After more than 40 years of operation inside the Royal Palace, the National Gallery Museum opened the doors of its new building in 1882. In the same time River Akerselva that flows through the city becomes the cradle of industrialization in Norway, with many factories built along its shores. The wide streets of Kvadraturen, like Prinsens gate, Nedre Slottsgate, Tollbugata are lined with neoclassical business palaces several stories high. To a great extent, Old Oslo we know today as historic district is created in that time span between the start of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century.
In 1894 the electric tram begins its first testing route and soon after becomes the city’s symbol of the brave new world of science. Five years later the grandiose Nationaltheatret opens its doors for the people of the Norwegian capital, sealing the city’s role as the cultural powerhouse of Norway. The prestige of both the country and the city would be greatly revamped with the help of a Swedish national named Alfred Nobel. In his will Nobel made the Norwegian Parliament responsible for the selection of the committee that would choose the candidates and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, one the most prominent and revered distinctions in modern history. The first Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in 1901 to Henry Dunant for his role in the creation of the International Committee of the Red Cross and Frédéric Passy for his role in the establishment of Inter-Parliamentary Union and several other Peace societies.
In 1905 the uncomfortable union between the Norwegian people & the Swedish crown is dissolved after an overwhelming majority in the Referendum of August 1905 (99.95%), with Kristiania becoming the capital of the independent kingdom of Norway and Prince Carl of Denmark (descended from an old line of Medieval Norwegian kings) the first King of Norway since 1387, as King Haakon VII.
A new era of prosperity characterized by the improvements & modernization of the city’s infrastructure would be celebrated in the 1914 Jubilee Exhibition honoring the centennial anniversary of the 1814 constitution. The exhibition took place on the site of Frogner Park that had first opened its doors to the public in 1904. The exhibition managed to attract more than 1.5 million visitors. The age of optimism for the city would not even be halted by WWI since Norway followed the example of the rest of the Scandinavian countries & stayed out of the war.
In 1925 the city takes back its historic name, the name Oslo, despite the 28.000 signatures raised by the newspaper Morgenbladet against the proposal that was introduced in 1918 by 29 civil servants & had been voted on July of 1924. When the city took up the name of Oslo, the old eastern district of the city that had preserved the same name in the passage of time became known as Gamlebyen (Old Town). The underground metro inaugurated in 1928 would gradually unite the different districts of the growing capital. By the late 1920’s Gustav Vigeland had already completed many features of his world famous installation of sculptures in the Frogner Park such as the Monolith & the Fountain while Lars Backer had completed his first modernist works, the Skansen & Ekeberg restaurants.
In 1931, after a delay of 15 years the new City Hall was finally starting to take its shape in the former slum area of Vikauntil but the decade of the 1930’s would not turn out to be rosy neither for Norwegians nor for the residents of Oslo. The economic depression that spread from the US to the rest of the world had its effect everywhere. A sharp fall of investment, was followed by an equally sharp fall of imports and public expenditure. The demand for labour was halted. The deep end of the slump came in 1932 but the situation more or less remained stagnant until the Nazi invasion of Norway in 1940 which created a whole new environment.
The Nazis occupied Norway and installed a puppet government in Oslo with the Norwegian fascist Vidkun Quisling as Prime Minister, while Akershus Fortress became the prison where the political opponents & captured Resistance fighters were kept, with its courtyard used mainly for executions. Norwegian citizens of Jewish origin who didn’t manage to flee were sent to concentration camps, where many of them died. Martial law and massive arrests became the norm while food rations and long waiting lines led to a rampant Black market.
