Let’s take a walking heritage tour of Oslo, Norway. We’ll see the city of Olso, the harbor and waterfront, excavated Viking ships, historic Norwegian villages, the Sami people and the Museum of Cultural History. Yes, Oslo has all that…and more.
But first, let’s talk about the Vikings, their history and why you might just care – as in personally.
The Vikings and You
Might you have a bit of Viking blood? If your ancestors came from, well, almost anyplace in coastal or riverine Europe, you might. The Vikings tended to follow the waterways, both sea and river.
Earth map by NASA; Data based on w:File:Viking Age.png (now: File:Vikingen tijd.png), which is in turn based on http://home.online.no/~anlun/tipi/vrout.jpg and other maps.
If your ancestors came from Scandinavia, Normandy, Ireland or England, you probably do have a Viking someplace in your past whether they show up in your DNA or not.
Max Naylor – Own work
However, you may find hints in your DNA.
I’m still complete fascinated by the fact that my mitochondrial DNA originated in Scandinavia even though my most distant known matrilineal ancestor is found in Germany. My Scandinavian matches are shown clustered below.
My mitochondrial match list at Family Tree DNA is full of surnames like Jonsdotter, Nilsdotter, Jansdotter, Larsdotter, Martensdotter, Persdotter, Olsdotter, Pedersdotter, Karldatter, Johnson, Palsdatter, Olausdotter and so forth. There’s no question about where this line originated. The only question is how, when and why Elizabeth Wenig’s matrilineal ancestors traveled to Germany where she was married to Hans Schlicht and gave birth to Elizabeth Schlicht in 1698. Elizabeth married in Wirbenz, Germany, far from Scandinavia.
That white pin shows where my most distant ancestor, Elizabeth Wenig lived. My best guess, and that’s what it is now, is that her arrival may have been connected with the Swedish involvement in the 30 Years War.
Regardless, Scandinavia is my mitochondrial heritage and I loved it in Oslo. I was quite surprised, because I never thought I’d fall in love with a “cold” country – but I did.
My paper trail genealogy suggests that I also descend from Rollo, the Viking warrior best known for having besieged Paris and ruled Normandy. Of course, given that Rollo was born about 860 and died about 930, there’s no genetic proof. It’s a fun story, but my own mitochondrial DNA holds proof of my Scandinavian heritage.
Is there a bit of Viking in you too? Join me in exploring the cultural heritage of Oslo and Norway. I’d love to share this beautiful city with you and your inner Viking. Come along!
Welcome to Oslo, a beautiful city located on a fjord, full of history and Scandinavian charm. This was my first glimpse through the clouds. Even sleep deprivation of the red eye trip couldn’t mute my excitement.
One of the things I noticed is that dusk falls early, beginning about 2:30 in early November.
I didn’t realize until the second day that this really was dusk, not just a cloudy sky. The latitude is about the same as Anchorage, Alaska.
The Scandinavians have adapted art to dark.
This beautiful fountain in front of the University of Oslo along the main street, Karl Johann’s Gate, changes from pink to red to white to aqua to apple green to teal to magenta to red to dark purple to royal blue to kind of a frosty blue – and back again. This isn’t night, it’s late afternoon and the city center is full of people.
Bordering the public fountain area on one side we find the National Theater.
Ulven, which I think is a rock musical is playing, but we didn’t attend.
Standing between these stately columns of the Oslo University building, looking across the beautiful cobblestones, you see the National Theater. The fountain is between these two buildings, to the right slightly, just outside this photo.
I just love this design. Even art-inspired cobblestones.
We strolled through the Oslo University campus, enjoying every minute. Trash on the streets and ground is almost non-existent. The Natural History Museum is visible in the distance.
Statues grace the streets and parks. Some older and some contemporary.
Historic buildings are around every corner.
Experiences are made of people. Dr. Penny Walters (England), Martin McDowell (Northern Ireland) and me were the dynamic trio for two days, immersed in as much culture as we could cram in, including our own version of a haunted troll bridge.
This blue structure was designed to keep pedestrians safe in a construction area, but when you stepped on the end, something back in the middle, behind you, clunked disconcertingly. We joked and laughed, a bit uneasily perhaps, about having our own Norwegian troll, because it happened every single time😊
Trolls are part of the cultural heritage of Norway, a legend of Norse mythology.
