Oslo History Facts and Timeline

(Oslo, Ostlandet, Norway)

Norway's capital and largest city, Oslo, has endured a long and tenuous relationship with its neighbour Denmark almost since its inception in the 11th century.

Once united and then separated from the Danes, Oslo eventually burned to the ground. When it was rebuilt in the 17th century, the city took a more nationalistic direction by rebuffing the advances of Sweden and expanding itself into the cultural, academic and economic powerhouse that exists today.

King Harald and Son

In the year of 1049 AD, the history of Oslo started with the establishment of a small fortified town by King Harald 'Hard-Ruler'. He named his new seat of power after the Old Norse words for 'Fields of the Gods'. However, it was his son King Olav the Peaceful who really put Oslo on the track to greatness, by establishing a bishopric and stately cathedral that began the turn from Norse paganism to Christianity.

A Capital for Norway

Oslo took over from Bergen as the de facto capital of Norway in the last year of the 13th century, under the reign of King Haakon V. The threat of a Swedish invasion helped bolster the defences of Oslo with the building of the Akershus Fortress. King Haakon V was the first Norwegian king to permanently live here in his newly built castle.

A Union with Denmark

By the middle of the 14th century, nearly half of Oslo's population was erased by the Black Plague that devastated Norway and most of Scandinavia. In an effort to rally and protect what was left of the kingdom, Norway made a pact with Denmark and essentially united under one ruling house from 1397 until 1523.

Norway was definitely the lesser of the two members of this union and consequently Oslo slipped into obscurity, as the royal family moved to Copenhagen. With all of Norway's governance being managed from the Danish capital, Oslo was little more than a provincial outpost. In 1624, the entire city burned to the ground and was abandoned.

Rebirth under King Christian

King Christian IV, the ruler of both Denmark and Norway, chose to rebuild the city at a new site that was more easily defended, and the next chapter in the history of Oslo began. Situated just across the bay outside of the Akershus Fortress, the town was renamed Christiania. The first part of Christiania built in 1624 is known as the Kvadraturen today.

Slow Growth into a Port of Trade

For more than 300 years, Christiania grew slowly into a regional city of stature, helped along by royal backing. The 18th-century Great Northern War propelled Christiania into a new era of industry and trade, with shipbuilding at its core. The city developed into a wealthy an influential trading port.

After breaking from Denmark, Norway wrote its own constitution in 1814 and named Christiania its capital. The Swedes quickly quelled any notion of nationhood and incorporated Norway under the Swedish banner. However, this certainly wasn't a bad time for the history of Oslo. Its industry expanded and something of a building boom from 1820 to 1890 created many of the historic buildings seen today, such as the Nasjonalgalleriet (National Gallery), the Det Konggelige Slott (Royal Palace) and the Stortinget (Parliament Building). New neighbourhoods and suburbs were incorporated into the city, including those of Frogner, Kampen and Torshov.

Oslo is Restored

By 1850, Christiania was the largest city in Norway. Its union with Sweden was dissolved in 1905, opening the door for the city to become the official capital of the newly formed nation of Norway.

Two decades later, in 1925, the city finally restored its original name of Oslo and has been focused on an autonomous future ever since.