The city of Oslo was established as a municipality on 3 January 1838 (see formannskapsdistrikt). It was separated from the county of Akershus as a county of its own in 1842. The rural municipality of Aker was merged with Oslo on 1 January 1948 (and then transferred from Akershus county to Oslo county). Furthermore, Oslo shares several important functions with Akershus county.
Oslo's share of the national GDP is 17%; the metropolitan area's share is 25%. Oslo is one of the most expensive cities in the world.
The population of the municipality of Oslo is 568,809 (as of 1 July 2008). The urban area extends beyond the boundaries of the municipality into the surrounding county of Akershus, (muncipallities of Bærum, Asker, Røyken, Skedsmo, Sørum, Oppegård) its agglomeration totaling 856,915,. The metropolitan area of Oslo, also referred to as the Greater Oslo Region (Stor-Osloregionen), has a land area of and, in 2005, an estimated population of 1,121,020. In the entire Inner Oslo Fjord Region, there is a total population of about 1.3 million. About 50% of the population of Norway lives within a radius of of downtown Oslo. The city of Oslo has a current annual growth exceeding 10,000, which makes it one of the fastest growing cities in Europe.
The city centre of Oslo is situated at the end of the Oslofjord from where the city sprawls out both to the north and to the south on both sides of the fjord giving the city area more or less the shape of a "U". To the north and east wide forested hills ('Marka') rise above the city giving the location the shape of giant amphitheatre.
The urban municipality (bykommune) of Oslo and county (fylke) is the same entity, making Oslo the only city in Norway where two administrative levels are integrated. Of Oslo's total area, is built-up and is agricultural. The open areas within the built-up zone amount to .
During the Middle Ages the name was initially spelled 'Ásló', later 'Ósló'. The earlier spelling suggests that the first component 'ás' refers either to the Ekeberg ridge southeast of the town ('ås' in modern Norwegian), or to the Norse homonym meaning 'god' or 'divinity'. The most likely interpretations would therefore be 'the meadow beneath the ridge' or 'the meadow of the gods'. Both are equally plausible.
A fire in 1624 destroyed much of the medieval city (the section now known as Gamlebyen), and the city was relocated nearer to the Akershus Fortress. King Christian IV of Denmark and Norway renamed the reborn city Christiania. From the end of the 1800s, the name of the city was also spelled "Kristiania". An official decision was never made, so both forms were in use. The original name of Oslo was restored by a law of 11 July 1924, effective 1 January 1925.
When I was young, the capital of Norway was not called Oslo. It was called Kristiania. But somewhere along the line, the Norwegians decided to do away with that pretty name and call it Oslo instead. -- Roald Dahl, Boy
The city was once referred to as Tigerstaden (the City of Tigers) by the author Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson around 1870, due to his perception of the city as a cold and dangerous place. This name has over the years achieved an almost official status, to the extent the 1000-year anniversary was celebrated by a row of tiger sculptures around city hall. The prevalence of homeless and other beggars in newer times led to the slight rewording of the nickname into 'Tiggerstaden', or Beggar City, and a harsh picture of the city was drawn by Knut Hamsun in his novel Sult (Hunger) from 1890 (cinematised in 1966 by Henning Carlsen).
According to the Norse sagas, Oslo was founded around 1049 by King Harald Hardråde. Recent archaeological research has uncovered Christian burials from before 1000, evidence of a preceding urban settlement. This called for the celebration of Oslo's millennium in 2000.
It has been regarded as the capital city since the reign of Håkon V (1299-1319), who was the first king to reside permanently in the city. He also started the construction of the Akershus Fortress. A century later Norway was the weaker part in a personal union with Denmark, and Oslo's role was reduced to that of provincial administrative centre, with the monarchs residing in Copenhagen. The fact that the University of Oslo was founded as late as 1811 had an adverse effect on the development of the nation.
Oslo was destroyed several times by fire, and after the fourteenth calamity, in 1624, King Christian IV of Denmark (and Norway) ordered it rebuilt at a new site across the bay, near Akershus Fortress and given the name Christiania. But long before this, Christiania had started to establish its stature as a centre of commerce and culture in Norway. The part of the city built from 1624 is now often called Kvadraturen because of its orthogonal layout. In 1814 Christiania once more became a real capital when the union with Denmark was dissolved. Many landmarks were built in the 19th century, including the Royal Palace (1825-1848), Stortinget (the Parliament) (1861-1866), the University, Nationaltheatret and the Stock Exchange. Among the world-famous artists who lived here during this period were Henrik Ibsen and Knut Hamsun (the latter was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature). In 1850, Christiania also overtook Bergen and became the most populous city in the country. In 1878 the city was renamed to Kristiania. The original name of Oslo was restored in 1925.
