The Geiranger and Nærøy fjords are Norway’s only natural heritage sites featuring on the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage List. This area of great natural beauty found its place on the UNESCO list on 14th July 2005 and encompasses some of the longest, deepest, narrowest and most beautiful fjords in the world!
The World Heritage Site is in two parts: Geirangerfjorden and Nærøyfjorden and their surrounding areas. The total area is 1,227 km2 (473 square miles) of which 107 km2 (41 square miles) is sea area. Many see these fjords as the symbol of Norway itself, the world’s foremost fjord country. Perhaps that is why the Norwegian word “fjord” is a part of the international vocabulary.
Fjords are among the most dramatic and spectacular landscapes on Earth. Natural scientists consider Geirangerfjorden and Nærøyfjorden to be classic examples of this type of landscape. The area is characterised by a rich and varied natural environment with sharp changes in altitude and short horizontal distances between the sea and the mountain tops. The natural geological processes involved in the formation and development of fjords are not affected by man or technical encroachment. As our guest in the World Heritage Area, please help by taking care of the natural environment!
What is World Heritage?
The World Heritage List, was established by UNESCO in 1972. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is the UN’s organisation for education, science, culture and communication. The organisation’s mandate is to contribute to peace and security by furthering cooperation between nations in nominated fields.
The aim of the World Heritage List is to protect the world’s cultural and natural heritage. The World Heritage Convention is one of the most widespread international environmental agreements in the world. The World Heritage List is a summary of the world heritage sites (cultural and natural areas) in the member countries.
To be registered in UNESCO’s list of world cultural and natural heritage sites the area must comprise natural or cultural assets which are verifiably of a unique and universal character. The applicant country must also demonstrate that the assets will be properly maintained in the long term. The natural or cultural heritage may be formed naturally, created by man or made by man and nature working together.
Geology and natural features
Geirangerfjorden and Nærøyfjorden are two beautiful and distinctive fjord areas, on either side of mighty Jostedalsbreen, the largest glacier on the European mainland. In the World Heritage Area one can track the development of the landscape from the last ice age until the present. The area features deep U shaped valleys with especially steep sides, carved out by the ice on its way to the sea more than 10,000 years ago.
At one time, Western Norway was a plain, covered by the great mainland ice cap. During around 40 ice ages in the course of the last 2.5 million years glacier arms from this ice cap dug themselves down into the old plain and formed the multi-branched fjord landscape we know today.
Flora and fauna
The short distances between the fjords and the mountain tops, allied in places to especially favourable local climatic conditions, mean that mountain flowers can grow side by side with species one normally associates with more southerly latitudes. The diversity of plant species is extensive and varied in the mountainous fjord landscape.
The World Heritage Area has rich and varied animal life in the form of mammals, birds, fish and insects. Species found here include wild reindeer, mountain fox, lynx, otter, lemming and porpoise, for which Norway has special responsibility. The bird life embraces everything from seabirds and wading birds around the fjords, to woodland birds on the valleys sides and species that are typical of the high mountainous areas in Norway.
Traces in the landscape show that the fjord areas have been used by man ever since the ice retreated 10,000 years ago. Along the fjords and up on the mountain shelves lie dozens of smallholdings, mostly abandoned now. The settlement pattern is witness to a frugal agriculture adapted to a landscape both rich and hazardous.
Geirangerfjorden – the most beautiful fjord landscape in the world?
The core of the northern part of the area consists of the fjord arms of Tafjorden, Sunnylvsfjorden and winding Geirangerfjorden. Here the interplay of ice, rock and cascading water formed a fjord landscape with unique and world renowned qualities. Along the steep sides of the fjords, on shelves providing protection from rock falls and avalanches lie a number of old smallholdings that are cultural and historical treasures. The interaction of nature and culture is a unique feature of the area and provides the opportunity for memorable experiences.
In the alpine mountain areas that divide the fjords one can find seter valleys with fertile summer pastures, the most beautiful and distinctive of which in the northern area is Herdalssetra. The seter has been in use for several hundred years and has much visitor activity these days. The Kallskaret nature reserve is in this area, where the variety of rock types between eclogite, olivine, soapstone and asbestos have been crucial to the formation of a beautiful and special landscape.