The city was founded in 1049 by King Harald Hardråke (Harald Hardruler). The name was derived from Old Norse word for God Ås and lo (meaning pasture). For that reason, Oslo could mean ‘field of the gods’. In the late 13th century King Håkon V built the Akerhus Fortress in order to establish a military presence and hopefully deter the Swedes threatening from the east.
The bubonic plague wiped out half the population of Norway in the middle of the 14th century, and as a consequence the country united with Denmark. From 1397 to 1624, political matters and defense were organized from Copenhagen. In 1624, the entire city burned to the ground. King Christian IV rebuilt it on a site more easily defended, and named it Christiania. Three hundred years later, in 1814, Norway’s constitution was framed but Sweden had other ideas about the realm. The two countries were united under Swedish rule until 1905 when the union was dissolved.
The capital thrived and in 1925, the original name, Oslo was reinstated.
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
We’d really done a lot on our first two days in Oslo and it seemed to take its toll on Anil in particular. He had a very poor night’s sleep, waking up after a couple of short hours and tossing and turning for the balance of the night. We dragged ourselves out of bed in time for a big buffet breakfast, included in the price of our room and then after breakfast crawled back in bed to try and get some more sleep. It was overcast and the forecast was for light rain so we didn’t feel like we were missing much.
It was well after 1:00pm when we awoke, and decided to set off and see a little more of the city while we stretched our legs and blew off a few of the cobwebs. We set off for the train station in order to pick up our tickets for the ‘Norway In A Nutshell’ tour, across the country, coming up shortly. Along the way we stopped into the Oslo Cathedral because I wanted to see the much-praised wooden altar. It did not disappoint, with a large carved scene of the Last Supper below the crucifix.
I suggested to Anil that we walk over to see the Oslo Opera House, located near the train station. I knew that we wouldn’t see it at its best in the dull afternoon light, but it was hard to say what the weather would be like the following day, our last in the capital. I’d read that first impressions of the Opera House aren’t the greatest, that the building is best seen in the bright sunlight, or in the winter months when its draped with snow, set against the sheets of ice in the neighbouring Oslo Fjord.
It was clear that the overcast skies made the white marble seem rather flat and lifeless, but I appreciated the fact that there were few other visitors that afternoon and I could enjoy walking alone on the sloping roof of the now iconic building. The interior of the building is quite a contrast to the exterior, with warm oak strips of wood lining the curving walls of the staircase leading to the seats in the concert hall.
Back outside, I noticed a large sculpture floating in the sea just off the jetty by the Opera House. I’d read that it is a three-dimensional representation of a painting called ‘Das Eismeer’ (The Sea of Ice) by Casper David Friedrich. It left me pretty unmoved when I stood and looked at it, but then there was no wind to speak of and no waves on the water to make it twist and turn as I’d read it was meant to do.
After several days of ‘picnicking’ in the parks for lunch, and in our room in the evenings, we decided to ‘bite the bullet’ and have dinner out in Oslo. No pickled herring or fresh seafood for us. Instead, we headed to Mama Africa for a delicious Ethiopian meal of injera and wat. Thank goodness most of the world is so cosmopolitan now in terms of dining options, we can always have an ‘ethnic’ meal when the local foods are not to our liking.
Our last day in Oslo dawned bright and sunny and we set off to explore the executive government district. It was here, near the Ministry of Finance that a Norwegian terrorist set off a bomb to act as a distraction while he travelled to an island half and hour away and targeted large group of young people attending a weekend political summer camp. The bomb severely damaged several large buildings just a couple of blocks from our hotel, killing 8 people, but another 69 died in the shooting spree on the island.
Just north of this modern district of Oslo, lie a few remaining streets lined with 18th century wooden buildings, a nice change of pace from the glass and steel structures in the city’s core. Damstredet was once an impoverished shantytown, but it has been revitalized by artists and is now a colourful neighbourhood, brimming with flowers and lively window decorations.
We were reluctant to head into a museum on such a lovely day, so we dawdled along the streets of Oslo, admiring the fact that there are few tall buildings and lots of green spaces. Speaking of green spaces, I encouraged Anil to walk through the large Memorial Cemetery with me, something he is loathe to do, and something I seem to love for some reason.
There were some very odd monuments in among the tall stone pillars, and when we stopped to discuss one in particular with a couple of young local men, they mentioned that Edvard Munch’s grave was nearby. We planned to take in the National Gallery as one of our next stops, so we made a point of wandering over to view the famous artist’s grave before we left.
The National Gallery was just the right size for a quick visit and we enjoyed some of the paintings by other artists on display. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photographs of any of Edvard Munch’s paintings, especially not his most famous one, ‘The Scream’. I read that the painting had twice been stolen, one on February 12, 1994, on the opening day of the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway and the second time ten years later on August 22, 2004.
Security had been especially lax on both occasions, and the painting had not been insured as it was considered ‘priceless’. Fortunately, both times the painting was recovered unharmed, and today the guards seem more than a little edgy hovering over a painting now kept behind a protective glass shield.
We very much appreciated our hotel being located on Oslo’s main thoroughfare because everything was located just a short walk away. After seeing ‘The Scream’, we returned to the lounge of our hotel for a cup of tea and a short break before setting out once again to see the Opera House in the late afternoon sunlight. We were both so happy to see it again, at its stunning best. Yes, there were far more visitors that afternoon, but it did seem a fitting way to end our first visit to Oslo.
The waterfront revitalization project, of which the €500 million Opera House is the anchor, isn’t scheduled to be complete until 2020. Perhaps we’ll have seen enough of the world by then, that we can return to Oslo to see what else the fine architects of Norway have in store for their citizens.