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Cities in the Spotlight: Oslo, Norway

Updated: Mar 11

In today's post we will be travelling to Oslo, Norway.

 

Oslo City Information


Oslo is the capital and most populous city of Norway. It constitutes both a county and a municipality. Oslo is the economic and governmental centre of Norway. The city is also a hub of Norwegian trade, banking, industry and shipping. It is an important centre for maritime industries and maritime trade in Europe. The city is home to many companies within the maritime sector, some of which are among the world's largest shipping companies, shipbrokers and maritime insurance brokers. Oslo is a pilot city of the Council of Europe and the European Commission intercultural cities programme. Oslo is considered a global city and was ranked "Beta World City" in studies carried out by the Globalization and World Cities Study Group and Network in 2008. It was ranked number one in terms of quality of life among European large cities in the European Cities of the Future 2012 report by fDi magazine. A survey conducted by ECA International in 2011 placed Oslo as the second most expensive city in the world for living expenses after Tokyo. In 2013 Oslo tied with the Australian city of Melbourne as the fourth most expensive city in the world, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU)'s Worldwide Cost of Living study. Oslo was ranked as the 24th most liveable city in the world by Monocle magazine.

 

Oslo Historical Significance


During the Viking Age the area that includes modern Oslo was located in Viken, the northernmost province of Denmark. Control over the area shifted between Danish and Norwegian kings in the Middle Ages, and Denmark continued to claim the area until 1241.

According to the Norse sagas, Oslo was founded around 1049 by Harald Hardrada. Recent archaeological research, however, has uncovered Christian burials which can be dated to prior to AD 1000, evidence of a preceding urban settlement. This called for the celebration of Oslo's millennium in 2000.


It has been regarded as the capital city since the reign of Haakon V of Norway (1299–1319), the first king to reside permanently in the city. He also started the construction of the Akershus Fortress and the Oslo Kongsgård. A century later, Norway was the weaker part in a personal union with Denmark, and Oslo's role was reduced to that of provincial administrative centre, with the monarchs residing in Copenhagen. The fact that the University of Oslo was founded as late as 1811 had an adverse effect on the development of the nation.


Oslo was destroyed several times by fire, and after the fourteenth calamity, in 1624, Christian IV of Denmark and Norway ordered it rebuilt at a new site across the bay, near Akershus Castle and given the name Christiania. Long before this, Christiania had started to establish its stature as a centre of commerce and culture in Norway. The part of the city built starting in 1624 is now often called Kvadraturen because of its orthogonal layout in regular, square blocks. Anatomigården is a historic timber framing house located on the north side of Christiania Torv. The last Black Death outbreak in Oslo occurred in 1654. In 1814 Christiania once more became a real capital when the union with Denmark was dissolved.


Many landmarks were built in the 19th century, including the Royal Palace (1825–1848), Storting building (the Parliament) (1861–1866), the University, National Theatre and the Stock Exchange. Among the world-famous artists who lived here during this period were Henrik Ibsen and Knut Hamsun (the latter was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature). In 1850, Christiania also overtook Bergen and became the most populous city in the country. In 1877 the city was renamed Kristiania. The original name of Oslo was restored in 1925.


1000–1600

Under the reign of Olaf III of Norway, Oslo became a cultural centre for Eastern Norway. Hallvard Vebjørnsson became the city's patron saint and is depicted on the city's seal. In 1174, Hovedøya Abbey was built. The churches and abbeys became major owners of large tracts of land, which proved important for the city's economic development, especially before the Black Death. On 25 July 1197, Sverre of Norway and his soldiers attacked Oslo from Hovedøya. During the Middle Ages, Oslo reached its heights in the reign of Haakon V of Norway. He started building Akershus Fortress and was also the first king to reside permanently in the city, which helped to make Oslo the capital of Norway. In the end of the 12th century, Hanseatic League traders from Rostock moved into the city and gained major influence in the city. The Black Death came to Norway in 1349 and, like other cities in Europe, the city suffered greatly. The churches' earnings from their land also dropped so much that the Hanseatic traders dominated the city's foreign trade in the 15th century. 17th century

