Maihaugen: 500 years of Norwegian life

Absolute awe, that’s what we experienced upon entering the open air museum at Maihaugen! Because let’s admit it, to have the possibility to fully immerge into the history and the culture of a place is one of the biggest pleasures for any traveler. And that is exactly what Maihaugen Museum, in Lillehammer offers. Walking among the houses you would not guess that they were rebuilt on this site, starting the early 1900’s, but rather feel as an intruder, as if you suddenly stepped directly into the past; into daily life of a colourfully varied settlement  (more than 200 buildings on display) where rich merchants and military families mingle with humbler farmers and fishermen across centuries. Past lives are vibrant and you will almost expect to come across fishermen exiting the newly inaugurated chapel in 1459 or have the door open to welcome the much awaited father coming back from the front in the 1940’s house. It will be an unforgettable experience, which we highly recommend for history and ethnography lovers but also for families and solo-travelers. But let’s proceed with some order…


…the museum that set an example

First, let us introduce to you the mastermind behind it all: Anders Sandvig. He was a dentist who moved to Lillehammer in 1885 and shortly after started collecting old artefacts. His collection got more systematic over the years and became a public museum with government support in 1901, with main focus on buildings. One stunning difference with previous exhibitions that actually shakes the fundamentals of collections in general is that Sandvig stressed the importance of documenting history through buildings (and relative furnishings) without losing the focus of on-going history. Based on this simple yet powerful message, the residential area was created, with buildings ranging 1915-2001 and each a pearl of their time.

  • Garmo Stave Church


Just a few minutes after we started our trip into the “Rural section” of the Museum we came across the beautiful Garmo Stave Church. The construction of this characteristically Norwegian wooden church dates from the 12th century. The whole building was dismounted in 1880 and all the materials were kept for more than 20 years. The church was finally reconstructed at Maihaugen Museum in 1921. The building conserves the traditional cross-shape and a stunning pointed tower, decorated with viking motifs (pay attention to the dragon heads on the ridges of the roof!). From inside, you can appreciate the beautifully decorated altarpiece and the pulpit. Here is one juicy fact: on August 1859, the Nobel prize winner Knut Hamsun was baptized here. During summer time, the church hosts some activities and also some weddings on Saturdays.  


  • The School


How do you imagine a common school day in a rural area of Norway at the end of the 19th century? Who did have access to the education at that time? What kind of learning did the kids receive? You find the answer to all these questions when you get to the School House. The building dates back to 1863 and it was originally settled at Øygarden (Skjåk), later rebuilt at Maihaugen in 1912.

The school is an example of hamlet school, wide spread in the country following an education reform in 1860. The new Education Act dictated to build permanent schools in all those communities where at least 30 children of school age resided. The priest of the community was responsable for selecting the pupils who could attend the (initially) mandatory 12 weeks of school. Girls and boys had to seat separately. The main subjects were reading, arithmetic, history, geography and religion. But not only! More subjects were added and, for example, boys sharpened up their gun shooting skills and the girls their needlework.

  • Bjørnstad Farm


One of the main attractions of the museum is Bjørnstad. This large farm -composed by 27 different buildings- was moved from Lalm (Vågå) between 1908 and 1913. It represents a typical Norwegian farm from the 17th century. The main farm house dates back 1787 and it was the residence of the farmer’s parents and unmarried siblings. You could see the original cows, sheep and goats stables from inside; and also the “aurbua”, the cold cellar where farmers stored butter and cheese. Guide tours are offered in summer season to find out more about Norwegian farmer’s traditions and way of life.


And this was only a peek!!! It would not be possible or fair to transmit the astonishing history the 200 buildings showcase. Oh!… and did we mention there is a prison on site…? What about the magnificent 20’s Norwegian prototype house? And the local painter Alf Lundebys´ atelier? Guess you will have to visit yourself to find out more because we are running out of words 🙂

But we are not so cruel as not to point the best accommodation in town, HI Lillehammer – Stasjonen, where you will meet the friendliest of staff and try the famous Lom bakery goods by the cozy fire-place!

Article written by Marina Lisnic and Marcos Doespiritusanto


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