As a local I’ve spent a lot of time visiting the Oslo City Hall. Being a municipal building, built for the public, I kind of see it as my big “living room” in the middle of Oslo where I can go and hang out and spend some quality time.
Rådhuset or The Oslo City Hall is full of great art, magnificent murals, tons of symbolism and the entrance is free. I highly recommend a visit when you travel to Oslo. Here’s a a presentation of this important building.
Check out my YouTube-episode from The Oslo City Hall
Guided Tours of the Oslo City Hall
Unless there is some special event going on, the City Hall is usually open every day from 9:00-16:00 (later in summer). To best experience the Oslo City Hall I recommend a guided tour. With all its symbolism and history it could be a good idea to take advantage of an expert to guide you around.As an authorized Oslo Guide I do guided tours of the exterior and interior of the City Hall, and I’d love to show you around! Check out this page to see how you can get in touch with me.
The Architecture of the Oslo City Hall
If you ever visited the City Hall in Stockholm and Copenhagen, you would notice that the Oslo City Hall has some similarities. They are for instance all red brick buildings, with oversized bricks meant to give a medieval look. There’s a good reason for the similarity, since both Östberg (Architect of The Stockholm City Hall) and Nyrop (Architecht of the Copenhagen City Hall) were in the jury that decided who would win the architectural competition.
The winners were announced in 1918 and consisted of a proposal from the architects named Arnstein Arneberg and Magnus Poulsson. Due to a poor city economy the building plans were delayed, and in 1930 they presented their final proposal. As you can see from the sketches below, their proposal changed quite a bit throughout those years to keep up with new architectural styles.
In the 1920s, Functionalism was the leading architectural style in Norway, and as a result of this the new Oslo City Hall became a building strongly inspired by this architectural form, with a clean surface, but you also find elements of modernism, art deco and new classicism.
King Haakon put down the ground stone in 1931, but the actual construction did not start until the year 1933. Due to a pause in the construction during world war II (1940-45), the City Hall had its inauguration on the 15th of May 1950. This date also happens to be religious feast day for Saint Hallvard, patron saint of Oslo.
By the opening in 1950, the functionalism style and the red bricks looked quite old fashioned, as the ideals of the 50s were to use steel and glass. The Oslo City Hall was the last building in Oslo to be be built in its style.
The Bell Tower
You find two towers in the Oslo City Hall, which are 66 and 63 meters (216 and 206 feet) high. The east tower has a carillon set of 49 bells, the highest number in any Nordic country.
You can hear the bells play every day in Oslo. One ring for 15 minutes past, two rings for 30 mins past, three rings for 45 min past. On the whole hour, there is a short tune played by a professional musician sitting up in the tower. Check out the video below to see and hear True Colors – Steinberg/Kelly being played at the Oslo City Hall.
Arneberg & Poulsson, the architects of the City Hall, invited leading Norwegian artists to contribute with their art. As a result we have today a rich art collection showing off Norwegian cultural heritage and crafts. The artists introduced many symbols or hidden messages to future visitors. And best of all, it’s all available to the public.
The western wall of the building is dominated by Anne Grimdalen’s sculpture of Harald Hardråde (Harald III Sigurdsson, aka Harald the Ruthless) on horseback. Read more about Harald later in this blog post.
At the front of the building, facing the Oslo fjord, you find Nic Schiøll’s sculpture of Saint Hallvard, the patron saint of Oslo.
According to the story, Hallvard Vebjørnsson was killed when he tried to protect a pregnant woman accused of stealing. Three men following her, saw Hallvard and the woman setting out in a boat across the Drammen fjord, and they shot and killed both of them with arrows. You can notice Hallvard holding three arrows up in the air.
However, Hallvard was of noble kin, and when the perpetrators realized this, they knew that they would have to hide his body. So they put a millstone around his neck and dumped him in the fjord. Shortly after, Hallvard was found floating still with the millstone hanging from his neck. This was considered a miracle, and Hallvard was regarded a martyr.