Over the years, fire destroyed major parts of the city many times, as many of the city's buildings were built entirely of wood. After the last fire in 1624, which lasted for three days, Christian IV of Denmark decided that the old city should not be rebuilt again. His men built a network of roads in Akershagen near Akershus Castle. He demanded that all citizens should move their shops and workplaces to the newly built city Christiania, named as an honor to the king. The transformation of the city went slowly for the first hundred years. Outside the city, near Vaterland and Grønland near Old Town, Oslo, a new, unmanaged part of the city grew up filled with citizens of low class status. 18th century

In the 18th century, after the Great Northern War, the city's economy boomed with shipbuilding and trade. The strong economy transformed Christiania into a trading port. 19th century

In 1814 the former provincial town of Christiania became the capital of the independent Kingdom of Norway, in a personal union with Sweden. Several state institutions were established and the city's role as a capital initiated a period of rapidly increasing population. The government of this new state needed buildings for its expanding administration and institutions. Several important buildings were erected – The Bank of Norway (1828), the Royal Palace (1848), and the Storting (1866). Large areas of the surrounding Aker municipality were incorporated in 1839, 1859 an 1878. The 1859 expansion included Grünerløkka, Grønland and Oslo. At that time the area called Oslo (now Gamlebyen or Old Town) was a village or suburb outside the city borders east of Aker river. The population increased from approximately 10 000 in 1814 to 230 000 in 1900. Christiania expanded its industry from 1840, most importantly around Akerselva. There was a spectacular building boom during the last decades of the 19th century, with many new apartment buildings and renewal of the city center, but the boom collapsed in 1899. 1900–present

In 1948, Oslo merged with Aker, a municipality which surrounded the capital and which was 27 times larger, thus creating the modern, vastly enlarged Oslo municipality. At the time, Aker was a mostly affluent, green suburban community, and the merger was unpopular in Aker. The municipality developed new areas such as Ullevål garden city (1918–1926) and Torshov (1917–1925). City Hall was constructed in the former slum area of Vika from 1931 to 1950. The municipality of Aker was incorporated into Oslo in 1948, and suburbs were developed, such as Lambertseter (from 1951). Aker Brygge was constructed on the site of the former shipyard Akers Mekaniske Verksted, from 1982 to 1998. The city and municipality used the name Kristiania until 1 January 1925 when the name changed to Oslo. Oslo was the name of an eastern suburb - it had been the site of the city centre, until the devastating 1624 fire. King Christian IV of Denmark ordered a new city built with his own name; Oslo remained a poor suburb outside the city border. In the early-20th century, Norwegians argued that a name memorialising a Danish king was inappropriate as the name of the capital of Norway, which became fully independent in 1905. At the beginning of World War II, Norway declared itself a neutral state. However, despite their neutral status Germany invaded Norway, assisted by a small pro-Nazi party led by Vidkun Quisling. Oslo was quickly occupied after valiant efforts by the overmatched defenders. Oslo remained occupied throughout the war until the Nazi retreat in 1944. However, the occupying troops were harried by saboteurs and other acts of resistance throughout the occupation. In the 2011 Norway terror attacks, Oslo was hit by a bomb blast that ripped through the Government quarter, damaging several buildings including the building that houses the Office of the Prime Minister. Eight people died in the bomb attack.

 

Travel to Oslo

*taken from Lonely Planet*


Surrounded by mountains and sea, this compact, cultured and fun city has a palpable sense of reinvention.


Cultural Life


Come to Oslo to pay homage to Edvard Munch and Henrik Ibsen, the city’s two most famous sons, by all means. But don’t leave without discovering something of its contemporary cultural life too. Explore one of its many museums, get to know its booming contemporary-art scene at one of its commercial galleries or just marvel at the work of its starchitects. You can also walk the neighbourhoods that may already be familiar via the works of Karl Ove Knausgård, whose autobiographical novel series Min Kamp are set here, along with the mean streets of Norwegian-noir crime writers Jo Nesbø and Anne Holt.


Natural Pleasures


Oslo's skyline might be crowded by cranes but this rapidly growing urban metropolis is also one of the world’s most overwhelmingly green cities. It has earned the honour of being named European Green Capital for 2019, via one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world, excellent and well-patronised public transport, and a real commitment to sustainable food production and green space. The city is blessed with a large number of bucolic parks, and the Oslofjord’s waterways and islands are just minutes away from the centre, as are the ski slopes and forests of Nordmarka.


Culinary Capital


Once known only for hot dogs and high prices, Oslo’s culinary scene is currently enjoying a Neo Nordic moment in the sun, and has become a culinary destination in its own right. This delicious change takes in everything from the most northern three-Michelin-starred restaurant in the world (Maaemo) to its deservedly hyped neighbourhood coffee scene and fabulous fusion cuisine, to the celebration of traditional favourites such as peel-and-eat shrimp, and, yes, even polse (hot dogs). The city also has a penchant for sushi and pizza, both of which can now compete on the world stage.


Cracking Nightlife


Has Oslo become Scandinavia's late-night party hot spot? Wander Møllegata on a Wednesday and you might be convinced it is. Whether it's working your way through a list of the latest natural wine from Burgenland or Sicily, getting your hands in the air with local DJ acts or an international indie band, drinking a local beer or sipping cocktails made from foraged spruce or Arctic seaweed, you'll notice that, with a grungier, wilder, realer edge than Copenhagen or Stockholm, this is certainly a city that knows how to have fun.

 

Must See Sites


Vikingskipshuset; Around 1100 years ago, Vikings dragged up two longships from the shoreline and used them as the centrepiece for grand ceremonial burials, most likely for important chieftains or nobility. Along with the ships, they buried many items for the afterlife: food, drink, jewellery, furniture, carriages, weapons, and even a few dogs for companionship. Discovered in Oslofjord in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the ships and their wares are beautifully restored, offering an evocative, emotive insight into Viking life. There are three ships in total, all named after their places of discovery: Oseberg, Gokstad and Tune. The most ostentatious and intimidating of the three is the Oseberg. The burial chamber beneath it held the largest collection of Viking-age artefacts ever uncovered in Scandinavia, though it had been looted of its jewellery. As daunting as the ship appears, it was probably only ever intended as a royal pleasure craft. The sturdier 24m-long Gokstad, built around 890, is the finest remaining example of a Viking longship, but when it was unearthed its corresponding burial chamber had also been looted and few artefacts were uncovered. There is also the third, smaller, boat, the Tune, which is fragmentary but what remains is incredibly well preserved. Polarship Fram Museum; This museum is dedicated to one of the most enduring symbols of early polar exploration, the 39m schooner Fram (meaning ‘Forward’). Wander the decks, peek inside the cramped bunk rooms and imagine life at sea and among the polar ice. Allow plenty of time, as there's an overwhelming volume of information to absorb, with detailed exhibits complete with maps, pictures and artefacts of various expeditions, from Nansen's attempt to ski across the North Pole to Amundsen's discovery of the Northwest Passage. Launched in 1892, the polar ship Fram, at the time the strongest ship ever built, spent much of its life trapped in the polar ice. From 1893 to 1896 Fridtjof Nansen's North Pole expedition took the schooner to Russia's New Siberian Islands, passing within a few degrees of the North Pole on their return trip to Norway. In 1910 Roald Amundsen set sail in the Fram, intending to be the first explorer to reach the North Pole, only to discover en route that Robert Peary had beaten him to it. Not to be outdone, Amundsen turned the Fram around and, racing Robert Falcon Scott all the way, became the first man to reach the South Pole. Otto Sverdrup also sailed the schooner around southern Greenland to Canada's Ellesmere Island between 1898 and 1902, travelling over 18,000km. In addition to the Fram, the museum also houses the Gjøa, the first ship to successfully navigate the Northwest Passage. Vigelandsparken; The centrepiece of Frognerparken is an extraordinary open-air showcase of work by Norway's best-loved sculptor, Gustav Vigeland, and is home to 212 granite and bronze pieces by the artist. His highly charged oeuvre includes entwined lovers, tranquil elderly couples, bawling babies and contempt-ridden beggars. Speaking of bawling babies, his most famous work here, Sinnataggen (Little Hot-Head), portrays a child in a mood of particular ill humour.

