Finnmárkku fylka
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Finnmark or Finnmárku (Northern Sami) is a county in the extreme northeast of Norway. By land it borders Troms county to the west, Finland (Lapland) to the south and Russia (Murmansk Oblast) to the east, and by water, the Norwegian Sea (Atlantic Ocean) to the northwest, and the Barents Sea (Arctic Ocean) to the north and northeast.

The county was formerly known as Finmarkens amt or Vardøhus amt, and since 2002, has had two official names: Finnmark (Norwegian) and Finnmárku (Sami language). It is part of the Sápmi region, which spans four countries, as well as the Barents Region, and is the largest and least populated county of Norway.

Situated at the Northernmost part of continental Europe, where Norway swings eastward, Finnmark has always been an area where east meets west, in culture as well as in nature and geography. Vardø, the easternmost municipality in the country, is located farther east than St. Petersburg and Istanbul.

General information


See also: Hedmark, Telemark, and Marches

The Norse form of the name was Finnmörk. The first element is finn(ar), the Norse name for the Sámi people. The last element is mörk which means "woodland" or "borderland". In Norse times the name was referring to any places where Sámi people were living (also parts of Southern Norway).

More recently, Finnmark is also the older name for Lapland in Sweden and is used by some inhabitants in this region. The title comes from Linné's expeditions in the northern Nordic regions during the 18th century, and his choice of name was influenced by the history of the region.

Coat of arms

The coat of arms, Sable, a single-towered castle Or, is from 1967, and shows the old Vardøhus festning.

Geography and environment

Finnmark is the northern- and easternmost county of Norway (Svalbard is not considered a county). In area, Finnmark is Norway's largest county, and is larger than Denmark. However, with a population of only 72,000, it is also the least populated.

Mountain landscape in Kvalsund, some 35 km (22 mi) south of Hammerfest.

Knivskjellodden in Nordkapp municipality (on Magerøya) is the northernmost point of Europe; Kinnarodden on Nordkinn Peninsula is the northernmost point on the European mainland. Honningsvåg in Finnmark claims the northernmost city of the world, and Vardø is the easternmost town in Norway and Western Europe, and is actually east of Istanbul.

The coast is indented by large fjords, which in a strict sense are false fjords, as they are not carved out by glaciers. Some of Norway's largest sea bird colonies can be seen on the northern coast, the largest are Hjelmsøystauran in Måsøy and Gjesværstappan in Nordkapp. The highest point is located on the top of the glacier Øksfjordjøkelen, which has an area of 45 km2 (17 sq mi). Both Øksfjordjøkelen and Seilandsjøkelen (Seiland glacier) are located in the western part of Finnmark.

Altafjord, Alta.

The Øksfjord plateau glacier calved directly into the sea (Jøkelfjorden) until 1900, the last glacier in mainland Norway to do so. The central and eastern part of Finnmark is generally less mountainous, and has no glaciers. The land east of Nordkapp is mostly below 300 m (980 ft).

The nature varies from barren coastal areas facing the Barents Sea, to more sheltered fjord areas and river valleys with gullies and tree vegetation. About half of the county is above the tree line, and large parts of the other half is covered with small Downy birch.

The most lush areas are the Alta area and the Tana valleys, and in the east is the lowland area in the Pasvik valley in Sør-Varanger, where the pine and Siberian spruce forest is considered part of the Russian taiga vegetation. This valley has the highest density of Brown bears in Norway, and is the only location in the country with a population of musk-rats. Lynx and elk are common in large parts of Finnmark, but rare on the coast.

Neiden in Sør-Varanger
Map showing coastline and rivers. The largest river, slightly to the right, is Tana, and slightly to the left is Alta-Kaoutokeino river. Down to the right is lake Enare (Finland) from which goes the Pasvik valley of the Pasvikelva river. Near the far left corner of the map is the green Målsev valley of Troms, with the Målselva river.

In the interior is the Finnmarksvidda plateau, with an elevation of 300 to 400 m (980 to 1,310 ft), with numerous lakes and river valleys, and famous for its tens of thousands of reindeer owned by the Sami, and swarms of mosquitos in mid-summer. Finnmarksvidda makes up 36% of the county's area. Stabbursdalen national park ensures protection for the world's most northern pine forest.

The Tanaelva, which partly defines the border with Finland, gives the largest catch of salmon of all rivers in Europe, and also has the world record for Atlantic salmon, 36 kg (79 lb). In the east, the Pasvikelva defines the border with Russia.


