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Norumbega (or Norumbègue, Nurumbega, etc.) was a legendary settlement in northeastern North America, inextricably connected with attempts to demonstrate Viking incursions in New England. Like Cathay, it was a semi-legendary place name used to fill a gap in existing geographical knowledge.
An early reference was that of the French navigator Jean Allefonsce (1542) who reported that he had coasted south from Newfoundland and had discovered a great river. "The river is more than 40 leagues wide at its entrance and retains its width some thirty or forty leagues. It is full of Islands, which stretch some ten or twelve leagues into the sea. ... Fifteen leagues within this river there is a town called Norombega, with clever inhabitants, who trade in furs of all sorts; the town folk are dressed in furs, wearing sable. ... The people use many words which sound like Latin. They worship the sun. They are tall and handsome in form. The land of Norombega lie high and is well situated."
It often appeared on subsequent European maps of North America, lying south of Acadia somewhere in what is now New England. Norumbega was thought to be a large, rich Native city, and by extension the river it was on, and the region surrounding it.
Samuel de Champlain searched for Norumbega in 1604 and believed he had found Allefonsce's river in the form of the Penobscot, which he called "the great river of Norumbega". He sailed as far as the rapids at what is now Bangor, Maine, but finding only villages, his and subsequent maps deleted reference to Norumbega as a town, region, or even river. Most historians have subsequently accepted the Penobscot region as Allefonsce's source for Norumbega, though the matter was hotly contested by nineteenth century antiquarians, who argued that the name should be identified with their own river or region.
The city of Bangor embraced the Norumbega legend in the nineteenth century, naming their Greek Revival style municipal hall "Norumbega Hall", a venue for public meetings and lectures. The building stood in the center of the city until destroyed in the Great Fire of 1911. A park named "Norumbega Mall" now occupies the site, and an adjacent building housing the University of Maine Art Gallery is now named "Norumbega Hall". There was also a Norumbega Bank in nineteenth century Bangor. In 1886 Joseph Stearns, the inventor of the duplex telegraphy system, built a mansion named "Norumbega Castle", which still stands on US Route 1 in Camden, Maine, overlooking Penobscot Bay.
In the late 19th century, Eben Norton Horsford linked the name and legend of Norumbega to sites in the Cambridge, Massachusetts area, and built the Norumbega Tower at the confluence of Stony Brook and the Charles River in Weston, Massachusetts, where he believed Fort Norumbega was located (see the Horsford article for more on his claims). In honor of Horsford's generous donations to Wellesley College, a building named Norumbega Hall was dedicated in 1886 and celebrated by a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier.
The word "Norumbega" was originally spelled Oranbega in Giovanni da Verrazzano's 1529 map of America, and the word is believed to derive from one of the Algonquian languages spoken in New England. It is often cited as meaning "quiet place between the rapids" or "quiet stretch of water".