Our return to the centre of the city was driven by hunger and an interest in inspecting some of the important public buildings that were located along the main thoroughfare of Oslo, Karl Johans Gate. This street starts at the Royal Palace, heads down to the Parliament building before continuing on to the Central Railway Square. We found a great delicatessen with fresh rolls and coffee so we were able to happily refuel and then head up the street to our official starting point, the Royal Palace. The park surrounding the palace was open in 1847 and has been open to the public ever since.
Unsurprisingly, the Royal Palace of Norway reflects the complex history of Norway since the start of the 19th century. For example, the equestrian statue that has pride of place in front of the palace does not bear a Norwegian rider; he was a Frenchmen who was an important figure in Napoleon’s army and played an significant role in the French victory in the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. For obscure reasons he was made heir presumptive to the childless King Charles XIII of Sweden and became Generalissimo of the Swedish Armed forces in the war against France in 1813. In 1814 he forced Denmark to cede Norway to Sweden. He became King himself of Sweden/Norway (King Charles III John) in 1818 and reigned until his death in 1844. It was he who decided he needed a royal residence in Norway and this palace was built between 1824-1844. King Charles John never resided in this palace and his son and heir Oscar I was the first monarch to officially live here. The main street of Oslo, Karl Johans gate, is named after King Charles John.
During the union between Sweden and Norway (1814-1905), this city was called Christiana, and then Kristiana from 1897 and this palace was used only when the current royal family were staying in Norway. In 1905, Prince Carl of Denmark (!) was elected King of Independent Norway and it is his dynasty that makes their home in this palace. There is a statue of one of the Queens of this dynasty in the grounds of the palace. Her name was Maud, a daughter of England’s Queen Victoria’s son, Bertie (Albert prince of Wales) and his wife Alexandra of Denmark. She married her first cousin prince Carl of Denmark who was offered the throne of Norway in 1905. No doubt her good blood lines from her English family improved her husband’s chances of becoming Norway’s King as well as her own chances of becoming the first Queen of Norway in the 20th century
We enjoyed our stroll around the Palace gardens. It was also very interesting to watch the changing of the guards. We were a little surprised that most of the guards on duty on the day of our visit were female and were not interested in being disturbed in their duties by inquisitive tourists.
After inspecting the statue of Queen Maude, we headed out of the Palace Gardens to begin our walk down Karl Johans Gate to enjoy the parklands that bordered this main road and checkout the significant buildings along it. The first building we stopped to check out was the National Theatre, inaugurated in 1899. Prominently displayed outside the main entrance of the theatre are statues of two of the great Norwegian playwrights, Henrik Ibsen and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson. Apparently, Ibsen and his wife were in the front row in 1899 when this National Theatre was opened. Most of his plays have been performed here at some stage since the theatre’s opening. I am not sure how many statues of Henrik Ibsen there are in Norway but there is an unusual one outside Bergen’s main theatre.
It is no surprise that the name of Ludwig Holbert is engraved on the façade of this theatre. As we were walking around Bergen, we encountered his statue in the square over the road from the city’s central harbour and felt a bit sorry for the ageing statue of Ludwig that hadn’t been cleaned in well over a 100 years. However his statue near the National Theatre is a different presentation. It is not only thoroughly clean, but it presents a life-like Holbert with two of his actors (above right).
A little further along from the theatre in one of the gardens of the nearby park, there is perhaps the happiest looking statue on Karl Johans Gate, that of Wenche Foss. She was an actress whose career spanned 76 years in Norway, starring in TV shows, Movies and Theatre. She was present at the unveiling of the statue in 2007, as was the Queen of Norway. She died aged 93, four years later.
Over the road from the National Theatre was the very impressive building that belonged to the University of Oslo’s Law faculty.
We continued on down Karl Johns Gate, enjoying the parklands, the statues and the shops that lined this street. One particularly moving statue was called ‘Cecilie – woman with incurable breast cancer’; she was a brave 42 year old local woman who died from cancer (see right, below). Before her death she was part of a public campaign to highlight the importance of screening for breast cancer.
Since we were in Oslo in Summertime, we didn’t realise that the large pond in the park area just before we reached the Parliament Building, was used as an ice-rink during winter (“Spikersuppa”).
As an Australian visitor to Norway, the history of government in Norway is quite complex, particularly given that in the 19th century, Norway was in a union with Sweden. A parliament of Norway was set up as early as 1814. The building we were viewing in Karl Johans Gate was not opened until 1866. Presumably since independence from Sweden in 1905, this building’s significance must have been greatly enhanced. It was taken over by the Nazis in 1940 so any gatherings of elected Norwegian parliamentarians were held abroad during the war.
Reaching the parliament building was as far as we went in our exploration of Karl Johans Gate. We could have continued on further down this main street and eventually found ourselves coming out in the plaza outside the main railway station.
North-east of the Parliament Building in Storvet Square is the Cathedral of Oslo. The first cathedral on this site was built in 1632 but burnt down 50 years later and the current building replaced it in 1697. The Cathedral was rebuilt in the mid-19th century. This church is well worth the short walk from Karl Johans Gate.
Our Last Morning in Oslo…the Munch Museum
We had one last morning to see a little more of Oslo while we waited to catch our train at 2.30pm to take us south towards Germany. Our destination for Monday was Gothenburg on the southern coast of Sweden.
We decided we would visit the Munch Museum in the morning which was in the area along the harbour on the eastern of the Opera House. There had originally been a Munch Museum elsewhere in Oslo. Like so many similar projects around the world, the Oslo Council decided they needed a new Munch Museum and so promoted an architectural competition and before the winning entry could be built, the project was stalled by opponents in the council. The project was revived a few years later and the Munch Museum was finally opened in 2021. We found it a huge building for a single artist gallery and I wasn’t surprised when I read that its design received lots of criticism. The most trenchant criticism seems to be the “world’s largest collection of guard rails.”
Edvard Munch himself had donated a lot of his works to the Council and the original museum. The new museum today holds half the artist’s entire production. Munch is a household name for his 1893 painting, ‘The Scream’, which has become one of the most famous art works in the world. His life (1863-1844) was a very complex one given that his childhood was overshadowed by regular illnesses, deaths in his family and his fear of inheriting a mental condition that ran in the family. It is not surprising that we see in so many Munch paintings his feelings of personal despair. For example, his inspiration for ‘The Scream’ was that he was out walking at sunset in Oslo along the harbour when he heard the “enormous scream of nature”.
We started our tour of three rooms of Munch’s work by watching a video on his life. This was very helpful in setting the scene for viewing his works from all the periods of his life. A self-portrait from late in his life featured in this video (image on left).
This blog is not the place for a long analysis of Munch’s work. I will simply include below three of my favourite pieces from the collection in Appendix 1. If you go online to Wikipedia, there is a very large collection of Munch’s painting at the end of the biography printed there.
After we finished our visit to the Munch Museum, we had time to go for a short walk in the area around the museum. The photo below is of a recent development in the Bjorvika district at the back of the Munch Museum. I was impressed by the architecture and took the photo from one of the Museum’s windows.
Another feature of the landscape around the Museum was a huge statue that sat on a newly developed dock area built on piles driven into the harbour. The nine-metre tall bronze statue had only been in place for three months. It was called ‘The Mother’ and was the winning entry in a competition that had been run to choose an appropriate art piece for this new area. “The jury believes that this proposal will appeal to a wide range of visitors and that ‘The Mother’ has the potential to become a site-specific landmark and a symbol not only for the Munch Museum, but also for Oslo’s harbor area”.
The view in the photo below shows the prominent features of this area in Oslo’s harbour, cruise boats and spa facilities.