Today you find Saint Hallvard depicted many places in Oslo. He is the main symbol on the city seal of Oslo, and he’s also on the Saint Hallvard medal, the municipality’s highest honor.
On both sides of the walls leading up to the entrance, you find reliefs by artist Dagfin Werenskiold. These are multicoloured depictions of motifs from the Poetic Edda, a collection of Old Norse poems. Above you can see the thunder god Thor riding across the sky with his hammer Mjölnir and his two goats Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr.
The gold covered bronze relief over the entrance was designed by Joseph Grimeland. She is named Oslopike (“Oslo girl”). Oslo being a seafaring city, many thinks she resembles a figure head often seen on ships, and that she is greeting the people of Oslo.
Per Palle Storm designed six free-standing sculptures in front of the building. They depict the craftsmen who built the City Hall.
Inside the Oslo City Hall
The inside consists of several different rooms, all with a different style and for different kinds of use. The most well known event taking place is the annual Nobel Peace Prize ceremony (read more below). Civil marriages also take place, and there’s a good chance you’ll meet some newlyweds. The ceremony takes 10-15 minutes, and the couples can book their wedding appointment online.
The Main Hall
Rådhushallen, which literally translates to The City Hall, is the core of the building. With its rich decoration and large size, its a dominating and impressive room. The main hall is divided in two parts. About five meter (15 feet) up is a balcony extending out on three of the sides. The parapet of the balcony, the walls under and the floor is covered with Norwegian marble.
This is the room where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded
This immense oil painting by Henrik Sørensen is the first that meets you when you enter the hall. It tells a story about social reforms, education, social struggles, the war years and Norwegian Royal history. It depicts many prominent Norwegians, but also regular people carrying out their everyday life.
Up on the left is a fresco made by artist Alf Rolfsen. It’s “A Picture of the Nation”, showing the main trades of Norway back in the 40s-50s. A fisherman, a farmer, a sailor and an industry worker. On the left side of the fresco you can spot the polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen, he represents the Nation seeking outwards. On the other side is the author Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, representing the inwards spiritual journey.
Down on the right is another fresco by Alf Rolfsen named The Occupation Frieze, depicting scenes from the difficult war years 1940-45 when Norway was under occupation by Nazi forces. See my blog post about the Occupation Frieze here.
A long and wide marble staircase leads up, binding together the ground floor and the first floor, giving a a ceremonial feeling when events take place in the City Hall. Also notice the fresco on the lower right, another depiction of Saint Hallvard.
As you step up the staircase, the first room on your right is the Hardråderommet (the “Hard ruler” room) dedicated to King Harald the Ruthless. Harald was a King of Norway who fell at the battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066. By many considered the last Viking King. According to the sagas of the Icelandic poet Snorre Sturlasson, Harald founded Oslo as a merchant city back in 1048/9.
In the Hardråderommet, hangs two tapestries designed by Axel Revold and woven by Ulrikke Greve. They depict the battle at Stamford Bridge, and Harald founding the city of Oslo. However, archeological excavations have proven that Oslo dates back further than 1048, probably to the late 10th century.
—> You might also like: VÍKINGR – A Viking Age Exhibition in Oslo
The Munch Room
Munchrommet (The Munch room) is unlike the other rooms in the City Hall covered with local wood from the forest of Oslo. It is used for hosting civil weddings, and in the back you can find the painting Life (1910) by Norwegian painter Edvard Munch.
—> You might also like: A Visit to the New Munch Museum in Oslo
The Festival Gallery
This room is being used as a venue for an array of diverse events and receptions. There are decorations inspired by the history of Oslo and Norway. Most known are the frescos on the end walls by Axel Revold, and the tapestries designed by the painter Kåre Jonsborg and woven by Else Halling and other highly skilled weavers.
The location in this tapestry is from Lilletorvet at Vaterland in Oslo, and depicts a scene where some watchmen deny farmers water for their horses, and is helped by the merchant Paul Thrane.
