Alta (Northern Sami: Álttá gielda, Kven: Alattion komuuni) is a municipality in Troms and Finnmark, west of Finnmark, with city status since 2000. It borders in the north on Hasvik, Hammerfest and Loppa, in the east on Porsanger, in the south on Kautokeino and Karasjok, and in the west towards Kvænangen and Loppa. Alta is also the name of the town and city, which is the municipality's administrative center.

Several interpretations of the place name Alta have been launched. Oluf Rygh put it in connection with the Old Norse alpt («swan»). Just Qvigstad thought the first link was the Finnish ala-, as in alamaa («lowland»). Jens Petter Nielsen has pointed to the Sami alda ("sacrificial site").



Ancient monuments
Alta is famous for the rock carvings that were discovered in 1973 and are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. This field has Northern Europe's largest number of petroglyphs and rock paintings made by a hunter-gatherer population. The oldest rock carvings are shoreline dated to be approx. 7000 years old. The first find was the so-called Pippisteinen, which in the 1950s was found in Gjermundsby a little south of Isnestoften. The town is also known for the Stone Age finds near the mountain Komsa, which has given its name to what was previously called the Komsa culture and which is today called the Old Stone Age in Finnmark.

Before 1700
Alta is first mentioned in written sources in 1520, and is at that time apparently a district inhabited by a couple of hundred sea Sami who lived by hunting, fishing and animal husbandry. The area was a common tax country for Denmark-Norway, Sweden and Russia. Towards the end of the 16th century, there were constant conflicts between Sweden and Denmark over the right to tax salmon fishing in the Alta River, and in 1611 the Danish king built a fortress on Årøya to keep the Swedes away. It was not until the peace of Knærød (1613) that it was established that Alta and the other fjord areas in the north belonged to Denmark-Norway. By this time, the first Norwegians had begun to settle inside the Altafjord, especially on the west side of the fjord and on Årøya.

18th century
Alta belonged to Sørvær parish, but as the fisheries failed and the population on the coast sank, at the same time as Alta experienced a certain growth, the center of gravity in the parish shifted inwards. In 1694, Altafjorden's first church was built on Årøya, but in 1705 it was moved to the Talvik courthouse. Alta now became the main parish. In Talvik, the Alten Handel trading facility was also established a few years earlier. Around the year 1700, Kven immigration, as a result of war and famine in Finland, began in Alta in earnest. The Kvens brought with them both grain cultivation and improved river fishing methods, and settled mainly by the Alta River from Elvebakken and up to Upper Alta. In 1738, the county governor moved from Vardø to Alta, and built Altagård as a residence. The place was the county seat until 1815. The trade monopoly was abolished in the county of Finnmark in 1789, and trading places were soon established in Bossekop, Djupvik in Leirbotn, Rivarbukt, Sopnes and Komagfjord. During the 18th century, the population of Alta had increased from 350 to almost 2,000. In 1801, 54% were Sami, 29% Norwegians and 18% Kvens.

19th century
In 1826, the English company Alten Copper Mines started mining in Kåfjord. Many miners came to Kåfjord from Finland, Sweden and mining communities in southern Norway such as Røros and Folldal. During the mining period, Kåfjord was for a period the most populous place in Finnmark. The mining community was a melting pot of different cultures; here there were, among other things, a hotel, inn, school, theater, large workers' barracks and director's residence. Kåfjord Church (1837), which was not burned during the war, clearly bears the mark of its English architecture from the mining period. From 1837 there was also mining in Raipas, but in 1878 the operation was closed down in both places. The Swedish-owned Altens Kobbergruber resumed operations in the years 1896 before they also gave up mining in 1908.

Several of the miners traveled on to the United States, but others began as early as the 1830s to combine mining with farming. In this way, the large valleys in inner Alta - Mathisdalen, Storelvdalen, Eiby and Tverrelvdalen were cultivated. Another industry that grew up after the end of Kåfjord was slate.

Throughout the 19th century, the Pomor trade became important for the outer fjord areas of Alta. Norwegian fish was exchanged for Russian grain and supplied the coastal population in large parts of northern Norway. This trade became increasingly important until its abrupt end after the Russian Revolution of 1917.

In 1857 the parish was divided in Alta and Talvik, and in 1862 the same thing happened with the municipality. Kåfjord had then been its own chapel parish since 1837. The Catholic North Police Mission had its headquarters at Altagård 1856-65, and there was a Catholic congregation in Alta until 1902. The Laestadian revival had greater progress, especially from 1865 onwards, and especially among the Kvens on Elvebakken.

Second World War
Alta and the fjord Kåfjord is also known for the attempt to sink the German battleship "Tirpitz", which was in the fjord for 18 months. The ship was so badly damaged that it had to leave the fjord. The ship was towed to Tromsø where it was eventually sunk by the Allied forces.


Alta was burned down by the Germans in the autumn of 1944 and the only building in the current city of Alta that was not burned was Alta Church. The churches in Kåfjord, Talvik, Sopnes and Kviby were spared. The population was evacuated to the south and was received by host families in different parts of the country. After the liberation of Norway, the population returned, some already in the spring of 1945. Those who returned lived in the summer of 1945 in tents and barns, where they rebuilt the houses on their old plots. Many houses were built of planks that they found at Alta Airport. The airport had been built by the Germans during the war. The airstrip had been built of planks approx. 148 mm x 48 mm and 4 meters long, but these planks were pierced with holes to drain water from the airstrip. Plugs were nailed and put in the holes and houses were carpented. It was illegal to pick up planks, but more and more disappeared from the airstrip. You can still see some old living rooms that are made up of these characteristic pierced planks that are sealed with wooden plugs.

Alta became known for the People's Action against the development of the Alta-Kautokeinovassdraget, where several thousand protesters chained themselves in Stilla. The demonstrators were environmentalists from all over Norway, but also from other countries such as Denmark. The local population in Alta was divided, with some in favor of development and others against. Some believed that development would provide Alta with important jobs. While others who lived along the Alta River and were closely connected to the river were against development. Most anglers were against development when they feared the consequences for Altalaksen. Despite this, the Altademingen was built in the Alta-Kautokeinovassdraget. The Alta River is known for being one of Europe's most beautiful salmon rivers.