Telemark extends from the coast of the Oslo fjord, through flat, fertile dales, up steep hills and narrow valleys to the Hardanger plateau. Large lakes and several major river systems thread their way through the county. Locks and dams make it possible for ocean craft to reach the western end of the county. Old routes led to Setesdal and to the west coast.
Agriculture, animal husbandry and lumber were the main sources of livelihood until the 1900s when industry and hydroelectric power stations were built. Small towns along the coast sprang up as centers of lumber exporting and saw milling. Shipping was also important from the 1500s to the end of the 1800s.
The row tun was common in the western part of Telemark while the square tun was widespread in flatter areas. The irregular placement of farm buildings also occurred.
Many medieval buildings and artifacts, as well as customs, oral traditions, songs, tales and myths have been preserved in Telemark. Since the Middle Ages, Telemark has had the largest percentage of farmers who owned their farm. Social differences have been relatively small.
The Farmstead from Telemark
All of the buildings are from eastern Telemark except for the hay barn. The buildings are arranged in a square tun, with the innhus on one side and the uthus on the other.
House from Yli Nordre, Heddal, ca. 1750-1800
This type of two story building first appeared in the 1500s on the farms of government officials and wealthy farmers. It became common among average farmers in the prosperous years of the 1700s. The chimney made it possible to build a two story house with a hearth or stove on both stories. The gallery is typical of two story houses in east Telemark.
There are three rooms on the ground floor, the antechamber, the main room and the chamber. The furnishings have renaissance characteristics and are arranged in the customary way. The cupboard at the foot of the bed was the entrance to the cellar. The shelf between the doors, the bostkastet, was the "powder room" where combs, brushes, and other toiletries were kept. There was a privy at the end of the gallery.
Stairs to the upper floor are in the gallery. There are two rooms upstairs, a storeroom and the guest room, and each room is entered through the gallery. The guest room is furnished similarly to the main room downstairs. Tarald Olsen Haugen made the guest room furnishings in the early 1800s. They are characteristic of his work, combining renaissance, baroque and classical elements.
Originally, this type of house had a sod roof. When roof tiles began to be made in Telemark, it became fashionable to use them instead of sod. Tile roofs do not insulate as well as sod roofs and many people put in paneled ceilings for warmth. The guest room was heated by an iron stove, an item which emphasized the special status of the room.
Guest House, Akkerhaugen, Sauherad, ca. 1800
The red paint with black and white squares along the edges creates the illusion of brick. This use of paint was fashionable in Skien and Porsgrunn, where people modeled their houses after the brick buildings of European cities.
A porch covers the entrance to the single room which once had a fireplace in the corner. The furnishings are original and are decorated with carvings. The interior is covered in rosemaling done by the well-known artist Olav Hansson from Hovin. Many of the scenes are from the Bible.
The cottage was built by Halvor Akkerhaugen who was Court Chamberlain Cappelen's representative in the lumber exporting trade. Akkerhaugen built the guest house so that Cappelen would have suitably elegant quarters when he came to visit.
Loft from Søndre Tveito in Hovin, ca. 1300
Round logs, log notches, profiles, motifs around the door and a runic inscription make it possible to date this loft to around 1300. The loft is a well preserved and exquisite example of medieval architecture. The motifs around the door are taken from medieval church art and traces of original paint remain, ochre on the lions and rust red on the mask.
The bu, or the ground floor room, was used for storing food. An enclosed gallery covers the upper story where textiles and other valuables were kept. Tar crosses are painted on the door to protect the contents. There is a medieval bed in the upper story. The loft was presumably lifted onto posts in the 1700s.