World Facts Index > Norway > Oslo

With its population of around 500,000, Oslo is one of the smallest capitals in Europe, and is flanked by nature on almost all sides. The city's communication system is convenient, with buses, trams, an underground system, trains and ferries. It takes you all around town, into the wilderness or out to one of the islands of the inner Oslo fjord, all in less than 20 minutes.

The transport hub is in and around Oslo Central Station, Sentralstasjonen. Diagonally across the street you find the main Bus Terminal. The train station itself is served by local, intercity and international trains, as well as the Airport Train (Flytoget). The shopping centre Byporten is adjoining the railway station. Across the street is another big shopping centre, Oslo City.

Walking west from the station, you are at the beginning of Karl Johans Gate, Oslo's parade street, partly pedestrianised. On your right as you walk up the sloping hill is Oslo Cathedral, dating from the late 17th century. It is open daily, free of charge. Further up the Karl Johan, passing shops, restaurants and pubs on the way, you get to the Parliament building, or Stortinget, on the left hand side, with its original neo-Romanesque architecture. Across the street, the 5-star Grand Hotel has greeted its guests for more than a century. Grand Café has been the favourite haunt of famous Norwegian artists such as playwright Henrik Ibsen. The little green spot of Studenterlunden on the other side has an open-air restaurant and a large pond, which becomes a very popular ice rink in the winter. At the end of it is the Neo-Classical National Theatre, built in 1899 and guarded by the statues of Henrik Ibsen and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson. In addition to a magnificent rococo theatre hall seating 800, Nationaltheateret has its own gallery with a unique portrait collection. Back on the other side of Karl Johan, you find the oldest part of the University of Oslo, built in 1852. Inside, in the main Assembly Hall, you can see three great works by painter Edvard Munch; "Sun", "Alma Mater" and "History".

Just a short walk up Universitetsgaten, the most extensive collection of art in Norway is on display at the National Gallery (free entrance). You can see works by famous Norwegian artists such as Edvard Munch, Christian Krohg and J.C. Dahl as well as international names like Picasso, El Greco, Matisse and Van Gogh. Around the corner is the University Museum, divided into a historical section, displaying Viking finds, runic stones and religious art, and an ethnological section with artefacts from all over the world collected by Norwegian anthropologists. In St. Olavs gate there are two reasons to visit the Museum of the Applied Arts - the Norwegian and foreign applied arts, fashion and design items exhibited here, and the delightful, 19th century museum coffee shop Café Solliløkka.

Karl Johans Gate runs all the way up to theRoyal Palace, built by the 19th century king Karl Johan, who ruled the union of Sweden and Norway. Strolling in Slottsparken, the royal gardens surrounding the palace, you can look at memorable statues, enjoy a picnic or take a nap in the shade of a tree.

From here, you should be able to see the twin towers of Rådhuset, the Town Hall, facing Oslo´s harbour. It was inaugurated in1950, to coincide with Oslo's 900-year anniversary. The Town Hall is open every day except Sundays and frequently hosts various exhibitions. At the waterfront you can also find the main Tourist Office Further along the pier, Aker Brygge is beckoning with its exclusive shops, restaurants, pubs and bars. Probably the most packed area of Oslo in the summer!

From the harbour you can also take a ferry to Bygdøy and Dronningen, where the five most popular museums of Oslo are located, the open air Norwegian Folk Museum being the largest. It has more than 150 old, original buildings from all of Norway including a stave church. There is also a large collection of traditional costume, furniture, silverware, jewellery and artefacts. Only a short stroll away, in the Viking Ship Museum, the three ritual burial ships, in which Viking kings and queens were once buried, take you back in time.

Three other museums are located at Bygdøynes. At the Kon-Tiki Museum, you can see the papyrus boats Ra I and II and the Kon-Tiki raft, which the well-known explorer and anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl made for his oceanic voyages, trying to prove his theories on the spreading of ancient civilisations. The Fram Museum is dedicated to Arctic explorers Roald Amundsen and Fritjof Nansen and their polar ship "Fram". You might also want to take a look at the Norwegian Maritime Museum next door, recently extended.