Here’s the front of Oslo City Hall. The other side is the waterfront area.
This contemporary art is found along the waterfront with the masts of the tall ships showing at right, above the sign, in front of the Nobel Peace Center and Museum.
The entire waterfront area is cultural, with performers and ever-present activities.
I’m not exactly sure what this is, other than interesting. Coffee shops abound, and don’t bother asking for decaf, or Starbucks.
The waterfront is both lovely and historic.
The Nobel Peace Center and Museum faces the harbor.
The old fort still stands sentry in the distance above the harbor.
Viking Ship Museum
We caught tram number 30 on the waterfront and rode some distance to the Viking Ship Museum.
This incredible museum was literally built around and for salvaged Viking ships that had been pulled out of the sea and used for burials of high-status Vikings, probably chieftains or warriors, or perhaps individuals who were both.
In addition to the ships, this museum holds the remains of burial mounds, skeletons (I want their DNA), artifacts, a beautifully carved cart and more – much more.
This is the welcome that greets visitors. Utterly breathtaking.
I particularly love the shadows of the ships on the walls. Graceful elegance – perhaps this design needs to work itself into my future quilts.
These ships were incredibly crafted and are amazingly well preserved.
Is this the Viking version of a sea serpent? A creature from mythology? Dragon ships, called Drakkar from Norse mythology carried dragons and snakes on their prow. No actual dragon ship has ever been discovered, but these prow creatures might serve a similar function.
The grace and artistry on these longships is absolutely amazing. They were huge, more than 70 feet long and 16 feet wide.
When sailed, they could travel more than 11 MPH and they traversed the open sea – to Iceland, Greenland and eventually, as far as L’Anse aux Meadows in Canada, called Vinland.
These ships could also be rowed. Notice the oar holes on the sides and the brackets on the top of the sides to hold the oars.
The fact that these people were willing to sacrifice something so valuable and beautiful to become a virtual casket says something profound about the person being buried.
This museum was created to house these priceless relics. Each burial was accompanied by a burial hut, with a mound on top. The ship was buried first, followed by the hut on top with the mast sticking through. Then the entire ship and hut were covered with an earthen mount. The top of the mast was left protruding through the top of the mound.
The museum created an amazing 3D experience projected on the walls and ceiling around the ship in one of the four rooms housing the ships and artifacts, representing what the burial process must have been like – as historically accurate as possible, reconstructed from the archaeology. It’s almost like reaching back in time and standing right there as the burial occurred. I took this short 5 minute video and it’s incredible!
If you can’t get in touch with your inner Viking here, you can’t get in touch with your inner Viking!
Viking Grave Goods
This carved cart was excavated from one of the burials. The Vikings clearly sent their dead to the afterlife with the finest they had to offer.
Those wheels! Notice the human face above the wheel.
Every ship had a different carved creature on the prow. Was this a good luck charm of sorts, a protecting amulet or perhaps meant to frighten anyone who might come into contact with the ship or its inhabitants?
I so wonder what these were meant to portray. Good luck? Fear? A deity? Confer protection?
These designs remind me of later Celtic work. I have to wonder which came first – chicken or egg?
I wonder if these are mythical creatures, each with a long-lost story. Imagine sitting by the fires at night, or sailing in the ships themselves as they rocked on the waves, listening to stories about the Norse Gods that had been handed down in the same way for millennia.
Viking shoes laced up the center and then the laces were tied around the ankles. The people’s feet were small compared to ours today.
A carved sled, one of two on display.
These artifacts are pieces of art.
I wonder if these items were actually used or were ceremonial in nature, given their intricate carving.
Norwegian Museum of Cultural History
Next door to the Viking Ship Museum is the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, called the Norsk Folkenmuseum. It’s an outdoor “folk museum.”
We are actually moving forward in time, from the Viking era to early Norwegian villages scattered along the coastlines and protected from the open sea inside fjords. Of course, many of these villages probably began as Viking encampments and evolved into farming and agricultural hamlets.
We walked along the sidewalk and the thickly vine-covered wall. .