Norsk Folkemuseum; This folk museum is Norway's largest open-air museum and one of Oslo's most popular attractions. The museum includes more than 140 buildings, mostly from the 17th and 18th centuries, gathered from around the country, rebuilt and organised according to region of origin. Paths wind past old barns, elevated stabbur (raised storehouses) and rough-timbered farmhouses with sod roofs sprouting wildflowers. Little people will be entertained by the numerous farm animals, horse and cart rides, and other activities. The Gamlebyen (Old Town) section is a reproduction of an early-20th-century Norwegian town and includes a village shop and an old petrol station; everyday throughout the summer you can see demonstrations of weaving, pottery-making and other artisan and cultural activities. Another highlight is the restored stave church, built around 1200 in Gol and shifted to Bygdøy in 1885. The exhibition hall located near the main entrance includes exhaustive displays on Norwegian folk art, historic toys, national costumes (including traditional clothing used for weddings, christenings and burials), domestic and farming tools and appliances, as well as visiting exhibits. However, the most interesting exhibition focuses on the life and culture of the Sami. It examines their former persecution and looks at how they have adapted to life in a modern Norway. Temporary exhibitions can be as varied as church art or 1950s pop culture. Sunday is a good day to visit, with the most activities going on, although adult tickets are discounted to 100kr on weekdays. Akershus Festning; When Oslo was named capital of Norway in 1299, King Håkon V ordered the construction of Akershus, strategically located on the eastern side of the harbour, to protect the city from external threats. Extended and modified over the centuries, it still dominates the Oslo harbourfront and the sprawling complex consists of a medieval castle, Akershus Slott (currently closed for renovations), a fortress and assorted other buildings, including still-active military installations. Entry is through a gate at the end of Akersgata or over a drawbridge spanning Kongens gate at the southern end of Kirkegata. After 6pm in winter, use the Kirkegata entrance. The Akershus Fortress Visitor Centre, inside the main gate, has permanent exhibits recounting the history of the complex, as well as temporary exhibits highlighting aspects of Oslo's history. Staff can organise guided tours. The fortress also serves as the backdrop for a raft of cultural events throughout the year, from theatre performances to music recitals. Royal Palace; The Norwegian royal family's seat of residence emerges from the woodland-like Slottsparken, a relatively modest, pale-buttercup neoclassical pile. Built for the Swedish (in fact, French) king Karl Johan, the palace was never continuously occupied before King Haakon VII and Queen Maud were installed in 1905. Construction of the 172-room palace originally began in 1825 but wasn't completed until 1849, five years after Karl Johan's death. His son, Oscar I, and daughter-in-law, Josephine, became the first royals to move in. The palace has been greatly modernised under the current monarch, King Harald V. What's remarkable about this palace (indicative of the royal family in general) is how approachable it is: unimpeded by railings or barriers, children play and tourists pose for photos with guards just metres from the main entrance door – quite a contrast to some other European royal seats. In summer, one-hour guided tours of the interior are available. Tours visit a dozen rooms including the Cabinet Parlour, Banqueting Hall and the Palace Chapel. Tickets can be bought at the gate (at the rear of the palace), but it's wise to pre-purchase by phone or from www.ticketmaster.no, as only limited spaces are available on the day. Ekebergparken; Opened to much controversy in 2013, Ekebergparken cemented Oslo's reputation as a contemporary-art capital and, in particular, one devoted to sculpture. A vast forested public park overlooking the city and the Oslofjord is dotted with work from the collection of property developer and art collector Christian Ringnes, with artists represented including Louise Bourgeois, Marina Abramovíc, Jenny Holzer, Tony Oursler, Sarah Lucas, Tony Cragg and Jake and Dinos Chapman, and a few traditional works from Rodin, Maillol and Vigeland. You'll need at least half a day to explore properly, and expect your visit to unfold more as a treasure hunt than a usual museum experience. While seeking out the various installations, make sure you visit the Ekeberg Stairs, a historic as well as breathtaking viewpoint, and the Munch Spot, the view that inspired The Scream (as well as a 2013 Abramovíc work). There are children's activities held in the Swiss-chalet-style Lund's House, where you'll also find a museum exploring the geological and natural world of the park, as well as an art and design shop.

