The term «Aurlandsvangen» covers a rather large area, equivalent to the parish of Vangen. This includes the farms along the fjord from Skjerdal to Otternes, as well as the farms all the way up to the lake of Vassbygdevatnet. Traditionally speaking the farms going north from Vangen has been recognised as a village in its own right, called “Utbygdi” (the outer village). The area of Aurlandsvangen as mentioned here has a varied tale that stretches far back in time.
The ancient times
Prior to the farms in the area of Aurland being permanent residences, the area was most likely utilised in the same way as the other villages in the area, mainly for hunting. Several contraptions used for hunting have been found around the glacier of Blåskavlen, including “bogastille” (man built hiding places of stone), animal pits and “dyrestup” (steep slopes where the animals would fall to their deaths, or be killed by the hunters). There is no exact date for when the cultivation of the farms began, but there are graves that date back to before the Scandinavian Pre-Roman Iron Age (500BC- 1BC) which shows that the farms of Aurdal and Onstad were already in use then.
The AURLANDSGODSET Estate
From the Islandic ancestral tale “Eigilssoga”, written in the 13th century, we know of a powerful clan called “Aurlandsætta”. Aurlandsætta ruled in large parts of Indre Sogn (Inner Sogn) from the middle of the 10th century. They had family ties to other distinguished Norwegian clans, as well as important families abroad. One example is a lady named in the book as Rannveig, who had close ties to Olav Kyrre (Kyrre/Kyrri means peaceful), the Norwegian king for nearly three decades in the latter half of the 11th century. Rannveig also had ties to the Danish monarchy. It has also been claimed that Gunnhild Sultam was a descendent of the Aurlandsætta clan. She was the mother of King Sverre, who was king of Norway at the end of the 12th century and is famous for his excommunication from the Catholic Church. Aurlandsætta could also boast that they had family ties to the so-called “Armødlingane” from the island of Giske which is in Sunnmøre, the southernmost district in the county of Møre og Romsdal. They also had ties to the Reins-ætta clan in Trøndelag, which is made up of the two counties Nord-Trøndelag and Sør-Trøndelagn central Norwaymsdal, they also had ties to the Reins-se ties to Bl the farms , as well as some prominent clans in Scotland and Ireland. It is probable that the farms of Vinjum, Sult and Aurdal were at the centre of the estate that is referred to as Aurlandsgodset. This theory is further strengthened by the presence of burial mounds from the Viking Age on these farms.
With the introduction of Christianity to Norway, it became common for prominent clans to build churches to show their belonging to the new faith. As much as the churches were built on religious grounds, it is reasonable to make the assumption that the building of said churches also served to form alliances and strengthen power structures. The first church that we know of in this area is the stave church at Rygg (a stave church is a church built of wood, with a framework based around vertical posts), which was knocked down around 1570. The church was first mentioned in written sources in 1322, but it was most likely older than its first written mention. The Gothic stone church which you can find at Vangen was built in the 13th century. The stone church took over as the parish church after the church at Rygg was knocked down, and it is likely that the Aurlandsætta clan was behind the construction of both churches. This may have strengthened the ties between the clan and the king, as well as improved relations with clans outside of Norway.
The town centre and Public court
Up until the middle of the 19th century, the area below the stone church at Vangen consisted of houses belonging to “strandsitjarar” (persons who lives by the water and owned a house on a rented plot, usually a seaman or fisherman), boathouses and commons. Up until this point the farm of Sult (now known as Onstad), which is found on the eastside of the river, had several important functions in the village. This was amongst other reasons due to main roads having a natural crossing at “Salthella”, as well as the road east towards Vassbygdi being on this side of the river, going via the farms of Tokvam and Loven. The farm’s central placement led to it being giving both trade and lodging privileges in the 18th century, it was also home to the sheriff as well as the public court. The large burial mound “Tinghaugen” (Court Mound in English) may indicate that the place also served as a court prior to this. These functions were moved from Onstad to the opposite side of the river after the bridge across the river and a pier for the steamboats were built in 1870, and a new road was created north of the river in 1924.
From being a vicarage to becoming an organic agricultural school
The farm of Aurdal served as a vicarage from approximately 1650, most likely taking over this function from the farm of Aabelheim at Vangen, which was seen as quite a barren farm. In comparison to other farms in the area, the farm of Aurdal had a very large area of cultivated land, most likely due to it having been part of the Aurlandsgodset estate. A long line of clergymen ran and influenced the farm up until 1937 when it was taken over by the agricultural school Sogn Jord- og Hagebruksskule (The Sogn School of Organic Agriculture and Horticulture, abbreviated SHJ).
The school was founded in 1917, but Aurdal was the first school farm. The school started shifting their focus to organic farming in the 1980s, and as it stands SJH is the only agricultural school in Norway which in its entirety is approved as an organic institution by the regulating body Debio. The school is a driving force in Aurland and even other parts of Indre Sogn, offering various functions and courses, all whilst running an organic farm shop. In relation to organic investment, the municipality of Aurland in 2007 applied to be a leading municipality in the development of production and consumption of organic food.