Flåm parish is made up of the village of Flåm and the valley of Flåmsdalen and it is found at the inner end of the Aurlandsfjord. The village has gone from being a very typical Western Norwegian village, made up of different sized farms, tenant farms and seasonal farms, to becoming quite the tourist attraction. This is in no small part due to the opening of the Bergen Line (Bergensbana) in 1909 and the Flåm Line (Flåmsbana) in 1940.
the first settlement
The archaeologist Svein Indrelid thinks that the farms of Fretheim and Flåm should be viewed as the oldest in the village, an opinion he has based on topography, vegetation history and archaeological finds. Large burial grounds were found on both farms, and items from the early Iron Age indicate that the original farms are at least 2000 years old. Most finds on other farms, Brekke being an example, have mainly been from the Viking Age (800-1050AD). The dating of the items, especially when taken in context with topographical finds suggests that Brekke was a part of Fretheim up until some point in the late Iron Age (600-1050AD).
the ironworks in the mountain
At the same time as the first settlements appeared down in the valley, there was production and forging of iron on a large scale in the mountain by the valley of Flåmsdalen, by the Seltuftvatnet lake, in the valley of Gudmedalen and by the Ryggvedlevatn lake. In addition to this, pollen charts indicate the area was also used for pastures. This suggests the ironworks may have been run by farmers from the valley of Flåmsdalen, who also utilised the mountain area for summer farms.
farming and emigration
Up until the 19th century several farms and tenant farms developed from those two original farms from the early Iron Age. Although most of the farms were good farms, there was also recessions and poverty as a result of the plague late in the middle ages and war during the 17th and 18th century. Like many of the villages in Aurland, Flåm was hit by an emigration wave in the 19th and 20th century. Some of the first people to emigrate from the municipality of Aurland were a family of four from the farm of Midtgarden in Flåm. They travelled to America on a ship called Juno in 1844, spending 5 ½ weeks on their journey across the sea. According to sources, 500 people immigrated to America from Flåm between 1844 and 1914.
revolutionary changes in the farming community
It goes without saying that the emigration drained the village, both of people and of resources, and on top of this the arrival of industrialisation swallowed up a lot of the workforce. The combination of these conditions made it difficult to continue the traditional farming activities and as a result the farms changed from being self-sufficient to needing to make money. New agricultural machinery was taken into use and the farm land changed. The changes to the farm land lead to the traditional cluster and terrace farms being divided up and the houses of the farms became new farms. The old system of mixed mowing fields were changed into larger mowing fields belonging to each farm, making them more user friendly.
The Rallarvegen road
Rallarvegen (“rallar” meaning someone who works in road construction, especially railways, “veg” meaning road) was a road created as a result of the building of the railway between Bergen and Christiania (Oslo) between 1894 and 1909. In order to build the railway, you needed construction roads going from the villages up to the mountains. The road goes from Haugastøl to Myrdal, via Flåm and then to Voss. At its highest point the road is 1300m.a.s.l. Those who built the railway in Norway were called “rallarar”, which is why the road was later given the name it has today. At its busiest, 2400 people were working on the Bergen Line.
In 1974 the Rallarvegen was opened up as a cycle route, but it only became popular to use in the late 1980s. Since then the cycle route has become a popular holiday attraction, and is used by approximately 20000 cyclists a year. Rallarvegen remains a good example of the construction methods used at the beginning of the 20th century, with walls and bridges from the construction period still standing.
the flåm line
The Flåm line travels through the breath-taking Western Norwegian landscape with steep mountainsides, waterfalls and rivers. This bit of railway is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Norway. The line became a reality when during the construction of the Bergen Line, it was decided that a branch line was to be built from the Bergen Line going down to the Sognefjord. It was decided in 1916 that the line would run from Myrdal down to Flåm. This branch line had a lengthy construction phase, going from 1923 to 1946. Due to the steepness of the terrain 1/3 of the line goes through tunnels. Landslides and accidents were quite common in connection with the line construction work throughout those years.
The line has been functional since 1941 and it is today mainly seen as a regular tourist route. The old station houses the Flåm Line Museum with exhibits on the history of the railway as well as items from the construction period.