|When national romanticism reached Norway from Europe in the middle of the 19th century, many cultural values of the past were rejuvenated.
The sagas were translated; folk music, folk poetry and folk tales were written down, and old rural customs were rescued from oblivion. And by 1844 the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Norwegian Monuments had been founded. Initially the Society’s work was characterised by idealism, but it gradually took on a more organised form and the Society became an established institution. The Society realised however that its work had to be given a more official status. This happened in 1912 with the establishment of a Central Office of Historic Monuments (Riksantikvarembetet). Architect Herman M. Schirmer was appointed to head this Office as the first Riksantikvar, but died only a few months later. The nomination of his successor was accompanied by heated discussions, which were peppered with insults and insinuations. Despite the verbal abuse, the appointment went to Harry Fett, art historian and factory owner. As Riksantikvar he was to become a legend. In the course of 33 years, he built up a strong, competent organisation and initiated a comprehensive survey of Norway’s antiquarian wealth.
In 1920 the Storting passed a law on the preservation of ancient buildings. It was not always easy to practise this law. Norway was a young nation with a keen desire for economic development, and the protection of cultural heritage sometimes had to yield to socioeconomic demands. However, the law was a big step towards organised preservation. In 1972 the Central Office of Historic Monuments was placed under the recently established Ministry of the Environment and in 1978 the Cultural Heritage Act came into force in place of the Preservation Act. In 1988 the Central Office was given the status of directorate with the overall responsibility for cultural heritage management.
This applies primarily to the ancient cultural monuments and sites of national importance that are protected under the Cultural Heritage Act, i.e. all traces of human activity from before 1537, but the Directorate for Cultural Heritage may also issue protection orders for newer buildings and sites of high architectural value.