Frederik de Wit was one of the greatest cartographers of the 17th century and a key figure of the Golden Age of Dutch cartography. This is his detailed map of Norway: the most bountiful province in the Kingdom of Denmark.
When De Wit produced this incredibly detailed map, Norway was an integrated, albeit rural, part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Norway supplied most of the kingdom’s natural resources – from timber and fish to building stone and blubber. De Wit’s engraving provides a highly detailed and tight rendition of the country. Denmark is not included in the map (but received its own dedicated sheet), just as very little of the Swedish mainland has been included. In this sense, it shows that even in the mid-17th century, a clear idea existed of Norway as a distinct region.
As we follow the contours of the coast northwards, we are struck by a sense of the extraordinary beauty that Norway boasts, with its countless deep fjords and rugged granite shoreline. Toponyms along the coastline are considerably denser than inland, correctly reflecting how and where people settled. In addition to the natural resources the Norwegian wilderness provided, the land was inhabited by people skilled at all things nautical. Many great Viking explorers sailed from Norway, and Norwegian fishermen and whalers first sailed on the dangerous Arctic coasts of Greenland.
Along the western coastline, we find many of the critical coastal centers that still constitute Norway’s most important cities today. The great Stavanger and Hardanger Fjords are depicted in incredible detail, although not always geographically exact. In addition to the administrative capital at Kristiania (later Oslo), the most important Norwegian city at this time was Bergen: a trade hub for commodities like whale blubber, tar, and timber, which lay shielded in its elongated fjord on the west coast, just north of the Hardanger Fjord. On the south coast, at the northern end of the Oslo Fjord, we find the Norwegian capital of Kristiania (later Oslo). On the city’s western flank, we see the great castle of Aggershus (Akerhus), which functioned as a residence during royal visits and was the most important strategic stronghold in Norway at the time.
The map includes plentiful details on the landscape and topography, and De Wit plots all major towns and cities (i.e. Bergen, Stavanger, Kristiania, and Frederiksstad) with urbis symbols painted in red. In the upper right corner, we find an inset of Arctic Norway, the so-called Finmarken, and in the lower right corner of the map, we find an elaborate cartouche sporting the triple lion heraldry of the Danish Crown.