberg Mound is located in Tønsberg and is where the Oseberg Ship was discovered. The ship, which dates to 834 A.D., had a length of 22 metres (72 ft). Two female skeletons were found in the ship's burial chamber.
Viking burial site at Gulli
Gulli, outside Tønsberg, was the site of an archaeological excavation during the period from 2003 to 2004, prior to asphalt being laid for constructing the new E18 (road). There were 60 graves - 20 of those were preserved to a degree that [authorities decided] permitted examinations. "Perhaps the most spectacular [item] was a høvre" - used with a horse's harness. "There are few of those in Norway - one in Trøndelag and a gilded one found in Borre".
The artifacts are on display at the Midgard Historical Centre in Borre.
19th century archeologists were struck by the many burial mounds and artifacts discovered at Fevang near Torp Airport in Sandefjord. Local farmers had discovered various artifacts in the 19th- and early 20th centuries. Archeologist Nicolay Nicolaysen traveled to Fevang and concluded that Fevang was home to an array of ancient burial mounds. Nicolaysen further discovered that Fevang had been an active graveyard for over 1,000 years - since year 0 A.D. until the first Christian cemeteries were established. Among the artifacts discovered were a gold jewel named Berlokk, which was retrieved in a woman's grave along with two gold beads, two blue glass beads, a hairpin, ceramic, burnt bones, and two clips of bronze. Her tomb is dated to the Old Iron Age, around 0-400 A.D.
The ship, which is the largest found in Norway, is currently located at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo. The 23.8 metres (78 ft) ship was buried along with numerous gifts, including weapons, jewels, a gaming board, fish-hooks, 64 shields, six beds, three smaller boats and kitchen utensils. Twelve horses, eight dogs, two goshawks and two peacocks were also discovered in the grave.
Interpretive signs have been put up at the mound and Gaia, an exact replica of the Gokstad Ship, can be seen on Museum's Wharf at Sandefjord Harbor.
The Old Norse word Mol translates to cairns, a site often used by ancient peoples to mark a burial site. Mølen, which is Norway's largest stone beach, is home to 230 cairns, which have been built over ages. Some cairns have been dated to 250 A.D. The isthmus of Mølen is home to stone piles, grave mounds, and stone settings, which are all part of a protected historic site. The last Ice Age pushed large amounts of gravel and stones ahead of it, and deposited it as a moraine through all of Vestfold, known as Vestfoldraet. Raet meets the ocean at Mølen, where the moraine sinks into the sea. Its encounter with the Skagerrak ocean waves has uncovered and polished the huge round stone floor for centuries.
Besides being the largest birch tree forest in Norway, and the most northernmost birch tree forest in the world, Bøkeskogen is also an important archeological area. 83-90 burial mounds have been discovered in the forest. Some of these include the largest burial grounds from the Pre-Roman Iron Age in Vestfold County.
Besides being an UNESCO Global Geopark, Mølen in Larvik is a habitat for a variety of rare bird species. Mølen became a protected sanctuary for birds in 1970. 320 species of birds have been recorded at Mølen, more species than at any other site in Norway.
Wildlife preserves include Melsom- and Hemskilen Wildlife Preserves. Hemskilen Wildlife Preserve lies on the Larvik-Sandefjord border and is an important habitat for shorebirds, geese, and Passerines. Melsom Plant- and Wildlife Preserve in Sandefjord is home to various older oaks, some of them home to as many as 1,500 different species of insects. Marøyskjæra Bird Preserve consists of two skerries west of Natholmen Island, which have been important nesting areas for Common tern and Common gull since the 1980s. Over 500 seagulls hatched on the islets in the 1990s.
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