Finnmarksvidda in the interior of the county has a continental climate with the coldest winter temperatures in Norway: the coldest temperature ever recorded was −51.4 °C (−60.5 °F) in Karasjok on 1 January 1886. The 24-hour averages for January and July at the same location are −17.1 °C (1.2 °F) and 13.1 °C (55.6 °F), the annual average is −2.4 °C (27.7 °F), and precipitation is only 366 mm (14.4 in) per year with summer as the wettest season.[1] Karasjok has recorded up to 32.4 °C (90.3 °F) in July, giving a possible year amplitude of 84°C (151.2°F) (rare in Europe). Finnmarksvidda has annual mean temperatures down to −3 °C (26.6 °F) (Sihcajavri in Kautokeino), the coldest in mainland Norway (except for higher mountains areas) and even colder than Jan Mayen and Bear Island. However, Sihcajavri has also recorded the warmest temperature ever in North Norway: 34.3 °C (93.7 °F) on 23 June 1920.

Due to the proximity to the ice-free ocean, winters are much milder in coastal areas (and more windy); Loppa has average January and July temperatures of −2 °C (28 °F) and 11.6 °C (52.9 °F) respectively, with an annual mean of 3.6 °C (38.5 °F),[2] despite being further north. Average annual precipitation is 914 mm (36.0 in) and the wettest season is September until December. The year average temperature difference between Loppa and Karasjok (6°C) is comparable to the difference between Loppa and London.[3]

In the Köppen climate classification, the climate in Karasjok–and most of the lowland areas in Finnmark–corresponds to the Dfc category (subarctic climate), while the Loppa climate corresponds to the Cfc category. The northeastern coast, from Nordkapp east to Vardø, have arctic tundra climate (Köppen: ETf), as the average July temperature is below 10 °C (50 °F).

Kjøllefjord on the northeastern coast.

Furthermore, elevations exceeding approximately 100 to 200 m (330 to 660 ft) in coastal areas in western Finnmark and 300 to 500 m (980 to 1,640 ft) in the interior result in an alpine climate, and in the northeast this merges with the Arctic tundra climate.

The climate in sheltered parts of fjord areas (particularly Altafjord) is usually considered the most hospitable: winters are not as cold as in the interior, and summer warmth is comparable. Even if winter temperatures are milder in coastal areas, the coast is more exposed to winter storms, which often complicate or shut down road and air communications.

Alta airport/Alta (1961-90)
Climate chart (explanation)
Average max. and min. temperatures in °C
Precipitation totals in mm
Imperial conversion
Average max. and min. temperatures in °F
Precipitation totals in inches

Midnight sun

Sunrise at 07:33 in February; Vadsø.

Situated far north of the Arctic Circle, Finnmark has midnight sun from middle of May until late July. And in two months of the winter, from late November to late January, the county experiences polar nights where the sun is always below the horizon. As a consequence, there is continuous daylight from early May to early August. At midwinter, there is only a bluish twilight for a couple of hours around noon, which can almost reach full daylight if there are clear skies to the south.

Northern lights

Finnmark is situated in the Aurora Borealis zone, and because of the dry climate with frequent clear skies, Alta was early chosen as a location for the study of this strange light phenomenon. For this reason, Alta is sometimes referred to as the city of the northern lights.

Administration and economy

Vadsø with the church, February 2004

Vadsø is the capital city of the county of Finnmark, although Alta has the largest population. Fisheries have traditionally been the most important way of living along the coast, where the majority of the Norwegian population live. The red king crab, originally from the northern Pacific ocean but brought to the Barents sea by the Russians, have invaded from the east and are now being exploited commercially (especially in Varangerfjord). To prevent the crab from spreading too far south, crab fishing west of Nordkapp is totally unregulated. The slate industry in Alta is well known, and have sold to customers as far away as Japan. Kirkenes grew into a town as the exploitation of the iron ores started, but AS Sydvaranger closed down their iron ore activities in 1996.

In more recent years, tourism has grown in importance, with Nordkapp (North Cape), Alta and Hammerfest as the most important destinations.

There are two hospitals in Finnmark, located in Kirkenes and Hammerfest. There are a total number of eleven airports, but only Alta Airport and Kirkenes-Høybuktmoen Airport have direct flights to Oslo. In addition, Lakselv-Banak Airport in Porsanger is used for training purposes by the Royal Norwegian Air Force and other NATO allies, in conjunction with the nearby Halkavarre shooting range, which allows for practice with precision guided munitions. Garnisonen i Porsanger is also located near Halkavarre training area. There is also the Garnisonen i Sør-Varanger (Gsv) in the east, which guards the border with Russia. Hammerfest is now experiencing an economic boom[4] as a consequence of Statoil's construction of the large land-based LNG site at Melkøya,[5] which will get natural gas from the Snøhvit field. A new oil field was recently discovered just 45 km (28 mi) off shore,[6][7] close to the Snøhvit field.

