The history of Oslo goes back to around 1000 CE. Since the Middle Ages Oslo has gone though great changes, even the name of the town has been changed a few times, before it became the city it is today.
The town was originally called Oslo. In the Middle Ages it was located on the east side of the Bjørvika inlet. After a dramatic fire in 1624, king Christian IV decided that the town be rebuilt in the area below the Akershus Fortress, and he changed its name to Christiania. From 1877 the name was spelled Kristiania, and in 1925 it was changed back to the original name, Oslo.
Oslo's history begins in the Middle Ages. The first town settlement probably appeared around the year 1000 CE. The medieval town of Oslo was located below the Ekeberg hills, on the east side of the Bjørvika inlet.
During the reign of Olaf III, Oslo grew to be an important cultural centre for the East of Norway. In 1174 a Cistercian monastery was built on the island of Hovedoya in the Oslofjord. The remains of which can still be visited today. Much of the city was owned by the church.
Christianity was a strong influence in building the city and its importance. In 1299, when King Haakon V came to the throne, he chose to reside in the city. Haakon had previously been Duke of Norway and the city formed his power base. So Oslo succeeded Bergen as the capital of the country.
The King started the construction of the Akershus Fortress across the fjord to the north-west of the city. This was to fortify the city against invasion by Swedes from the North-East.
Tragedy struck the city in 1349 when plague in the form of the Black Death arrived. Half of the city's 3,000 residents died. The church, suffering a loss of income, started to decline. The Hanseatic traders who had started to arrive in the 12th century grew in importance.
In the Old Town called Gamlebyen, you will find remains of medieval Oslo in the form of ruins, parts of building and cultural layers. You will also find Oslo Ladegård, with a medieval hall in the cellar. Nearby lies the memorial park with ruins of the St. Hallvard cathedral, from the 12th century, and the St. Olav convent.
The renaissance period
From 1536 Norway was in a union with Denmark. After a dramatic fire in 1624, the Danish King Christian IV decided that the town be rebuilt below Akersus, so the fortress could function as a defence for the town. The town was named Christiania, after the king himself.
This part of Oslo's centre between the Akershus Fortress and Oslo Cathedral, Øvre Vollgate and Skippergata is today known as Kvadraturen, because of the rectangular street pattern of Christian IV’s renaissance town. Several well preserved buildings from the 17th century can be seen here. In Kvadraturen you can see the building that housed Oslo's first town hall, and the city's oldest restaurant, Café Engebret.
A capital is built
As a consequence of the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark in 1814 had to cede the territory of Norway to the Swedish king, Karl Johan. It was also during this year Norway got its own constitution, on 17 May 1814, and Christiania got its official status as the capital of Norway. King Karl Johan initiated the building of the Royal Palace in 1825. The palace was completed in 1848 under King Oscar I. In 1866 the Parliament building in Karl Johans gate was finished.
The industrial era started along the river Akerselva around 1850. In the years between 1850 and 1900 the population of Kristiania increased from about 30,000 to 230,000 mainly due to an influx of workers from rural areas.
As most older cities Oslo has gone through big character changes as a result of fires and redevelopment. Most of the original town is lost, but in some neighbourhoods you can still get a feel of the past.
The more than 700 year old Akershus Fortress is an important cultural monument. Here the memories of World War II are also prominent. Many Norwegian patriots were executed on this site, and Akershus was surrendered to the Norwegian resistance movement in the last hours of the war. After the war Vidkun Quisling was held in prison here. Vidkun Quisling was a Norwegian army officer whose collaboration with the Germans in their occupation of Norway during World War II and was considered as a traitor. Thus it is natural that Norway's Resistance Museum is located at Akershus.
The river Akerselva was the cradle of industrialism in Norway. A walk along the river is a pleasant experience and offers interesting meetings with living cultural memories. Cascades and old wooden houses provide a contrast to the enormous industrial buildings.