809km (502 miles) N of Bodø; 329km (204 miles) N of Tromsø; 1,989km (1,233 miles) N of Oslo
At the dawn of the 21st century, Alta was renamed rather romantically Nordlysbyen Alta, or "Northern Lights City Alta." For years, this far-northern outpost of 18,000 inhabitants belonged to Finland and was inhabited almost solely by the Sami, who, until the end of the 1960s, held a famous fair here in spring and autumn. Because of fires and the Nazi destruction of the city at the close of World War II, almost everything looks new and rather dull. People come here for nature, not for town architecture.
Alta is the commercial and mercantile capital of Finnmark (as opposed to Finland, two names that some visitors confuse). The role of administrative capital of Finnmark goes to the city of Vadsø. The River Altaelva runs through the town. In its 19th-century heyday, Alta enjoyed patronage by British lords who came here to fish the Altafjord, known to have the best salmon waters in the world.
In one of the major environmental protests in Scandinavia, the Altadammen was constructed in the 1970s, rising 100m (328 ft.). A former salmon-spawning stream was diverted for hydroelectric power.