There is also optimism in the eastern part of the county, as the growing petroleum activity in the Barents Sea is expected to generate increased economic activity on land as well.[8]

The Finnmark Estate agency owns and manages about 95% of the land in Finnmark, and is governed in tandem by Finnmark County and the Sami Parliament of Norway.


Currently, there are 19 municipalities in Finnmark.

Municipalities in Finnmark
  1. Alta
  2. Berlevåg
  3. Båtsfjord
  4. Gamvik
  5. Hammerfest
  6. Hasvik
  7. Kárášjohka - Karasjok
  8. Guovdageaidnu - Kautokeino
  9. Kvalsund
  10. Lebesby
  11. Loppa
  12. Måsøy
  13. Unjárga - Nesseby
  14. Nordkapp
  15. Porsanger or Porsángu or Porsanki
  16. Sør-Varanger
  17. Deatnu - Tana
  18. Vadsø
  19. Vardø


Historical population
Source: Statistics Norway.[9]
Religion in Finnmark[10][11]
religion percent

People have lived in Finnmark for at least 10,000 years (see Komsa, Pit-Comb Ware culture and Rock carvings at Alta). The destiny of these early cultures is unknown. Three ethnic groups have a long history in Finnmark: the Sami people, the Norwegians and the Kven people. Of these the Sami probably were the first people to explore Finnmark. Small groups of Sami may have entered this area as early as the 9th century. [citation needed] Ohthere of Hålogaland was an adventurous Norwegian (Norseman) from Hålogaland, the area roughly corresponding to today's Nordland county. Around 890 AD, he claimed, according to historical sources (see Ohthere of Hålogaland) that he lived "north-most of all the Northmen", and that "no-one [lived] to the north of him." Later, Norwegians in the 14th century, and Kvens in the 16th century, settled along the coast. See the articles on Kven people and Vardøhus Fortress for more details.


Main article: Sami history

The Sami are the indigenous people of Finnmark, but Norwegians have lived for hundreds of years on the islands' outer parts, where they made up the majority. The Sami people still constitute the majority in Finnmark's interior parts, while the fjord areas have been ethnically mixed for a long time. In essence, this still holds true today. The Sami were for many years victims of the Norwegianization policy, which in essence was a deliberate attempt by the Norwegian government to make them "true" Norwegians and forget about their Sami way of life and religion, which was seen as inferior. As a result of this, the Sami living at the coast and in the fjords gradually lost much of their culture and often felt ashamed by their Sami inheritance. The Sami in the interior managed to preserve more of their culture. However, in the 1970s, instruction of the Sami language started in the schools, and a new sense of consciousness started to grow among the Sami; today most are proud of their Sami background and culture. In the midst of this awakening (1979), Norway's government decided to build a dam in Alta to produce hydropower, provoking many Sami and environmentalists to demonstrations and civil disobedience (Altasaken). In the end, the dam was built on a much smaller scale than originally intended and the Sami culture was on the government's agenda. The Sami parliament (Sámediggi) was opened in Karasjok in 1989.


A Dutch map of Finnmark (1660), showing the border between Sweden and Russia.

Gjesvær in Nordkapp is mentioned in the Sagas (Heimskringla) as a northern harbor in the viking age, especially used by Vikings on the way to Bjarmaland (see Ottar from Hålogaland), and probably also for gathering food in the nearby seabird colony. Coastal areas of Finnmark were colonized by Norwegians beginning in the 10th century, and there are stories describing clashes with the karelians. Border skirmishes between the Norwegians and Novgorodians continued until 1326, when the Treaty of Novgorod settled the issue.

The first known fortification in Finnmark is Vardøhus festning, first erected in 1306 by King Haakon V Magnusson. This is the world's most northern fortress. In the 17th century, 88 young women were burned as witches in Vardø, an extremely high number compared to the total population in this area at the time.[12]

Finnmark first became subject to increased colonization in the 18th and 19th century. Norway, Sweden and Russia all claimed control over this area. Finnmark was given the status of an Amt (county) in the 19th century. For a time, there was a vibrant trade with Russia (Pomor Trade), and many Norwegians settled on the Kola Peninsula (see Kola Norwegians).


Main article: Kven people

The Finnic Kven residents of Finnmark are largely descendants of Finnish immigrants who arrived in the area during the 19th century - or before - from Finland, suffering from famine and war.

