First, the pronounciation of Håkonshallen (the hall of Håkon): That funny "a" in the first syllable is a Scandinavian vowel, and pronounced like a very open "o" (approaching an ah). HOH-kohns-hahllenn.
The 750-year-old Håkonshallen is beloved by the people of Bergen, and those massive stone walls make an excellent backdrop for outdoor operas. I've seen "Aida" there. The walls would have been painted white in medieval times, as was the custom then. It has occurred to me that many tourists miss this building, because they are distracted by the rather fascinating row that precedes it:
In really old days, when the main mode of long-distance transportation was the boat or ship, Norway consisted of today's western mainland, the islands north of the British isles (like Shetland and Faeroy, etc.) and Iceland. Bergen was then the capital, meaning it happened to be where the king lived (as it turns out, Norway's had three capitals, all depending on where the king decided to have his throne). The first laws of the land were written in Bergen in 1276 by king Magnus Lagabøter (Magnus Law-Improver), son of the King Håkon for whom the hall was built. The first activity in the new hall was prince Magnus' wedding. (In case you're keeping track, that would be King Håkon IV and King Magnus VI.)
Håkonshallen has survived fires, neglect and a massive explosion on the harbor in 1944, which took out everything except the stone walls. The hall was lovingly restored and I finally got to see inside in 1988. That's when my grandpa was invited to a medal ceremony for his participation in the war effort as a member of the Norwegian merchant marine.
The above picture from a concert this June shows what the inside looks like with rows and rows of seats filled. (The acoustics aren't too bad.) It was a bit like that with my grandpa. He was 87, dressed in his blue-gray light wool suit and polished brown shoes that he seemed to have had my entire life, and he looked so proud. I was a bit surprised by that, since he never talked about the war. But on that sunny day, surrounded by hundreds of other old sailors (a few were women), he was immersed in the honor and the formality of the occasion. Grandpa has received three medals for his efforts. I took them home with me when Grandma went to the nursing home and they hang on my wall.
The above medal was the one Grandpa got in 1988, signed by King Olav V. The text reads (my translation):
For especially long and effort-filled service on Norwegian and/or Allied merchant ships during the world war 1939–45 and thereby rendered great service to Norway's cause.
A portrait Grandma made of the man himself hangs above my desk.