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About Oslo

Oslo has a spectacular setting at the head of a 110km (70-mile) long fjord. It is the oldest Scandinavian capital, founded by the 11th century Norwegian king, Harald Hådråda, who established it on the site of an earlier Viking settlement, in or around 1050. Following the building of the imposing castle and fortress of Akershus Slott, by Håkon V Magnusson, in the late 13th century, Oslo’s importance grew and it developed into a major trading centre, dealing primarily with Germany and Central Europe.

Following numerous lesser conflagrations, the predominantly wooden city burnt to the ground in 1624. King Christian IV rebuilt it on its present site, to the northeast of the castle, and it was renamed Christiania in his honour – a name it kept for 300 years. United with Denmark, from 1380 to 1814, and from then on with Sweden, Norway finally gained independence in 1905 – a date still celebrated with much enthusiasm nearly a century on, every 17 May. The Norwegian capital grew into a major financial, military and administrative centre, by the mid-1800s. The subsequent development of shipping, industry and forestry helped give it the dominant role that it still enjoys, in the nation’s economy.

The best approach to Oslo is by sea, sailing up the fjord, where shrimpers and small sailing boats jostle with ferries and merchant ships, to where the city sprawls out from its compact centre around the quays to the flanks of the surrounding hills. Although it is not noted for grand architecture, Oslo’s history lives on in medieval buildings like the Akershus Slott, which stands across a park from the austere angular bulk of the 1930s-style Rådhus (City Hall). A highlight is the Slottet (Royal Palace), which elegantly dominates the view west along Karl Johans Gate past the Storting (Parliament).

Despite its status within Scandinavia, Oslo gradually faded in international influence, until the discovery of North Sea oil, in recent years. This contributed to its current resurgence, a factor reflected in its bustling docks and lively retail and leisure sector around Aker Brygge, the transformed former warehouse area along the quay.

The population of just under thousands of is small for a major city, however, with its late-night shopping, crowded cafés, pubs, restaurants and theatres playing to full houses, the city has developed a cosmopolitan feel. However, in this respect, Bergen, its predecessor as the nation’s capital, still has the edge, due to its closer involvement with the international oil industry.

Oslo’s climate is surprisingly mild for its latitude. Summer temperatures often hover around 20°C (68°F) but in winter, these fall to just below freezing. Winter is dark and gloomy, although there is always snow on the numerous ski trails close to the city. During the long summer days, when the sun drops only briefly below the horizon and it never gets truly dark, the inhabitants spend much of their time outdoors. Summer temperatures are perfect for exploring the parks and hiking paths, or relaxing on the beaches of the fjord.

There is nothing that Oslo can do about its dark sub-arctic winters but, in recent years, it has largely shaken off its dull, small-town, parochial image, without losing its air of informality. Recently liberalised drinking laws have helped create a lively nightlife and oil money has provided support for arts and culture, making it a thriving and vibrant city.


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