Long before a traveler is in the heart of Norway's Trondelag region - that heart being the city of Trondheim - the striking figure of a famous Viking looms.
He is Olav Tryggvason, Norway's sixth King and a Viking chieftain of about a thousand years ago, who stands atop a tall column in the center of the city's marketplace.
In one hand the Viking ruler holds a cross; in the other a sword. Although Olav I is honored as founder of Trondheim and as one-time head of Christianized Norway, little is said now about his conversion methods, which included more than talking. In those days, it was Christianity or else.
Like Admiral Nelson, who presides over Trafalgar Square in London, and Napoleon, who commands the Place Vendome in Paris, Olav I represents a certain spirit of this place, its history and people.
When Americans saw a Viking exhibit that toured the United States a few years ago they learned about the power, art, ingenuity, and brutality of these inveterate traders and marauders. A taste of that Viking life, albeit mild, is still possible to find here in the Grondelag zone in midsouthwestern Norway.
Today, the area is largely devoted to agriculture and mining and possesses a rich and diverse geography: forests, waterfalls, mountains, the rugged coastline , and flat, fertile farmland.
In Trondheim, the region's capital, Olav I looks out on a city that still exemplifies Viking ruggedness: two-centuries-old timber warehouses stand on a canal bank; in streets below the statue rise such outstanding buildings as Nideros Cathedral, the Bishop's Palace, the royal summer residence Stiftsgaarden , the provincial parliament, and city hall.
Viking architecture - plain and solid - is also seen in houses and shops on these and other streets stemming from the city center. Built chiefly of wood, these buildings make the city look something like a survivor of the old American West. Indeed, they are survivors of a sort: Trondheim was more fortunate than many other Norwegian cities during World War II and the Nazi occupation, escaping with little damage to property.
Nideros Cathedral, named for the river nearby, competes with the Olav I statue for domination of downtown - it is the largest medieval building in Scandinavia. Nidaros's west face is an ornate expanse of stonework. Chiefly Gothic, it was visited by pilgrims from many parts of Europe and still attracts many travelers to its services and concerts.
Few visitors, by comparison, go to the Stifts gaarden, the royal residence, possibly because of its unimpressive interior. But the barnlike building, now more than 200 years old, is the largest timber structure in Scandinavia.
Of more interest to many visitors is the Museum of Musical History - one of the few such galleries anywhere - which is located in Ringve, a suburb of Trondheim. It holds more than 1,500 instruments - including some from Viking days - most of which can be played. (There are young women guides that demonstrate one or more in each room.)
Other popular Trondheim attractions include the folk, maritime, industrial, and scientific museums, the relatively new University of Trondheim, and Monk Island in the fjord, a popular swimming and sunning place. And the fish markets and restaurants are often crowded, with many searching after Norway's famed pink salmon.
Two other Trondelag cities, about 50 miles from Trondheim, are worth day trips: Oppdal and Roros. The first is south and on the Dovre Railway. Oppdal is a winter resort, with snow-covered peaks of moderate height, known for its skiing and other sports. In the early days it was the scene of the killing of King Haakon I, in 961, in a war with his Danish Viking enemies, who brandished such names as Erik Blood-Axe and Harald Blood Tooth. Today, the only startling figure in Oppdal is the huge town troll.
Roros, to the southeast, was founded in 1644 when copper was discovered there. It also is the setting for the novels of a leading Norse author, the late Johan Petter Ralkberget.
Because of its mines, Roros was a rich city and was often invaded by the Swedes in the 17th and 18th centuries. But mining has diminished in recent years , and today Roros strives to be a tourist center with a frontier look. The mines , as well as the homes of many of the mine owners and wealthy merchants, may still be seen. Fortunately, invasion by Swedes these days amounts to no more than visits by young people who drive the 500-mile road connecting Sweden with this part of Norway.