Back in the city, Akershus Fortress stands guard at the harbour, originally a residence for kings, but later, in 1592 remodelled as a fort, armed with cannons. Today you can see the famous author Henrik Wergeland´s office, the Castle church, the Royal Mausoleum and the Resistance Museum. The army still uses parts of the fort, and you can see the daily changing of the guards.

Below the fortress, Akershusstranda leads to Vippetangen quay, from where boats leave frequently for the islands of the inner Oslo fjord. The trip across takes 5-30 min, depending on which island you would like to visit. At Hovedøya you will find the ruins of a Cistercian monastery built by monks from Kirkstead, England, during the twelfth century.

Back on shore, Akershusstranda leads uptown past the Astrup Fearnley Museum of modern art. Exhibitions change, with post-war pieces, but part of the museum is permanent. More modern art is on show in the innovative Museet for Samtidskunst at Bankplassen. Make a stop by Christiania Torv, where the big statue of king Christian IV's glove in the centre of the square points out the spot where he wanted to rebuild the city after the big fire in 1624.

To the west of the city, Frogner Park, which contains the Vigeland Sculpture Park and Museum, is the most visited tourist attraction in Oslo. Do not miss this quite amazing collection of 212 larger-than-life granite and bronze sculptures, representing all stages of life.

You have not seen Oslo unless you have been to Holmenkollen, the arena for big international skiing events every winter. Finish your day enjoying the panoramic views of the modest city of Oslo and the Oslo fjord from the famous ski jump tower. If you dare not exit the tower on a pair of skis, take the elevator back down and try out the three-dimensional ski simulator to experience how the real athletes do it.

The OsloCard is a discount card that is worth thinking about if you are staying for a few days and want to see all the sights.

You can buy the card at tourist information centres, the Central Station, Trafikanten, hotels, Narvesen-newsagents and certain post offices.

Some of the things included in the OsloCard are: free entry to most museums and places of interest; unlimited free travel on all public transport run by Oslo Sporveier (bus, tram, underground); free parking in municipal car parks; free minicruise on the fjord with Båtservice Sightseeing; discounted car, ski and skate hire; discounts in some restaurants.

History of Oslo

The Icelandic writer Snorre Sturlason describes that Harald Hardråde established a trading centre east of Oslo in 1050. Archeologists found proof that people lived in Oslo permanently from about the year 1000; therefore Oslo is celebrating its 1000-year anniversary now in the year 2000. The first people of Oslo lived in humble wooden houses with turf roofs, with sheds for goats, sheep and cows. Christianity had newly come to Norway, and soon managed to get a good foothold. During three hundred years, four monasteries and six churches were built in Oslo.

The first great era of Oslo began after Håkon V Magnusson's crowning in 1299. He married the Northern German princess Eufimia of Rügens, and built the fort at Akershus where he later moved to.

In 1301 Duke Erik of Sweden came to Norway to visit his one-year-old fiancée, princess Ingebjørg, daughter of Queen Eufemia and Håkon V Magnusson. 18 years later Ingebjørg and Erik inherited the throne of Sweden and Norway. The first union between the two countries was signed in the Bishop's castle, where Oslo Ladegård is today.

During the Middle Ages Oslo covered an area the size of the Royal Palace Garden, Slottsparken, with its 3,000 inhabitants. When the Black Death arrived in Oslo in 1349, half of the inhabitants died. After the plague, Norway became a province ruled by Denmark, and Copenhagen became the official capital city. The kings had their residences in Copenhagen and Stockholm for most of the time through 1400-1500. Being so close to the two other union countries, Oslo had an important political role.

One night in 1523 soldiers under the Danish-Norwegian monarchy forced their way into Maria Church, and removed all the treasures. The catholic bishop of Oslo, Hans Rev, soon after converted to Protestantism. Despite the reluctance of the citizens, the Reformation was completed in 1537. The ruins of the Cistercian convent at Hovedøya witness this process.