This coffee-shop was just too inviting and as it so happened, the gateway to the folk museum – a series of “villages” designed to represent various historical regions of Norway.
The outdoor museum was constructed as groups of structures, clustered in villages from various parts of Norway. Instead of destroying these old structures, they were disassembled piece by piece and brought here to be conserved and preserved.
Let’s go inside for a walk – or as it turned out, a hike.
Notice the sod roofs.
The roof was layered with grass, sod, wood or rock edges and birch bark.
We couldn’t tell if the rocks simply lined the edge or were a base layer. This would seem awfully heavy.
Some roofs were shimmed.
The doors were small, probably to conserve heat.
Many buildings were elevated to keep rodents out.
Buildings clustered around a plowed field.
Look at this incredible decorative carving. Each structure had the owners initials and the year of construction incised above the door. (You can click to enlarge the images.)
Around a curve, we discovered a Sami family homestead.
A barn or animal enclosure.
Some of the Sami structures, called lavvu, look like teepees of the Native Americans in North America, but genetically, they don’t seem to be related. The Sami are, however, related genetically to the Russian people of the Uralic region.
The Sami people of the north are nomads, traditionally living a subsistence culture centered around the reindeer.
Their bone carvings and weaving are stunning.
Nothing goes to waste.
We should have known we were in trouble when we noticed mile markers. How many were there? A lot!
Notice the roofs in the background. The museum is quite hilly.
In some places, outright steep. Notice those stacked rocks beside the path.
Maybe a barn in an odd shape?
One of the museum highlights was the incredible stave church.
The church, from the 12th century, saved by the very visionary King of Norway in 1881 is undergoing repair but was open to visitors.
The King with the church.
Interior door. The carving on this doorway is very similar to the carving on the Viking prows – so you can see that the Norwegian culture evolved from the Vikings to contemporary residents. The Vikings didn’t “go” anyplace and live on today.
The church interior Last Supper painting after the Norwegians were converted to Christianity from Paganism.
The carved doors are amazing. Notice how worn the thresholds are from millions of footsteps.
What a beautiful, peaceful, view.
Ornate church roof structures.
So, how many genealogists does it take to decipher the roman numerals on the front of this church?
The answer: III
The construction of some of these buildings is amazing.
These were built to last!
Saying goodbye to the church, we found ourselves overlooking another village.
The sod roof is also being repaired (replaced?) on one of the structures.
Do you see the face? Is this a troll?
Buildings from another region with rounded and taller arches over doorways.
I love this fence.
Walking down this hillside feels like we are arriving from the country into the village. This village has its own sauna drying laundry facility.
Complete with scented herbs.
This barn smells with the sweet scent of hay. Reminds me of home.
Regional differences in architecture are quite visible.
Each door and post is carved.
Love these ornate doors but mind your head.
I think we found the jail.
These structures had one room that functioned for everything for the entire family. No such thing as privacy.
Smoke exited, light entered. These were carved in the wall, not the roof.
For the most part, windows didn’t exist. We did not notice vent holes on the top or in the roofs of most structures.
Although some had chimneys with metal tops to keep the birds out, weighted down by rocks to keep the tops from blowing away.
This larger home was ornate and 2 story.
Built in bird houses.
Martin pondering Norwegian heritage.
I just love these different fence styles – many of which I’ve never seen before. You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl.
Just humor me and my fence infatuation.
Two styles of fences along with two styles of rock walls – all in one picture.
Yet another fence type in another region.
In Hardanger, a few buildings had slate roofs.
This building’s cornerstones look like they might break under the weight.
Snuck another fence in on you😊
It was getting dark by the time we finished our tour of Norway’s little villages, so we caught the tram back into Oslo. The next morning, we visited the Museum of Cultural History.
Museum of Cultural History
The ticket for the Viking Ship Museum included a free pass for Museum of Cultural History, visible from my hotel room, a block or so from the hotel. The outside is getting a facelift and inside, new exhibits, so only portions were open – but they were well worth the visit.
While this museum held several fascinating exhibits, the ones I enjoyed the most were the ones related to Scandinavian history.
I can see myself drinking out of this beautiful Viking drinking horn. Mead perhaps?
The Vikings were clean people, combing their hair regularly and the manes of their horses as well.