World War II

Towards the end of World War II, with Operation Nordlicht, the Germans used the scorched earth tactic in Finnmark and northern Troms to halt the victorious Red Army. As a consequence of this, few houses survived the war, and a large part of the population was forcefully evacuated further south (Tromsø was crowded), but many peoples avoided evacuation by hiding in caves and mountain huts and waited until the Germans were gone, then inspected their burned homes. There were 11,000 houses, 4,700 cow sheds, 106 schools, 27 churches, and 21 hospitals burned. There were 22,000 communications lines destroyed, roads were blown up, boats destroyed, animals killed, and 1,000 children separated from parents.[13]

However, after liberating Kirkenes on 25 October 1944 (as the first town in Norway), the Red Army did not attempt further offensives in Norway. The town was peacefully handed over to Norway as the war ended. When war was over, more than 70,000 peoples were left homeless in Finnmark. The government imposed a temporary disallow on return to Finnmark because of the danger of landmines until summer of 1945 evacuees can return to home.

Fra Hammerfest by Peder Balke (1851)

Cold War

The Cold War was a period with sometimes high tension in eastern Finnmark, at the 196 km long border with the Soviet Union. To keep tensions from getting too high, Norway declared that no NATO exercises would take place in Finnmark. There were, however, a lot of military intelligence activity, and Norwegian P-3 Orion maritime surveillance aircraft were often the first to get pictures of newly built Soviet submarines and aircraft. A purpose built ELINT vessel, the Marjata, was always stationed near the border, and the current Marjata (7500 t,[14] is still operating out of the ports in eastern Finnmark. As recent as 2000, Russian generals threatened to target nuclear missiles at the Globus II Radar in Vardø [15]).


The Hammerfest suburb of Rypefjord

The old stoneage Komsa culture is very difficult to relate to the people living in Finnmark today. There are findings suggesting that the Sami people have been here for a long time, but exactly how long is unclear, some scholars [who?] claim 8000 years, while some [who?] claim only 2500 years. From the Middle Ages, starting in the 10th century, the coastal areas have been populated and visited by ethnic Norwegians, and Finnmark became part of the kingdom.

The Sami core areas in Norway are in Finnmark, where they constitute about one-quarter of the total population. The county and the municipalities Kautokeino, Karasjok, Tana, Nesseby, Porsanger, Kåfjord (in Troms), Tysfjord (in Nordland) and Snåsa (in Nord-Trøndelag) also have official names in the Sami language. Most municipalities in Sápmi, however, have unofficial names in Sámi as well.

In the 19th century up to World War II many Finnish speaking immigrants [16] settled in Finnmark. Since 1996, they have had minority status as Kven people. Vadsø (Vesisaari in Kven) is often seen as the Kven capital in Finnmark.

Lakselv in central Finnmark is sometimes referred to as meeting place for three tribes. In recent years, with the Russian immigrants arriving in Kirkenes, this town is actually a meeting place for four cultures.



  1. ^ "Norwegian Meteorological Records". http:\\ Retrieved 2009-02-12.
  2. ^ "Meteorological data". Retrieved 2009-02-12. ((cite web)): External link in |publisher= (help)
  3. ^ "Meteorological data". http://www/ 2007-02-04. Retrieved 2009-02-12.
  4. ^ Duval-Smith, Alex (2005-11-27). "Arctic booms as climate change melts polar ice cap". London: Retrieved 2009-02-12.
  5. ^ "Snøhvit". Archived from the original on December 14, 2007. Retrieved 2009-02-12.
  6. ^ "Aftenpost article". Retrieved 2009-02-12.
  7. ^ "Aftenpost article". Retrieved 2009-02-12.
  8. ^ "Norwegian environmental group Bellona". Retrieved 2009-02-12.
  9. ^ Projected population - Statistics Norway
  10. ^ Statistics Norway - Church of Norway.
  11. ^ Statistics Norway - Members of religious and life stance communities outside the Church of Norway, by religion/life stance. County. 2006-2010
  12. ^ "BioOne article". 1970-01-01. Retrieved 2009-02-12.
  13. ^ Susan Zimmerman, World War II Magazine Volume 25, No.4 November/December 2010, pp.31
  14. ^ Norwegian military article Template:No icon[dead link]
  15. ^ NewsMax Russia Threatens Norway Over Radar Base; Says Base Targeted with Nuclear Missiles[dead link]
  16. ^ "Den kvenske folkevandringen til Troms og Finnmark" (in Norwegian). 2008-02-28. Retrieved 2009-02-12.


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