European cultural capital Stavanger looks beyond oil
Stavanger (Norway) : Norway, as Norwegians see it, has four capitals: Oslo, the seat of the country's government; Bergen, a focal point of art and culture that belonged to the medieval trade association known as the Hanseatic League; the historic city of Trondheim; and Stavanger.
Home to some 120,000 people, Stavanger is known as Norway's oil capital. It is the centre of activities connected with the extraction of the North Seas "black gold", which has made Norway one of the world's richest countries. Stavanger has gained another title too: It and Liverpool have been named "European Capitals of Culture" for 2008.
A likely reason that Stavanger received the honour is its successful balancing act. The city has managed to meld its cultural legacy with modern economic life. You can see this as soon as you enter the harbour: Historic warehouses and boathouses line both banks, and then suddenly an enormous steel oil platform appears.
The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate, the state-controlled oil company StatoilHydro, and representatives of international oil companies reside at the end of the bay.
Foreigners make up eight percent of Stavanger's population - a high proportion by Norwegian standards - and they have put their stamp on the city's cuisine. Traditional fish restaurants are less common in the narrow streets of the old city centre than eateries offering international dishes.
Stavanger is therefore likely to be well prepared for the surge of cultural-capital visitors. The fat years of high oil revenues have lent the city a spruced-up look, and it can use the special funds provided by the European Union for cultural arrangements in addition to infrastructure expansion.
The Stavanger 2008 organising team, comprising some 60 people, has created a programme that includes exhibitions, concerts, music festivals, shows, theatre, children's events, technology workshops, and nature excursions.
The programme's title is Open Port. Stavanger and the surrounding region are aiming to open up to the world, make lasting contacts and explore new opportunities.
Municipal authorities want to rid Stavanger of its one-dimensional image as an oil and gas town - whose days are likely numbered because the opening of the Snohvit oil field near Hammerfest, and further fossil-fuel deposits under the Barents Sea, mean that the petroleum business is poised to shift further north.
Founded in 1125, Stavanger is accustomed to change, however. It has survived several devastating fires, and its economy has always had to reorient itself.
The city's inhabitants once made their living from maritime trade and fishing. When the schools of herring dwindled in the second half of the 19th century, they switched to canning sprats and, later, other goods. At one time there were more than 50 canning factories in Stavanger, making it the world's biggest canning centre.
After that era ended came the offshore oil industry, and with it shipyards, ancillary industries and development laboratories.
You can get a quick feel for Stavanger's history on a tour of the city that takes in the cathedral, which dates from the time the city was founded, the Stavanger Maritime Museum, the Norwegian Canning Museum, and the Norwegian Petroleum Museum, which is in the harbour.
And if you look closely at the city's programme for 2008 you will see signs of where Stavanger is headed, namely toward a future marked by culture, and not oil and gas.