More than 80.000 Norwegians fled the country with King Haakon VII and the members of the pre-war government being among them. About 30.000 Norwegians voluntarily enlisted in Allied military service. The organized armed resistance movement in the country known as Milorg numbered some 40.00 armed men by the end of the war. About 15.000 Norwegians fought on the Nazi side. After 5 long years the Germans surrendered Oslo to an Allied Military mission on the 8th of May, 1945. On 7 June, the day of the 40th anniversary of the dissolution of Norway’s union with Sweden, King Haakon VII and the members of the royal family arrived in Oslo
After the war the city resumed its role as the central life-flow of the Norwegian economy, quickly expanding on all sides & incorporating nearby regions like Aker, the new City Hall in Vika finally opened its gates while new multi-storey buildings were shyly making their appearance in the city’s new suburbs in order to house the increased population who flocked in the Norwegian capital that reached half a million people by 1951.
The 1960’s Oslo saw a booming not only of its population but also in the construction of modernist concrete & glass low-rises now regarded as an eyesore. However Norway’s economic progress in the years that followed turned Oslo into a powerful business center with a bustling urban center & international appeal, melting pot of many nationalities & cultures and hub of new technologies.
The modern city of Oslo is characterized by impressive new landmarks such as the new Opera House or The Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art & its impressive skyscraper skyline that narrate exactly what the city of Oslo can offer to its visitor and permanent resident today. A perfect example of a thriving, contemporary city with a bright future ahead.
The Great Northern War between the Swedish & the Danish and their coalitions, would put Oslo in the eye of the storm when in 1716; the Swedish King Karl XII & his 10.000 troops entered Christiania & tried to take Akershus fortress. The 3.000 Norwegian troops managed to hold the fortress in the six weeks of intense fighting & cause significant losses of men & material to the Swedes who lacked the help of heavy siege cannons & were forced to retreat after looting & plundering the city.
The war required ships & Oslo’s ship building industry was already on track, however it would thrive even more after the end of the war (1721), which found Norway on the winning side. Still, until the mid-18th century Bergen was still Norway’s most important city with a population of 14.000, double the size of Christiania & Oslo combined. The end of the 18th century was the golden age for Oslo’s lumber & shipbuilding industries which in their turn helped the city become an important commercial hub and its port become busier than ever before. Increased business brought a betterment of living standards, the inauguration of the first public theatre and the foundation of the first public library in the country. Oslo’s full-hearted orientation towards the benign economics of commerce was reflected on the state of the Akershus fortress that fell into disrepair by the end of the century. Denmark’s abstention from warfare in the latter part of 18th century that paved the way for the growth of the city’s economy, would last until the dawn of 19th century & the Napoleonic Wars.
In 1807 Denmark enters the Napoleonic war on France’s side. That had an immediate & devastating effect on the Norwegian economy, with the British navy putting a stop to all commerce taking place through the sea, in the naval blockade of Norway that followed soon after.
The ruins of the Cistercian monastery on Hovedøya Island looted & destroyed during the Reformation years, would be used as a quarry for a new cannon fortress that would protect the fjord against a possible British attack.
The British attack on Oslo was never realized & cannons could be of no real use in the matters of famine & hyperinflation that peaked during the years of war. Following the final defeat of Napoleon’s camp in 1814, Denmark was forced to cede Norway to Sweden, after a tight union that had lasted 417 years. Just before the end of the Danish-Norwegian union the Danish King Frederik VI, had finally been convinced that the creation of the first University in the kingdom would not encourage political separatist tendencies. In 1813, The Royal Frederik’s University was founded in Christiania. One year later, Norway proclaimed independence. Despite the fact that the royal power and foreign affairs would be shared with Sweden, many of its institutions would retain some level of autonomy. The new university would play a key role in the formation of Norwegian political and cultural independence.
On May 17th of the same year (1814) the Norwegian assembly concludes the work on a Norwegian constitution which the Swedish are forced to accept in return for the Norway’s consent on the personal union under one crown. Christiania would be the new capital of the Norwegian realm. New monumental buildings such as the Royal Palace that started in 1825 & was completed in 1848, the Oslo Stock Exchange building completed in 1829, the Christiania Theatre which opened its doors in 1836, the neoclassical buildings of the University of Oslo (established in 1813) which were completed in 1851 & several other governmental & residential buildings transformed the capital’s façade which by the mid-19th century had surpassed Bergen in population.
