A cultural environment is an area in which monuments and objects form part of a larger entity or context. Nowadays it is considered important to preserve monuments and sites as part of an integrated whole, not just as individual buildings or other structures. There are currently five protected cultural environments in Norway, the Havrå farm complex, the Utstein Monastery, the Sami settlement Neiden, the silver mines at Kongsberg and the coastal community of Sogndalstrand. The urban environment of Birkelunden in Oslo is also in line to be protected.
National preservation plans such as the Conservation of Monuments and Sites along the Coast Project and the Lighthouse Preservation Plan are used to safeguard a number of important areas along the coast. The Pilgrim Way project involved the restoration and trail-marking of traditional medieval routes to the Nidaros Cathedral (Trondheim).
The conservation of cultural environments is rooted in an understanding that all the features of an area are related and form a unified whole, and that all parts of the environment have a meaningful relationship to each other. This means that changes to or disturbance of one aspect of a cultural environment may alter its overall character in the same way as large-scale development.
Views on which parts of a country’s cultural heritage are most worth preserving change over time in response to both technical and political priorities. Previously, the most important priority in cultural conservation comprised the preservation of individual monuments, which often involved architecturally unique buildings. Today, there is greater focus on the conservation of integrated cultural environments, monuments and sites that tell the story of the lives and activities of ordinary people.
The Pilgrim Way is a route that transcends the ordinary. Hikers can walk through the same landscape experienced by medieval pilgrims on their way to Nidaros (present-day Trondheim) and the Nidaros Cathedral, where the remains of St. Olav were kept in a gilded shrine on the high altar.
While a few sections of the Pilgrim Way run alongside modern highways, most follow ancient roads and paths, through forests, fields and meadows and over the high mountains of Dovre. The route offers a rich diversity of countryside and cultural monuments, winding through historic landscapes inhabited for centuries. Burial mounds, medieval churches and picturesque farms all form part of the journey.
As a result of new navigation and automation technology, most Norwegian lighthouses are now unmanned. Lighthouses are exposed to harsher weather conditions than many other buildings, and rapidly deteriorate without regular maintenance. Many are therefore threatened by decay, and an important part of Norwegian coastal cultural heritage is in danger of being lost. The Directorate for Cultural Heritage and the Norwegian Coastal Administration have drawn up a Lighthouse Preservation Plan in order to protect a representative sample of lighthouses. The plan encompasses 83 lighthouses and five fog warning signals.