Lesja is a municipality in Innlandet county, Norway. It is part of the traditional region of Gudbrandsdal. The administrative centre of the municipality is the village of Lesja.
The parish of Lesje was established as a municipality on 1 January 1838 (see formannskapsdistrikt). The area of Dovre was separated from Lesja to become a municipality of its own in 1861.
Lesja is bordered in the north by the municipalities of Nesset, Sunndal, and Oppdal; in the east by Dovre; in the south by Vågå and Lom; in the southwest by Skjåk; and to the west by Rauma.
The Old Norse form of the name was Lesjar (plural form). There are two different interpretations of the meaning of the name. It might derive from læs meaning "pasture", or it is a shortened version of "Leirsjøar" meaning "muddy lakes", referring to two relatively large and shallow lakes which occupied the valley bottom until the late 19th century, when both lakes were drained in order to gain more farmland.
The coat-of-arms is from modern times. They were granted on 23 January 1987. The form is meant to represent the spire of Lesja Church, which is visible from far away.
Lesja is highly mountainous, and lies on the east-west watershed, with Lesjaskogsvatnet lake draining both west to the Rauma river and east to the Gudbrandsdalslågen river. The largest part (82%) of the community area is over 900 metres (3,000 ft) above sea level, with the highest mountain peaks reaching above an elevation of 2,200 metres (7,200 ft) in the northeast. The most populated areas lie between 500 and 650 metres (1,640 and 2,130 ft) along the Gudbrandsdalslågen river and highway E136. Abundant summer farms (seter or sæter) are situated close to the treeline, both in the main valley and its tributaries. The summer farms were of major importance for farming until recently, but today only few are used in the traditional way, and mainly as grounds for grazing dairy cattle and sheep. More than 400 lakes are situated within the municipality, mainly above treeline. The Norwegian trout is common both in lakes and rivers, even in lakes above 1,500 metres (4,900 ft) above sea level. The landscape is hummocky in general, and owes its appearance mainly to erosion by the Scandinavian Ice Sheet during the last glacial period.
Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella National Park
Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella National Park was founded in 2002 and encompasses part of the former Dovre National Park area, as founded in 1974. It is 1,693 square kilometres (654 sq mi) encompassing areas in Lesja and Dovre in Innlandet as well as areas in Sør-Trøndelag and Møre og Romsdal. It includes the Dovrefjell mountain range.
The community is primarily agricultural. Recent censuses show over 40% of the residents in the community are in farming.
Rail service is provided by the Rauma Line, connecting with the Dovre Line at Dombås in Dovre and extending to the terminus in Åndalsnes on the fjord in Møre og Romsdal County.
Lesja is located in a mountain region, comprising the south-westerly portion of the Dovrefjell range. It is the site of the Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella National Park, lies just north of Jotunheimen National Park and lies just west of Rondane National Park, so tourism and outdoor sports such as skiing are also important. The Bjorli ski area lies in Lesja.
Since it is located on a pass providing access to the Gudbrandsdalen, Lesja lies on an important trade route used in prehistoric times.
Earliest recorded history
The area is first mentioned in the written chronicle of the Heimskringla (The Chronicle of the Kings of Norway) by Snorri Sturluson. The account of King Olaf's (A.D. 1015-1021) conversion of Dale-Gudbrand to Christianity is popularly recognized. King Olaf's success was short-lived, for in 1029 the Norwegian nobles, seething with discontent, rallied round the invading Knut the Great, and Olaf had to flee. To avoid engaging a fleet of 25 ships, 400 of King Olav's men and 100 loyal peasant farmers from Romsdal built a road up from the Romsdalfjord which passed through the area that became known as Lesjaverk. His men fled along this road and across Gudbrandsdal. There he was not warmly received since he had killed King Thorer of Gudbrandsdal, so he went on to Hedmark. From there he proceeded to Sweden and on to Russia. On his return a year later he fell at the Battle of Stiklestad.
Lesjaverk (The Lesja iron works)
Iron smelting is recorded in Lesja municipality at Lesjaverk (Lesja Iron Works) as early as 1614, when King Christian IV of Denmark and Norway authorized the Romsdal Market at Devold on the Rauma river 4 miles upstream of Åndalsnes. With this change, Molde assumed the role as principal market town for Romsdal formerly held by Veøy. This change was made to provide the ironworkers at Lesjaverk with a convenient outlet for their products as well as providing them a market to purchases goods and food supplies such as stockfish and grain.
Art and culture
Jakob Bersveinson Klukstad (1710 to 1773), who was born in Lom spent most of his career on Klukstad farm in Lesja. Klukstad was the foremost Norwegian sculptor and painter of his generation. His work can still be seen in churches at Lesja, Skjåk, and Heidal.
Emigration from Lesja
The Lesja area in the Gudbrandsdal was source of numerous emigrants to America. According to Du Chaillu, "...during the great famine of 1867; a year memorable in the annals of Northern Europe, when, in consequence of an early and heavy frost in summer, the crops were destroyed, and desolation and death spread over vast districts. The lichen and the bark of the birch tree, mixed with a little flour, became the food of the people after the cattle had been eaten up and nothing else was left. The year following a strong tide of emigration set out for America."
World War 2
After the German invasion of April 1940, while King Haakan and the Norwegian government were moving from Elverum to the west coast, the King and Crown Prince Olaf arrived in Otta on the night of April 13. The prime minister and his colleagues, who were then in Lesja, were summoned and a communiqué, ending "God save Norway," and urging resistance to the unprovoked attack was issued. They now intended to relocate to the west coast, but the Germans had dropped paratroopers higher in the Gudbrandsdalen, at Dombås, cutting off the rail route. It was not until the evening of the 21st that the King was able to travel by road from Otta to Lesja on the east-west watershed and then down the narrow Romsdal to Åndalsnes.During the war a British fighter squadron (flying 'Gloster Gladiators') flew from the icebound surface of lake Lesjaskogsvatnet. No. 263 Squadron RAF operated with 18 Gloster Gladiator biplane fighters in late April 1940 as part of the Norwegian Campaign.
Jakob Klukstad (1705–1773) a wood carver and painter, lived most of his life and died in Lesja
Edvard Storm (1749–1794) a national romantic poet and teacher in Lesja
Christen Pram (1756 in Lesja – 1821) an economist, civil servant, poet, novelist, playwright, diarist and magazine editor
Jens Holmboe (1752 in Lesja – 1804) a Norwegian bailiff, helped settle the Målselvdalen
John Flittie (1856 in Lesja – 1913) emigrated 1867, became the first North Dakota Secretary of State
Frederick Delius (1862-1934) summered at the house he built in 1921, Villa Høifagerli, in Lesjaskog
Sigurd Einbu (1866 in Lesjaskog – 1946) a Norwegian self-taught astronomer
Ragnvald Einbu (1870 in Lesja – 1943) a painter and woodcarver of fairy-tale and genre figures
Lars Magnus Moen (1885 in Lesja – 1964) politician and Minister, member of the Storting 1928-1957
Olaf Heitkøtter, (Norwegian Wiki) (1928-2013) a mountain ranger in Lesja, has written seven books
Ola Enstad (1942 in Lesjaskog – 2013) a Norwegian sculptor
Arne Hyttnes (born 1950 in Lesjaskog) a Norwegian banker
Lars Berger (born 1979) & Tora Berger (born 1981) biathletes, lived in Lesja from 1985