It took flames only three days to burn down the city of Oslo in 1624. After several menacing fires King Christian IV of Denmark-Norway decided to build the town up from scratch, but this time on the other side of Bjørvika. The people protested, and the king himself had to come to Norway to force through his will to resite the city, which he renamed after himself.

With its new Renaissance style, Christiania was built close to the 13th century fort, Akershus Castle. To reduce the risk of a new fire, only brick buildings were allowed within the city borders. This manifested the social differences between the rich and the poor. Poor people had to live in the suburbs in wooden buildings. The social gap in Oslo became even bigger towards the 17th Century; the most fortunate built up vast amounts of capital from trading with wood, as shipping and railroads improved the communication within Norway.

During the 18th Century foreign impulses shaped the everyday life of the citizens of Oslo. Traders often went to Europe, where the Enlightenment thrived. Their most important trading partners were the colonial powers Great Britain and Holland, and they came home with their heads full of enlightened ideas and their luggage full of tobacco, coffee, tea and spices. They did not wait long before they started to build their luxurious houses with magnificent gardens. One of the wealthiest families in town, Collett, lived in the grand house at the corner of Kirkegata and Tollbugata. Today you can find Collettgården rebuilt at the Norwegian Folk Museum.

One early morning in 1716 the Swedish king Karl XII and his troops easily entered Christiania. The authorities had to escape, but even after six weeks of intense fighting his troops did not manage to force Akershus Castle. to its knees. He left Akershus Castle unbesieged, but Christiania was plundered and spoiled, and many lives were lost. Today you can see one of King Karl's cannon-balls built into the wall of the old main post-office as a memory of king Karl's onslaught. Originally the ball hit the building that used to be where the post-office is now.

It was said about 19th Century Christiania, at that time a small, provincial town, that it was "a town with more animals than people". The king of Denmark gave up Norway to Sweden in the celebrated year of 1814. Norway formed its first constitution on 17 May the same year and Christiania became the capital city. People joyfully roamed the streets, the happiness was hardly shadowed by the new forced union with Sweden.

Christiania was now a capital city, and new functions made new demands. New monumental buildings were erected as a symbol of independence; The Royal Palace, Norwegian Bank, and the stock exchange Oslo Børs; some time later, in 1852, Norway's first university was built.

A new class of government officials, a rising economy and the most rapid growth of population in Europe, gave Christiania a brand new look towards the middle of the 19th Century. Increased trade and industrialisation caused the new capital to expand its boundaries.

The extreme public building activity monopolised builders and resources and led to an ardent shortage of housing. A new social class arose with a growing demand for servants, day workers and later industrial workers as the factories along Akerselva were built. Poor people from all over the country came to Christiania in search of jobs and prosperity, but only bad working conditions and long hours awaited them. The population increased from 40,000 to 200,000 between 1850 and 1900, and in some parts of the town as many ten people could live in small one-room apartments.

In 1905 Norway was made independent from the union with Sweden, and Christiania became the capital of the country. It was not until 1924 that the city was renamed Oslo. In 1948 Oslo and the neighbouring community Aker united. The city continued to grow, as after the decadent years of World War II and the German occupation during the years 1940-1945 optimism won. 'The city with the big heart', said the popular major Albert Nordengen of Oslo; this was the centre of Norway and the door to Europe.

The population growth eased during the late sixties. Oslo became less industrial, and more a capital city. A multitude of organisations and businesses and a powerful authority formed a bustling political center. The hippies came and after them hordes of young rebels and punks, and the group calling themselves Blitz occupied the house in which Edvard Munch grew up in. During the seventies and the eighties Løvebakken, in front of the parliament building often became the arena for protests against controversial resolutions, like the EEC and use of nuclear weapons.

Oslo today is made up of fine restaurants and a pulsating nightlife, Italian espresso bars everywhere, Halal-meat at Brugata, not forgetting soggy hamburgers and spicy kebabs in the taxi queue. Oslo is continually influenced by new technologies, urban and international impulses, immigrants and cultures, making this small, big city what it is.


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