King Charles XIII of Sweden and later Charles XIV John of Sweden had accepted the fact that their rule in Norway would not be in the form of an absolute monarchy but a constitutional one. That was a source of pride for the Norwegians who celebrated their autonomy on 17 May each year (The Constitution of Norway was signed on 17 May 1814). Charles XIV John was however not a very big fan of the celebrations so in 1828 he forbade them. That didn’t stop the Norwegians of Oslo from hitting the streets of the capital in 1829. The first Norwegian steamship Constitutionen, that was used for passenger traffic between Christiania and Bergen was another source of national pride. When it arrived to Oslo on the day of the constitution, 17th of May 1829, the patriots of Oslo, who had flocked to greet the ship began singing national anthems and songs and then headed to the town square. The Swedish viceroy Baltzar von Platen ordered the guard to intervene and what followed is known as the Battle of the Square that caused great indignation across Norway which forced Charles XIV John to take back the prohibition of the annual celebrations.
In 1854 Oslo gets its first railway leading to Eidsvoll, while in 1866 the building of Norwegian Parliament, the Storting, opens its gates for the parliament members for the first time. The city’s population explodes with poor people from all over the country flocking to the capital to find a job, reaching 200.000 at the end of the century, from 40.000 in 1850. The influx of workers creates a rapid expansion of the city’s limits with Old Oslo quickly incorporated as one of Kristiania’s districts.
In 1536 the Danish King Christian III establishes Lutheranism as the state religion by a royal decree. In the same time all church valuables from Oslo and the rest of Norway are sent to Copenhagen. Most of the land owned by the church passes to the crown. The discontent of the Catholic Norwegians and the fear of a possible rebellion led to the dissolution of the Norwegian government council (Riksrådet) by the King. In the place of what was in essence the Norwegian government, the King appointed a Stadtholder, a general- governor of the Norwegian Kingdom made Akershus Castle his official residence in 1572. It would be a hard lesson of real politik for the people of Oslo who just five years earlier had fought on the side of the Danish forces and had even participated in the burning of their own city.
Things would get worse before they got better. Another great fire, one of many that took place in a medieval city built almost entirely by wood, would prove to be more destructive than the ones that had hit Oslo before. In 1624 after 3 days of destruction the city was completely burned to the ground. King Christian IV of Denmark, a bold reformer by character, would be the one who would rebuild the city, this time nearer to the Akershus Fortress. King Christian IV renamed the reborn city Christiania. It would be changed to Kristiania in 1877. The name Oslo would remain in use as the name of the small surviving settlement outside the new borders that was mainly consisted by citizens of low status. Christian IV had forged good relations with his Norwegian subjects & particularly the citizens of Oslo from very early on, when he invited the people of the city in the restored by him Akershus fortress during the official ceremony of his installment in 1590 and again in 1610. He also spent more time in Norway than any other Danish king before him. In fact he travelled to Oslo only a few weeks after the fire, which made a very lasting impression to its people. After the fire the king carefully planned everything that had to do with the new city, including the locations of the markets and a rectangular grid of streets (that part of the city is today known as Kvadraturen = the quadrature, because of its orthogonal layout).
In order for the risk of fire to be reduced only brick houses were allowed within the borders of Christiania, a regulation which made the gap between the rich who were able to follow it & the poor who were forced to live outside the borders of the new city, in cheap wooden structures, even more apparent. As shipping & lumber trade began to create more income towards the end of the 17th century the social gap widened even more. Christiania became the showcase of the upper class.The Old Town Hall, Gamle Rådhus was ready by 1641, Oslo domkirke, Vår Frelsers kirke (Church of Our Savior) was completed by 1697 and many grand houses started to line Christiania’s streets.
Haakon V’s succession by his daughter’s son Magnus VII who was also elected Swedish King (his father was Eric, Duke of Södermanland) inaugurated a new era of royal unions between the Scandinavian Kingdoms with the center of political power shifting from Stockholm to Copenhagen and vice versa. In 1397 the three Scandinavian nations were officially united under King Eric of Pomerania, who ruled from Copenhagen and waged a series of wars against the Hanseatic League. Oslo’s role was reduced to that of a provincial administrative center. Bergen continued to be the economic powerhouse of Norway but Oslo started to reap the benefits of its proximity to the two other Scandinavian capitals.
The Norwegian captain at Akershus fortress eventually took over several functions and became the king’s most important man. The rector and the canons continued their activities in St. Mary’s Church, but were at times completely dependent on the king and the chief. In 1497 a Norwegian, named Knut Alvsson, the country’s most prominent nobleman at the time, took over the command of the fortress. Two years later King Hans of Denmark was in a military campaign against the Swedes in order to keep them in the Union. A strong man in charge of Oslo’s main fortress would probably create a certain level of insecurity to the king who deposed Knut Alvsson. In 1501 Alvsson became the leader of the revolution against the Danish King and with the help of the Swedes he managed to capture Akershus Fortress in March 1502. The citizens of Oslo remained pro-Danish while the nobles and bishops of the country remained neutral mostly due to the uncertainty of the future winner. The King’s son Christian II of Denmark, managed to quell the rebellion while Alvsson was betrayed and killed by his own allies in August of 1502 although the rebellion would continue until 1504.
In 1523 Sweden pulled out of the Kalmar Union and soon after Akershus fortress was under siege by the Swedes. Just before the siege the Danish governor of the castle and Bishop of the city named Hans Mule moved all treasures from Mariakirken and elsewhere inside the castle and ordered the burning of the city. The castle didn’t fall and the Swedes left without substantial gains. The break-up created the twin Realm of Denmark & Norway which would be governed by the King’s residence in Copenhagen. Norway would be diminished into a mere Danish province & Oslo would fall into a general decline.
When his brother died without any male heir in 1299, Haakon V took the throne & made Oslo, his permanent residence and seat of his personal duchy, the capital city of the Norwegian Kingdom. An attack on Oslo a few years earlier by a Norwegian earl who was looking for some easy spoils of war, had made the city’s need for a better defense an urgent matter, so the new King put forward the construction of what was to become the Akershus Castle. When King Haakon V died in 1319 he was buried in St. Mary’s Church which had been turned into a large brick Cathedral a few years earlier. After his death the city entered a rather bleak period, marked by the devastating outburst of Black Death in 1348 which wiped out more than three quarters of the population that had reached about 3000 people around 1300. It was also hit by a great fire in 1352 which among others destroyed the Cathedral of St. Hallvard.
The decimation of the city’s population prompted the traders of the powerful Hanseatic League, who had already been well established in Bergen at the time, to move in and add Oslo to their extensive network of trading stations. The merchants from the Hanseatic city of Rostock, North Germany would very quickly come to control the city’s trade for the next 200 years.
In 1196 the party of Baglers backed by the church of Norway made Oslo, a city with an already established ecclesiastical foundation, their main capital city. A year later the leader of the Birkebeiners King Sverre Sigurdsson, launched an attack on Oslo from his camp on the Island of Hovedøya. After many casualties from both sides, King Sverre managed to force the Baglers to abandon Oslo and head further inland.
Nevertheless Oslofjord would be considered a stronghold for the Baglers long after King Sverre’s death (1202), until finally the Birkebeiner King Håkon Håkonsson managed to unite the two sides in 1240 and bring peace in the country. After consolidating his power King Håkon Håkonsson or King Haakon IV of Norway started constructing several monumental royal buildings around Norway, one of them, one of the first ever to be built in stone & brick in Oslo. In that same period the bishop’s palace was transformed into a fortified stone castle, the Dominican Abbey of St. Olav was built around the pre-existing Church of St. Olav and the Franciscans monks established their own monastery on the north-facing slope of Ekeberg.