 

Must Try Food & Drink


Fiskesuppe; Fiskesuppe is a popular Norwegian fish soup characterized by its creamy texture and buttery flavor. This comforting dish appears in many regional and seasonal versions, but it usually consists of various types of fish, shellfish, and root vegetables, cooked in a rich broth with butter, milk, and cream. Even though it is native to Norwegian coastal areas, this hearty, chowder-like soup is considered to be a national specialty which is prepared and consumed throughout the country. Before serving, it is seasoned with a variety of fresh herbs and a drizzle of tangy lemon juice. Fiskesuppe is enjoyed as an appetizer and is usually accompanied with crispy slices of buttered bread.


Lapskaus; Lapskaus is a traditional stew originating from Norway. The stew is usually made with a combination of beef (lamb, pork, and chicken are also viable options), onions, potatoes, carrots, celery, rutabaga, stock, flour (optional), bay leaves, thyme, salt, and pepper. The beef is cooked in water with the vegetables, herbs, and seasonings. As the stew cooks, the broth becomes thicker, and once it develops the right consistency, it's served warm with a few slices of bread or lefse flatbread on the side. If desired, the broth can be thickened with a bit of flour. However, the dish has many variations, and some people like their broth to be thin and watery. This hearty stew is especially popular in autumn and winter. Like most stews, lapskaus tastes even better the next day.

Kjøttboller; Kjøttboller or kjøttkaker are traditional Norwegian meatballs. Even though they share many similarities to their Swedish counterpart, they are usually larger in size and more often shaped as meat patties or meat cakes. Among the numerous varieties, traditional versions mainly employ minced beef that is generously seasoned with nutmeg and ginger, and occasionally combined with eggs, onions, oats, and cornstarch. Norwegians prefer to pan-fry the meatballs and enjoy them as a main course, accompanied by a creamy sauce or a thick gravy. Boiled or mashed potatoes, mashed peas, lingonberry jam, creamed cabbage, or caramelized onions are the most common sides served with this hearty and satisfying meal.


Skillingsboller; Skillingsboller is a traditional Norwegian version of a cinnamon roll. This circular pastry is usually associated with Bergen. The rolls are made with a combination of flour, milk, yeast, eggs, sugar, cardamom, lots of butter, and chopped almonds (optional). After the baking, skillingsbolle are brushed with additional butter on the top and the bottom while they are still hot. The top is also sprinkled with extra sugar and cinnamon. The name skillingsboller means penny bun. They're usually eaten as an afternoon snack with a cup of coffee on the side, but some people like to eat them with brown cheese (Brunost).

Rømmegrøt; Rømmegrøt is a traditional porridge originating from Norway. Although there are several variations, it's usually made with a combination of sour cream, flour, full-fat milk, and salt. It's recommended to use homemade or high-fat sour cream, with no gelatin or stabilizers. The sour cream is shortly simmered and the flour is then sifted into the pot. The combination is simmered until the butterfat begins to separate, and the fat is skimmed off of the surface. The mixture is mixed with boiling milk and the porridge is whisked until smooth, simmered for a bit more and seasoned with salt. Rømmegrøt is typically served with sugar, cinnamon, and the remaining fat. In the past, this porridge was commonly enjoyed with dried meats on festive days.