On the South wall is a panoramic window with beautiful views of the Rådhusplassen (City Hall Square) and the Oslo fjord.
The Banquet hall
In old castles and barock palaces, the most imporant rooms were the ones furthest inside the building. The higher the rank and status of the guest, the further into the building they could come. During big events, this is the room where the most important guests get to hang out.
This ceremonius hall is the grandest of all the functions rooms at the City Hall. The floor has white Nordland marble with black larvikite detailing in art deco, zigzag pattern. The walls are covered in damask wallpaper, and the furniture was designed by architect Arnstein Arneberg.
Portraits on the west wall show paintings of Norwegian Royalty. Above you see King Harald V & Queen Sonja. Further in the back is King Olav V and his father King Haakon VII.
On the north wall is an oil painting by Willi Middelfart, depicting the people of Oslo enjoying a warm summer day by the fjord. The first version was painted on a canvas and stuck onto the wall, but it was damaged due to an explosion nearby at Filipstad. Middelfart therefor started on a new version, slightly larger than the previous one, however, the banquet room was still unfinished, and the painting had to be adjusted to the two doors now being installed. The artist was not too happy about this, and painted the little boy (see picture above), sticking his tongue out and pointing towards the door.
The City Council Hall
The City Council Hall is open for visitors, and during meetings there’s room for the public to sit up on the gallery. The design of the hall is supposed to resemble the half circle of the Fritjof Nansen square on the outside. Everything in the room is made of solid Norwegian materials, as desired by the architect Magnus Poulsson. Panels and furniture are made of oak, and the wall paper is made of hemp and woven linen. Read more about the political system in Oslo below.
The East and West Gallery
These two galleries are symmetrically aligned on each side of the City Council Hall, functioning as vestibyles. They have large wall surfaces, and were without doubt designed to be decorated with big decorations.
The Eastern Gallery (The Krogh room), is used for informal political activities relating to city council meetings.
Per Krogh’s fresco The City and its Environs covers every inch of the room’s walls and ceiling. The south wall depicts activities in the city, while the north wall illustrates the surrounding countryside.
At the top of the north wall is an image of a prisoner-of-war-camp and other references to the second world war.
The Western Gallery (The Storstein room), serves the same purpose as the Eastern Gallery.
The large fresco by Aage Storstein named Human Rights adorns the walls. It shows the Norwegian constitution and its roots in the ideals of the French revolution. You also find various motifs from Norwegian history.
Nobel Peace Prize ceremony
Evey year, The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded on the the 10th of December, the day that Alfred Nobel passed away. The announcement of The Peace Price takes place at the Norwegian Nobel Institute, but the price is given out in the Oslo City Hall.
Attending the ceremony are representatives from the Norwegian Royal familiy, the Parliament, the Government and almost a thousand selected guests.
Politicians in the Oslo City Hall
Inside the building sits the Oslo City Council, the city’s administration and some other municipal organizations.
The City Council has 59 members who are elected every four years. This is the highest decision making body in Oslo, and is chaired by the Mayor of Oslo. The main tasks of The City Council is to decide on the budget of Oslo and overall policies for the city. They also supervise the City Government and its administration.
The City Government consists of eight members, and is the executive body. They will be made up of members from the largest party in The City Council, or a coalition of members from different parties (making up a majority). The head of the City Government is the Governing Mayor, who appoints up to seven Vice Mayors. To understand the role of the Governing Mayor you can compare him or her to the prime minister. The Vice Mayors however, can be compared to the national government ministers (minister of finance, minister of agriculture etc).
The City Government leads the City’s administration, and make propositions to The City Council. They are also responsible for carrying out decisions made by the City Council. The decision making power is substantial, and delegated to the City Government by the City Council.
Want to read more about the governance of Oslo? Visit the website of the Oslo City Hall
I hope you enjoyed this tour of the Oslo City Hall. Make sure to visit when you come to Oslo, and look me up if you’d like to have a local guide.
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Tusen takk, thank you for reading! Pål