The old town of Oslo, the capital of Norway, where the Viking city was located contains the ruins of Oslo’s first cathedral: St. Hallvard’s as well as Clemen’s Church and St. Olav’s Monastery. In 1624, this medieval city was buried when the inhabitants had to move over to the new town Christiania, close to the Akershus Fortress. The medieval city was thus preserved for posterity and is therefore called the “Pompeii of the North“. My wife and I had a guided walk there a few weeks ago to get better acquainted with the city’s ruins and medieval heroes. It went from the church’s power region to the King’s domain: the Medieval Park (locally known as Ruins’ Park) and if you fancy a trip a thousand year back, you’re welcome to join us:
The St. Olav Monastery:
It was founded in 1239, when King Håkon gave the Dominicans a site just north of St. Halvard’s Church. It was already St. Olav’s Church, which had been built a few decades earlier. This would become the Abbey in the new facility, and it was rebuilt to fit the Dominicans specifications. The buildings were probably first constructed in wood and were eventually replaced by brick buildings.
The Dominican Order had strict requirements for the design: ground floor and the interior were always the same in all the order’s monasteries as well as the abbey which was represented at the north wing of the facility. The problem was that there was room on the south side of St. Olav’s Church just a few feet over to St. Halvard’s Church, the city’s cathedral. The monastery had to be built north of the church and the Abby had to be in the south wing so in this way, the normal Dominicans concept was reversed here in Oslo.
St. Hallvard’s Cathedral:
Also know as Oslo Cathedral Church was the city’s earliest cathedral. It was built during the 1100s at the height of the Old Town market square and was used as a church until about 1655. Besides being the bishop’s seat and religious center of eastern Norway for about 500 years, the cathedral was the coronation church, royal wedding church, chapel royal, and one of Scandinavia’s most visited places for pilgrims.
Hallvard cemetery is located mainly south of the cathedral. It was the honorary cemetery in Oslo and eastern Norway from around 1130 to 1639. Here the bishops, chiefs and other prominent men and women were buried. The most prominent were interred in the church along with the kings.
The Clemens Church:
This was one of the parish churches of old Oslo and lay south of the Bishop’s Palace and Halvard’s Church. It was a stone church with a tower and it was one of the very few churches we know with the double-nave floor plan. Along the middle axis of the choir there were three powerful roof supporting pillars.
The church went out of use after the Reformation and was probably in ruins shortly after. It was uncovered in the excavation by Gerhard Fischer in 1921 and remained that way for years. In 1970-71 the archaeologist Ole Egil Eide was given the opportunity to dig further into the ground under the church, and found traces of burials older than the stone church, 81 in all. His interpretation is that there have been at least two churches, presumably stave churches, on the spot where the stone church was built around 1100. The oldest of the tombs are radiological dated to 980-1030, and are some of the oldest Christian burials found in Norway.
The Kings Residence:
The main ruins were the Kings Residence from about the year 1000 to the 1300s and then the Canon’s residence up until the reformation in the 1500s. The oldest finds on this site are part of a simple, circular fort consisting of a moat and one or more wooden buildings. There was a treasure found consisting of German and English coins which place the construction of this fort to somewhere between 1040 and 1060, during the rule of Harald Hardråde (Harald the hard ruler). Construction of the stone fort whose ruins you see in the photo at the bottom of this post, began in the 1200s during the rule of Haakon Haakonsson (Haakon the IV). The main entrance was in the north-west corner and featured a gate tower.
The great hall in the south-east corner was almost as large as The Haakon’s Hall in Bergen. The Kings residence was a citadel, dwelling and meeting place for the king and his men when they were in Oslo. Akershus fortress took over this function already in the 1300s and gradually became the administrative center for this part of Norway. Large parts of the ruins from the Kings residence were removed in 1890 when the locomotive workshop was built on the site.
The Oslo Blog Gathering:
You may wonder what this has to do with our Blog Gathering (OsloBG) in 2010, but as the matter of fact, the grand finale was held in these Medieval surroundings. So for you who participated and all who followed us during these three days of exploring Oslo and Norway: our culture, traditions and habits – here is the photo of Kings Residence more than a thousand years back: