Tromsø 1890

Tromsø's history

Tromsø has a rich history stretching back approximately 11,000 years. Here is some background information about the city, which was founded in 1794, as well as some of the important events in Tromsø’s history.

Tromsø 1884 - Sunday afternoon

The first people came to the Tromsø area approximately 11,000 years ago. Unfortunately little is known about which ethnic group and language group they may have belonged to. Sami culture stretches back at least 3000 years ago. The Scandinavian language and culture present has been present in the Tromsø area since around 200-400 AD, while Lyngen experienced immigration from Finland from the 18th century. A strong Norwegianisation of formerly Sami and Finnish areas of Tromsø and Lyngen started around 1900. This was accompanied by strong depopulation of the rural areas from the 1960s.

Tromsø officially gained its city charter in 1794, even though the first church was built here between 1240 and 1250. From the 1850s, Tromsø was the centre of hunting expeditions to the Arctic. In the early 1900s, the city was the starting point for a number of hunting, research and tourist expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic regions. This led to the city being known as the “Gateway to the Arctic”. When Germany invaded Norway in 1940, Tromsø served as the capital of the free Norway for a few weeks. This was the only city in Northern Norway to avoid serious war damage. In the years after 1960, Tromsø has experienced an unprecedented growth in population, which may be attributed in part to the establishment of institutions like the University of Tromsø and the Norwegian Polar Institute.


Pomor 1890-1900

Archaeological excavations show settlement dating back 11,000 years.        

1000 – 1200        
Skansen – a turf rampart is constructed

1240 – 1250        
The first church on the island of Tromsøya is built on a farm mound, one of 14 in total.

Letter of indulgence from the Pope particularly linked to the nativities of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The church property is stolen with royal approval.

Witch-hunt, three people are burnt

Thomas von Westen complains to the King about the sale of spirits in Tromsø.

The Customs Office is adopted and Finnmark Amt is declared a free trade area. The trading privileges in the Middles Ages led to strong dependence on Bergen and Trondheim up to til 1789. Tromsø was one of the starting points for the trading route eastwards and an important place for Pomor trade.

City charter and privileges as a trading centre

Battle of Tromsø, “Pølsehavna” with the English (Napoleonic wars)

The Seminaret teachers’ training college is established (now part of UIT – The Arctic University of Norway).

Tromsø Skibsverft (shipyard) is established.

The current Lutheran and Catholic cathedrals are built.

Elling Carlsen discovers the camp Willem Barents established at Novaya Zemlya.

Tromsø Museum is established (now part of UIT – The Arctic University of Norway).

Macks Brewery is established.

The “old” museum opens for the city centennial (now the Tromsø Centre for Contemporary Arts).

Roald Amundsen comes to Tromsø and buys Gjøa. He embarks on an expedition to the Arctic for hunting and oceanographic surveys then returns for reconstruction of Gjøa at Tromsø Skibsverft. Amundsen sails southwards for further preparations before starting his expedition through the Northwest Passage in 1903. 

Geofysen, the weather forecasting division of Northern Norway is established.

The Northern Lights Observatory opens.

Polar hero Roald Amundsen departs Tromsø for the final time. On board a French Latham 47 flying boat, he leads a French-Norwegian group searching for missing members of Umberto Nobile’s crew.

The road connection through the valley of Lavangsdalen to the inland is completed

Tromsø Radio and Simavik power station are bombed in April. In May 20 tonnes of gold are sent from Tromsø to and in June the King and Crown Price leave Tromsø for England. Tromsø is the capital of Norway for three weeks.

1944 - 1945          
The population of Finnmark is evacuated southwards, and the German battleship Tirpiz is sunk by British bombers in the Sandnessundet west of Tromsøya. German troops from Finnmark and Finland head south.

The Tromsø Bridge connecting Tromsøya with the mainland opens.

The cable car opens.

Tromsø Airport opens.

Tromsdalen Church (The Arctic Cathedral) is consecrated.

A major fire destroys sections of the old wooden buildings in the city centre. 

The world’s northernmost university, UIT, opens in Tromsø.

The Sandnessund Bridge connects Tromsøya with Kvaløya.

A car park in the tunnel in downtown Tromsø opens.

The tunnel through Tromsøya opens, as well as the undersea tunnel between Kvaløya and Ringvassøya.

Pope John Paul II celebrates mass in Tromsø (3 June).

The new regional hospital, UNN, opens in Tromsø.

Tromsø’s 200th anniversary. The undersea tunnel between Tromsøya and the mainland opens.

The Norwegian Polar Institute and Polaria open in Tromsø.

The new Hålogaland Teater building opens.
Nelson Mandela visits Tromsø for the 46664 Arctic Concert. Tromsø is named as the world’s first 46664 ambassador city.

The first international olymics hosted by Tromsø, World Chess Olympiad.