“The Rjukan-Notodden site manifests an exceptional combination of industrial assets and themes associated to the natural landscape,” Unesco declared in the entry on its website naming the area as one of its 2015 sites. “It stands out as an example of a new global industry in the early 20th century.”
The Vemork power station, the core of the Rjukan-Notodden industrial complex, was built by Norsk Hydro in 1911 to power a fertiliser factory and a series of other industrial plants.
The most dramatic chapter in the history of the area came during the German occupation of Norway in the Second World War, when the Norwegian resistance movement sabotaged it to prevent the deuterium oxide, or ‘heavy water’, produced by the plant being used to make German atomic bombs.
In 1965, the story of the Norwegian saboteurs was made into the film Heroes of Telemark, which the American director Anthony Mann shot on location in Telemark.
As Mann’s film was only very loosely based on the real events, earlier this year Norwegian broadcaster NRK aired a drama series, “the Heavy Water War”, that stayed as true to the real events as possible.
“This is a fantastic day for Telemark,” Telemark mayor Terje Riis-Johansen told NRK. “This gives us the opportunity to let the whole world know about the unique industrial history we have.”
Jørn Christensen, chairman of Notodden Municipality, told the broadcaster that the industrial complex was greater than the Taj Mahal in India.
”I think ours is greater. Ours is eighty kilometres long and stretches all the way from Møsvann dam to Notodden, so this is no joke,” he said before the UNESCO application had been approved.
The establishment of Rjukan-Notodden arguably marked the beginning of the Norwegian industrial revolution, as it was the first place hydroelectricity was used to power large scale industry.