On a recent trip to Norway’s capital, I kept my camera busy. History emanates from Oslo’s many sights, from its nearby stave church to its market squares, and a delight of my visit was considering the life of the city’s built landscape through images in the photographic holdings of the Prints & Photographs (P&P) Division. It was especially fun to match historical photographs from P&P’s collections to buildings I encountered on my daily jaunts around the city.
With tourism decreasing as the weather cooled, I just missed the last scheduled city ferry of the season to the peninsula of Bygdøy, where some of Oslo’s most interesting museums are clustered. Luckily, a city bus runs a street route, dropping off outside the gates of the Norsk Folkemuseum. Established in 1894, the open-air portion of this museum is home to one of 28 extant stave churches in Norway, with its Gol Stave Church (circa 1200) having been moved to and reassembled in its current location in 1884. Stave churches are notable in that their construction represents cultures skilled in working with wood rather than masonry, and the name derives from the use of staves or timber posts used to create their wooden framework.
This image from P&P’s Photochrom Print Collection cites Christiania (later spelled Kristiania)—variations of Oslo’s previous names—as the church’s locale (the capital readopted its medieval name of Oslo in 1925). When compared to my 2023 photo, the landscaped pathway has been widened with gravel and now lacks the grass and evergreen trees. Wooden steps to a side entrance of the church—currently closed to the public—remain.
Visiting Oslo’s downtown, the opportunity for P&P photo comparisons continued. Oslo’s National Theater (Nationaltheatret) looks much the same as it does in this U.S. News & World Report photograph from the late 1950s, though most of the cobblestones are gone. The tram tracks have expanded, directional signage has been removed, and a utility pole now stands on the corner of a sidewalk. Additionally, the building, which opened in 1899, is undergoing exterior renovations (hard to make out in my photo), with decorative elements covered as work continues.
I also ventured into one of Oslo’s city squares used for various public markets and political organizing. Youngstorget, and some of its surrounding buildings (not pictured), were at one time used by the Nazis during their Norwegian occupation. The square and the buildings in this image from the Office of War Information, Overseas Picture Division, look very similar in 2023, save for the addition of bollards and the change in signage on façades. The feeling of the square felt positive as local pedestrians passed through its interior on their way to work or home, and tourists lingered taking selfies and talking. Such a distance away from the ration lines of 1942.
On the last day of my visit, I traveled by tram to the Old Aker Church, the oldest building in Oslo, dating from around 1150. The front of the church was blocked with scaffolding, and its doors were closed to all except members of a renovation crew. I made my way around piles of soil and stone to the small cemetery in the church’s rear. From this vantage, the view of the church was much the same as this one from the Keystone View Company published in 1906, though the trees were more mature and had yet to fully drop their leaves. Presented as a stereograph, a format which I also utilized, the doubling of the image helps us see the details in the cemetery that have been altered—most notably that certain headstones now appear gone, as do the rectangular borders around them. Benches to sit with the departed have all but disappeared. But the images, both from then and now, capture the solitude of the setting, which remains unchanged.
- Experience additional locales throughout Norway in the Photochrom Prints Collection.
- Read more about the photochrom process on the P&P webpage “Photochrom Prints.”
- Enjoy a previous Picture This blog post highlighting domestic travels with a virtual road trip across the US through the lens of photographer John Margolies.