On 1263 King Haakon IV died while fighting the Scottish King Alexander III on the archipelago off the west coast of Scotland, leaving his youngest son Magnus VI the Law-mender on the throne. King Haakon IV’s aggressive foreign policy had made Norway a small empire, with lands in Scotland, Iceland and Greenland. The youngest surviving son of Magnus the Law-mender was Haakon V who after his father’s death in 1280, was named Duke of Norway taking responsibility of a large area around Oslo, while his older brother Erik II would rule as king from Bergen, Norway’s most important city at the time.
Towards the end of the 11th century the city became a bishop’s seat and few years later the two churches of the city were rebuilt in stone.
The devout Christian King Sigurd the Crusader would build the town’s first cathedral, St. Hallvard’s Cathedral in the beginning of the 12th century, right next to the Old Bishop’s Palace today. The cathedral would be dedicated to St. Hallvard from Lier, who had died a few years earlier (1043) defending an innocent pregnant woman near Drammen. His relics would be placed on the high altar of the Cathedral upon the King’s death in 1130 who was also buried in the chancel’s south wall. St Hallvard became the city’s patron saint & his image still adorns the city’s seal.
In 1147 a group of Cistercian monks from Kirkstead Abbey in England moves in the Hovedøya Island, in the mouth of the Oslo fjord and establishes its abbey around a pre-existing church dedicated to Saint Edmund. The Hovedøya abbey would grow to be one of the wealthiest institutions in Norway with over than 400 properties in its possession in the years to follow.
In 1153 a papal delegate establishes the Cathedral School of Oslo for the education of priests who would study the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church as well as grammar, logic, rhetoric, geometry, music & astronomy. The school would be directed by the Cathedral of St. Hallvard & would help turn Oslo into a Norwegian cultural hub. After the death of King Sigurd the Crusader in 1130, a series of civil wars ravaged Norway with the rival factions finally condensing into two opposing parties, the Birkebeiner (faction of peasants, the word translated into birch-legs, because many of them were so poor that would wind birch-bark around their feet instead of proper footwear) & the Bagler (faction of aristocracy, clergy & merchants. The word translated into crosier, a token of religious authority).
Around 1000 AD the area below Ekeberg hills, on the east side of the Bjørvika inlet, was defined by a small village with one of the first Christian Churches of Norway at the time, St. Clément’s Church & a small cemetery. The latest archaeological evidence suggest that Christian burials were taking place even before the building of the church at the site.
The Icelandic historian and poet Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241) in his work “Heimskringla” (the circle of the world), the most famous of the Old Norse sagas, refers to an establishment of a trading settlement just east of Oslo’s city center between 1048 & 1050, by the Norwegian King Harald Hardrada (hard ruler), last of the great Viking Kings & founder of the Hardrada dynasty of Norwegian Kings.
A second stave church, the Mariakirken (St. Mary’s Church) was erected where Middelalderparken is today, with the small settlement gradually forming its first archetype of urban structure, constituted of humble wooden houses with turf roofs & sheds for domestic animals.
On the northernmost outskirts of the capital is one of the most interesting museums of the city, the Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology. The Norwegian Museum of Science, Technology, Industry and Medicine was founded in 1914 in order to help commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Norwegian Constitution. The museum opened to the public in 1932.Since 1985 the museum has been located at Kjelsås in Oslo, covering an area of around 25,000 square meters. The museum’s objective is to demonstrate the implications of progress in Science, Technology, Industry and Medicine, socially and culturally, through the ages.
The museum has more than 80 interactive installations, 25 permanent and temporary exhibitions among them the exhibitions of music machines, the different forms of industrialization that took over the banks of Aker River after the mid-19th century, the exhibition of scientific instruments, the exhibition of logging and wood processing, on mechanical and metal industries, on medicine history, on oil and gas production, on the microcosm, on hydroelectric power, on transportation…well i guess all that would be enough to give someone a strong motive in order to diverge from the city’s center. If not the various installations in the form of fun and informative games, or the digital workshop Teknoteket where you can build fabulous designs, create inventions with electronics or build imaginative cars that can run on the giant racetrack, may be more tempting especially if you have children with you. This is a truly enlightening museum and a unique chance to have access to tools ranging from hammers and saws to electronic kits, 3D printers and laser cutters. This museum is considered by many the best in the capital. Even if you are not a science buff this is not a museum to be missed. More
Moving north from the National Opera & the Bjørvika bank we come across Oslo’s Central Station. If we take Karl Johans gate & move west we will come across the Stortorvet (Grand Plaza) square where one of Norway’s oldest shopping malls, the GlasMagasinet and the Norwegian Cultural Heritage building of the Stortorvets Gjæstgiver restaurant stand over the dozens of flower stalls that occupy the pedestrianized little square or the stalls occupied by artisans and craftsmen in what is known as the Kirkeristen. It’s where you will also find the city’s cathedral, Oslo Domkirke.
Oslo Domkirke (formerly the Church of Our Saviour) is a Dutch baroque cruciform church. It is the city’s third cathedral and was consecrated on All Saints Day on November 7th 1697 by Bishop Hans Rosing (d. 1699). The church is the main church of Oslo diocese, established 1076, and parish church for the Cathedral parish, established 1694. It is also Norway’s official church, with the Palace, the Parliament and government buildings within its parish boundaries. Many national, parliamentary and royal events have been celebrated and marked here It is assumed that the church was designed by Councillor of State de Wiggers, who was also in charge of parts of the building work. The cornerstone was laid down in 1694. At the time, money was short in the Kingdom of Denmark-Norway and consequently the church was built without much external decoration or detail. When the church was consecrated in 1697, construction costs came to barely 15 000 riksdaler – less than half the cost of the Holy Trinity Church, Oslo’s second cathedral, 60 years earlier. The royal monogram of Christian V (Danish-Norwegian king 1670-1699) can be seen above the South entrance, together with the King’s motto, I E P – Justitia Et Prudentia, Justice and Courage. The King’s monogram is also seen above the entrance to the sacristy on the North side of the church: CV 1699.
The nave runs from East to West, with the altar to the East and the organ to the West. The transepts follow a North-South direction. The main building material is Dutch brick, and fill for the walls was taken from, among other places, the ruins of the Holy Trinity and Hallvard churches, the town’s two first cathedrals. Women carried out the bulk of the construction work. The church was painted in accordance with the customs of the day, with blue foundations and layered yellow and red brickwork. The tower was originally several meters lower than it is today and did not have a spire.
When the church was consecrated, it still lacked the liturgical furnishing and only the altar was in place during the service, covered with a repaired lace cloth that had been plucked from the burnt Holy Trinity Church. The three brass chandeliers that had also been salvaged from the ruins hung in the central aisle. Work on the interior continued for several years. The town’s upper classes donated generously to the liturgical furnishings and the pulpit was completed in 1699, the year after the altarpiece and the royal gallery. In 1702, the first, if not the best, organ was ready for playing. The Great Nordic War (1709-1720) then put a stop to any further work. The interior was finally completed in the 1720’s, with a new organ, galleries and bays along the walls. The church clock was installed in 1718 and is the oldest working church clock in Norway today.Its tower was rebuilt in 1850, while its interior was renovated soon after the end of WWII. Notable features include the main doorway with its decorated bronze doors, as well as the ceiling paintings by H. L. Mohr, the Baroque pulpit and altar (1699), and the stained glass by Emanuel Vigeland. After the terrorist attacks on Oslo in July 2011, the square Stortorget, in front of Oslo Cathedral, became the center for afterthought and compassion. The square was fully covered by roses, greetings and mourning messages for weeks.