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Europe, Norway

Skagerrak Strait, Scandinavian Peninsula, valley communities, Queen Maud Land, Svalbard archipelago

Norway, officially Kingdom of Norway (Norwegian Kongeriket Norge), constitutional monarchy in northern Europe. A long and mostly narrow country, Norway occupies the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula. Norway’s extensive coastline is washed on three sides by seas. To the north is the Barents Sea, an arm of the Arctic Ocean; to the west is the Norwegian Sea; and to the south are Skagerrak Strait, which separates Norway from Denmark, and the North Sea. Norway shares a long eastern border with Sweden, and in the far northeast Norway shares a frontier with Russia and Finland. Norway has a land area of 385,639 sq km (148,896 sq mi). Oslo, in the south, is Norway’s capital and largest city.

Norway has several overseas possessions. In the Arctic Ocean is the Svalbard archipelago, a group of nine islands, and Jan Mayen, a volcanic island northeast of Iceland. Norway’s possessions also include Bouvet Island, an uninhabited island in the South Atlantic Ocean; Peter I Island, off Antarctica; and the portion of Antarctica known as Queen Maud Land, which lies between longitude 20° west and 45° east.

Norway is a land of pine-topped mountain ranges, valleys gouged out by glaciers, and narrow deep-sided inlets from the sea known as fjords. A line of offshore islands called the skerry guard shields the coastline and forms a protected inland waterway. Norway’s name, which means “northern way,” reflects the importance of this waterway in linking the many small fjord and valley communities that are otherwise separated by rugged terrain. Norway is sometimes called the Land of the Midnight Sun. One-third of Norway lies north of the Arctic Circle, where there is almost continuous daylight from May through July. In midwinter the far north is dark almost all of the time.

Today, as in the past, most of Norway’s people live along the shores of the fjords in the south. For many centuries, as fishers and traders, they lived off the sea. It was from Norway’s coast that the Vikings—skilled sailors who built a vast maritime trading network—ventured across the Atlantic Ocean to Iceland, later becoming the first Europeans to reach Greenland and North America toward the end of the 10th century. The lure of the sea has remained strong into modern times. Norway retains a sizable fishing industry and its merchant marine fleet is one of the world’s largest. The discovery of vast reserves of petroleum and natural gas in Norway’s portion of the North Sea during the late 20th century has brought a new source of prosperity to the country.

The first unified Norwegian kingdom emerged in the 9th century AD. In 1397 Norway became a province of Denmark and was dominated by that country until 1814, when Denmark ceded Norway to Sweden. A surge of nationalist sentiment in Norway in the 19th century led to the dissolution of the union with Sweden. Norway became an independent nation in 1905, with a constitutional monarch as head of state and a democratically elected government.

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