Agurksalat; Agurksalat is a traditional cucumber salad originating from Norway. This refreshing salad is especially popular in the summer and has many variations. It's usually made with sliced cucumbers, water, sugar, salt, white pepper, parsley, and white wine vinegar. Thinly sliced cucumbers are simply mixed with the dressing, chilled for about half an hour, sprinkled with chopped parsley, then served, often as an accompaniment to fish such as salmon or mackerel. If properly prepared, the salad should be crunchy and have a nice balance of sour and salt with hints of sweetness from the sugar.

Blomkålsuppe; Blomkålsuppe is a traditional Norwegian cauliflower soup. Although there are many variations, the soup is usually made with a combination of cauliflower florets, meat stock, egg yolks, salt, white pepper, cream, butter, onions, flour, and nutmeg. The cauliflower is boiled in salted water and one half is divided into florets and set aside. The rest is cooked until mushy and blended with a bit of water until the combination turns into a smooth sauce. The onions are sautéed in butter and mixed with flour, stock, and cauliflower sauce. The soup is brought to a boil while being stirred, and a mixture of egg yolks, cream, nutmeg, and white pepper is then added to the soup while constantly stirring. The florets are placed into the pot, the soup is simmered for a bit more, and it's then served while still hot.

Akevitt; Akvavit is a Scandinavian spirit that is usually distilled from grains or potatoes. After distillation, it is infused with various botanicals, though the most common are caraway and dill. Other options may include fennel, coriander, cloves, or cumin. The drink can vary in color, and its flavor profile can greatly differ depending on the age and the base ingredients. Danish and Swedish akvavit is typically clear and colorless, while the Norwegian version is sometimes aged in sherry casks, allowing it to attain golden-like color and slightly stronger flavor. All varieties must have a minimum of 37,5 % ABV. Akvavit, whose name derives from aqua vitae (the water of life), has been produced since the 15th century. The first mention appears in a letter dated April 13th, 1531, that was sent from the Danish Lord Eske Bille to Norwegian Archbishop Olav Engelbrektsson. April 13th is celebrated as the akvavit day in Norway. The biggest producers come from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Although this strong spirit is usually enjoyed well-chilled, some prefer to serve it at room temperature. In Scandinavia, akvavit is mainly enjoyed as an aperitif, and it is one of the mandatory drinks during festive lunch and dinners. It perfectly pairs with local specialties.

Maltøl; Norwegian farmhouse ale is an example of a traditional farmhouse ale—a versatile style brewed by European farmers. These beers were designed for local consumption. In Norway, they are known as maltøl, which would literally translate as malt beer. Norwegian brewing tradition is ancient, and though it has changed over time, it retained some of its unique characteristics. The entire category of farmhouse ales is incredibly versatile. The character depends on the region, brewer’s preferences, and style. Although the tradition has mainly disappeared, farmhouse ales are still brewed in several Norwegian regions, and are available in several different styles. The most popular is Stjørdalsøl, which comes from Stjørdal, the area with the highest number of traditional breweries. The beer is dark and has a smoky character. Vossaøl is clear and fruity, often flavored with juniper, while Kornøl is pale and hazy and commonly juniper-flavored.

Røkelaks; Norwegian smoked salmon or røkelaks is one of the most popular smoked salmon varieties. It is usually made with farmed Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), and it stands out for its quality, bright pink color, and tender and flaky flesh. The flavor and the aroma are mild and have a distinctive, subtly smoky note. Before smoking, the salmon can undergo wet or dry curing, while the smoking process can be hot or cold, the latter being prevalent these days. Beech or other wood chips can be added during smoking. The final taste profile will depend on the type of salmon and the production techniques. Norwegian smoked salmon can be enjoyed on its own, and it can be used in a variety of dishes. One of the most popular options is the salmon wrap—made with lefse (Norwegian flatbread).

 
 

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