On the southeast coast at the inlet of the Skagerrak at the head of the Oslo Fjord, Oslo is Norway’s capital, largest city and chief port.
The first evidence of permanent habitation in the area are the remains of timber housing from around 1000, although the Oslo fjord had been inhabited since 800. During the Viking era the area developed as a trade and shipbuilding centre. King Harald III Hardraade (1047–66) founded Oslo around 1050 as a defence post against Danish attack on a plain to the east of the River Aker. The town grew up around a market place in an area rich in fir, lime, spruce and stone. The use of timber for dwellings left the town susceptible to fires, and in the early twelfth century stone began to be used for royal and ecclesiastic buildings. In 1299 Oslo was made Norway’s capital. It was to remain so until 1536. It developed into a trading post for the Hanseatic League, a trading alliance of northern European towns. In 1397 Oslo and Norway came under Danish rule with the Union of Kalmar. In the mid-fourteenth century, Oslo’s population was decimated by the Black Death and subsequent epidemics, and a century later the population had fallen by three quarters.
In 1624 Oslo was destroyed by fire. The regent, Christian IV (1577–1648), rebuilt the city further west and renamed it Christiania. Arkershus was reinforced and the new city was built around the castle. Wood for building was banned inside the city walls but timber housing outside was absorbed when the city expanded in 1794. In 1814 Christiania and Norway came under the control of Sweden. The city retained its new name until 1877 when it became Kristiania. Oslo developed rapidly in the nineteenth century, especially with industrial development from the middle of the century. The city limits were expanded in 1859 and 1878 and engulfed the surrounding towns. In 1866 it became a separate fylke, or county. In 1905 Kristiania became the capital of independent Norway, and 20 years later its name reverted to Oslo. During World War II Oslo was occupied by Germany.
Oslo is Norway’s industrial, financial and cultural centre. It also has a long heritage as an important shipping centre. The main exports are fish, paper, wood pulp and timber. Manufactures include electrical equipment, textiles and chemicals. Nearby Skøyen houses the Norwegian Trade Fair exhibition hall. Oslo is linked nationally and internationally by road, rail and air. It is home to the Norwegian Opera, the Norwegian Philharmonic and the National Theatre. Established in 1811, the Universitetet i Oslo houses the national library and a concert hall. Oslo is a centre of winter sports and hosts the Holmenkdlen ski jump competition. The city also hosts the annual Nobel Peace Prize.
Places of Interest
Oslo’s cultural sites include the seventeenth century cathedral and the nineteenth century Royal Palace. The Vigelandsparken contains a large sculpture park, decorated with nearly 200 works by Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland. Museums include the Nasjonalgalleriet, which displays nineteenth and twentieth century artists, including Matisse, Cézanne and Van Gogh. The Munch museum is dedicated to the Norwegian artist’s life and works. A museum of Scandinavian contemporary art contains all aspects of postwar work. At Bygdøy a museum charts Viking history, including Thor Heyerdahl’s Pacific expedition, and displays Viking ships, such as the Fram used by Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen.