Fishermen from all over northern Norway came to the bays and inlets around Kabelvåg, the old Vågan region, to harvest their share of the vast drifts of cod. Vågan grew and became the centre of mediaeval Hålogaland. At Storvågan, the grounds of the Lofoten Museum, 1 km west of Kabelvåg, we find the remnants of the old centre of Vågar.
Vågan's growth was based on the export of stockfish to the Mediterranean countries. Stockfish became a commodity around the year 1000. To begin with, exports were most likely conducted directly from North Norway, from Vågan to the respective foreign countries. But gradually, the stockfish was bought up by merchants who came from the south to buy the fish and sell corn and other necessities. The stockfish was then carried to Trondheim and Bergen, in the end solely to Bergen, for export. In this way, the Vågastevne Meeting developed, originally as a buyer's meeting.
The Crown, too, learned to exploit the great congregation of people in Vågan, and a legislative assembly was developed there. Assemblies were held at Brurberget near Storvågan, and the most famous of them took place in 1282, when the co-called Vågan Book, a dedicated statute book for Vågan, was abolished. Royal law alone would now apply all over the country. Apparently, Vågan also had its own currency, the so-called Våga-silver.
In 1321, Archbishop Eiliv was in Vågan to establish an annual meeting of the clergy, and all churches in Northern Norway and the archbishop's stool in Nidaros were to be represented at the summer meeting in Vågan. Thus a complete Vågastevne Meeting was established.
- Buyer's Meeting
- Legislative Meeting
- Clerical Meeting
After the Black Death Vågan experienced a period of decline. When the Bailiff of Lofoten and Vesterålen, Erik Hansen Schønnebøl was there in 1591, he wrote that Vågan, which had been a centre of trade, was now no more than a poor fishing hamlet where "there lived a mere 10-12 poor beggars."
Subsequently, a new centre arose in Kabelvåg, and in the late 1800s, the village had developed an urban atmosphere and had without doubt become the "capital of Lofoten," having a police force, a sheriff, a magistrate and a dean, and above all becoming a centre of trade. Another indicator of Kabelvåg's central position in Lofoten was its newspapers. No less than four newspapers were published there at different times, and in 1895 three of them were published simultaneously.
Kabelvåg also had one of the best known markets along the coast. As we have seen, this market had traditions dating way back in time. When the first market was arranged in 1882, it was a resumption of the old, mediaeval Vågastevne Meeting. The sale of stockfish was the driving force behind the Vågastevne Meeting, but in more recent times Kabelvåg Market was more characterised by amusement and entertainment. People came here to buy and sell, entertain or be entertained. The last Kabelvåg Market was held in 1939.
The motorisation of coastal vessels led to a decline in Kabelvåg. The harbour was not good enough and Svolvær took over most of the boat traffic and thereby also the resulting new growth. In spite of the fact that Kabelvåg has been ravished by a number of major fires, the old wooden buildings are still the trade mark of the village. But the two latest fires, on 8 December 1991 and 13 June 1992, claimed several of the oldest buildings in the main street, Storgata, as their victims.
Today, Kabelvåg is primarily a centre of education and culture. There is a college of further education there, a folk high school, and Nordland Video Workshop offers courses in filmmaking.
Furthermore, we find Gallery Espolin there, where the majority of the works of Kaare Espolin Johnson are on display. The collection was a gift from the artist to Vågan Municipal Council. The Lofoten Aquarium and the tourist and rorbu cabin centre Nyvågar also contribute towards making Storvågan a unique area.
Excerpts from the King's brochure of 1992, written by Håkon Brun (1992)