The Vikings and Scandinavians were incredible craftsmen.
That Stave Church again with life-size carved religious statues.
A runestone from Tune, 400 AD, that discussed three daughters and an inheritance.
Oldest Sami drum in existence, confiscated in 1691 by the Norwegian authorities. The Sami were very resistance to acculturation. It’s somehow ironic that the only reason this artifact still exists is that it was taken away from the Sami people.
Sami medicine man robe. For every vision or trance, he tied another piece of fabric onto his robe.
The back. I was curious what happened to these robes when the medicine man died. Obviously, this one came to live at the museum.
As we exited the Sami exhibit, we found ourselves on a different continent entirely.
How About Egypt Next?
Although these Egyptian mummies are clearly not Norwegian, I can’t resist including them because I’ve never seen mummies in this condition. These are amazing, ornate and beautiful.
Penny Walters who has spent a significant amount of time in Egypt was thrilled with this part of the exhibit. We learned a great deal from her as well.
I think the pyramids might officially be on my bucket list now.
I so want to sequence the mummy’s DNA.
The walls of the tomb where this mummy was found were painted with these stars. The sign below provides information about the mummy above.
Thankfully, some of the signage includes an English version for us language-challenged visitors.
These colors are incredibly vibrant, even today.
I love these hands.
Notice her breasts too. I had to wonder if this is the first known depiction of a bra.
We exited the Egyptian gallery to find ourselves celebrating the Day of the Dead. That’s a pretty dramatic cultural shift!
Day of the Dead
The Latino Day of the Dead roughly corresponds to Halloween in the US, but it’s a wonderful cultural celebration of ancestors – those who have gone on.
This lovely celebratory “Day of the Dead” weekend includes food, the honoring of ancestors by creating altars and inviting them back with their favorite foods, and festively decorating graves.
This exhibit was colorful, cultural and fun. After all, it is the Museum of Cultural History – and not just Scandinavian culture.
Day of the Dead altar and skeletons of course.
This beaded skull is stunning. Click on this picture for a close-up.
Good thing they didn’t have one of these in the gift shop. It would have been named and on its way home with me.
How can I possibly develop “favorite places” in just a few days? I seem to do this wherever I go and often, they are pubs.
Many restaurants in Oslo aren’t open until evening which makes lunch challenging.
Fortunately, right across the street from the hotel was a wonderful pub. The best thing about pubs is often the laid-back and welcoming atmosphere.
By the last day, I was exhausted. A combination of the excitement before the trip, the overnight flight itself, followed by three jet-lagged conference days, then two days of cultural absorption. I was running on adrenaline alone, because I certainly wasn’t sleeping well.
On the final day, Penny left for the airport around noon. Martin and I went back to the pub for lunch after discovering two other choices were closed. We had originally decided to walk to the fort on the waterfront after lunch, but lunch led to coffee which led to more conversation and another coffee and let’s just say when it started getting dark, we decided to simply go back to the hotel and pack. I took my leftovers and had them for dinner.
Our pub afternoon was lovely, sipping coffee (Martin) and Ginger Joe (me.) We caught up on what had happened since our last adventure outside Belfast, Ireland last year.
But before we began packing, we had one more stop to make – a visit to the summit bar of the Radisson Blu hotel which is the highest location in the city.
The Cultural Museum (with the Egyptian and Day of the Dead exhibits) is the white building in the left lower corner.
On the other side of the hotel, the palace is illuminated at center left.
There was too much glare for me to take good pictures, but you can see the hotel’s gallery here and some beautiful photos here.
I loved Oslo. I made fond forever memories with both old and new friends. But alas, it was time to leave.
You can read about my incredible 5 AM ride to the airport – and yes, it really was amazing: Norwegian Cultural Gems – Burial Practices, Cemeteries, Heritage Clothing and Family Traditions
One Final Treat – Greenland
On my way home, winging through the air at over 500 miles per hour as compared to those Viking ships clipping right along at 11, I was treated to an incredibly stunning view of Greenland.
Glaciers, fjords, the sea and sunset. How does it get better than this?
The Vikings wouldn’t have believed their eyes.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our trip to Norway and the wonderful culture this country has to offer. If you’d like to learn more, please check out my earlier articles:
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