Oslo's centrality in the political, cultural and economical life of Norway continues to be a source of considerable controversy and friction. Numerous attempts at decentralization have not appreciably changed this during the last century. While continuing to be the main cause of the depopulation of the Norwegian countryside, any form of development is almost always opposed by neighbours, and as a consequence the growth of a modern urban landscape has all but stopped. Specifically, the construction of highrises in the city centre has been met with skepticism. It is projected, however, that the city will need some 20,000 additional apartments before 2020, forcing the difficult decision of whether to build tall or the equally unpopular option of sprawling out.
A marked reluctance to encourage the growth of the city for fear of causing further depletion of the traditional farming and fishing communities has led to several successive bursts of construction both in infrastructure and building mass, as the authorities kept waiting in vain for the stream of people to diminish. Neoclassical city apartments built in the 1850s to 1900s dotted with remnants of Christian IV's renaissance grid dominate the architecture around the city centre, except where slums were demolished in the 1960s to construct modernist concrete and glass low-rises, now generally regarded as embarrassing eyesores. The variety in Oslo's architectural cityscape does however provide for some striking, and often hauntingly beautiful sights. While most of the forests and lakes surrounding Oslo are in private hands, there is great public support for not developing those areas. Parts of Oslo suffer from congestion, yet it is one of the few European capitals where people live with the wilderness literally in their back yard, or with access to a suburban train line that allows the city's many hikers and cross-country skiers to simply step off the train and start walking or skiing.
Oslo occupies an arc of land at the northernmost end of the Oslofjord. The fjord, which is nearly bisected by the Nesodden peninsula opposite Oslo, lies to the south; in all other directions Oslo is surrounded by green hills and mountains. There are 40 islands within the city limits, the largest being Malmøya and scores more around the Oslofjord. Oslo has 343 lakes, the largest being Maridalsvannet (). This is also a main source of drinking water for large parts of Oslo. Although Eastern Norway has a number of mighty rivers, none of these flows into the ocean at Oslo. Instead Oslo has two smaller rivers: Akerselva (draining Maridalsvannet) and Alna (Oslo's longest river). Akerselva traditionally separates Oslo's East and West end, and flows into the fjord in Bjørvika. River Alna flows through Groruddalen, Oslo's major suburb and industrial area. The highest point is Kirkeberget, at . Although the city's population is small compared to most European capitals, it occupies an unusually large land area, of which two thirds are protected areas of forests, hills and lakes. Its boundaries encompass many parks and open areas, giving it an airy and often very green appearance. It is not uncommon to encounter wild moose in relatively urban areas of Oslo, especially during wintertime.
Oslo has a hemiboreal/humid continental climate (Dfb according to the Köppen climate classification system). Summers are mild or even warm, with daily high temperatures averaging between and during the summer months (June-August). September is often as warm, with colder temperatures usually arriving before the end of October. The highest temperature ever recorded was on 21 July 1901. There are four distinct seasons, with winter lasting from early december to march, and spring arriving in april, lasting out may. Summer ranges from June to late august. Autumn/fall usually comes mid-september with cooler air and more unstable weather, and lasts throughout november. Heatwaves are not rare during the summer, usually pushing the temperatures above 30C (86F). The Oslofjord has many public beaches and recreational areas, which are very popular in the summer months. Due to the fjord being sort of an enclosed body of water, the water temperatures can get quite high if the weather stays warm. During the summer of 2008, the water reached a temperature of 24C (75F).
The winter is cold, chilly and wet. Temperatures can drop down to or lower when there is high pressure and blue skies. Almost every winter, ice develops in the inner parts of the Oslofjord. Temperatures below zero may be experienced from October until May, the coldest month being January with a mean temperature of , and both January and February may have daily minimum temperatures of around . The coldest temperature recorded is in February 1871. Snowfall is spread evenly throughout the winter months and on average more than of snow cover is experienced 30 days per year. Temperatures have tended to be higher in recent years.
The annual average precipitation is , with winter being somewhat drier than summer.
Constituting both a municipality and a county of Norway, the city of Oslo is represented in the Storting by seventeen Members of Parliament. Six MPs are from the Labour Party; the Conservative Party and the Progress Party have three each, the Socialist Left Party and the Liberals have two each, and one is from the Christian Democrats.
The combined municipality and county of Oslo has had a parliamentary system of government since 1986. The supreme authority of the city is the City Council (Bystyret), which currently has 59 seats. Representatives are popularly elected every four years. The City Council has five standing committees, each with their own areas of responsibility. These are: Health and Social Welfare, Education and Cultural Affairs, Urban Development, Transport and Environmental Affairs, and Finance. The council's executive branch (Byrådet) consists of a head of government (byrådsleder) and six commissioners (byråder, sing. byråd) holding ministerial positions. Each of the commissioners needs the confidence of the City Council and each of them can be voted out of office.
Since the local elections of 2003, the city government has been a coalition of the Conservative Party and the Progress Party. Based mostly on support from the Christian Democrats and the Liberals, the coalition maintains a majority in the City Council. After the 2007 local elections on 10 September, the conservative coalition remained in majority. The largest parties in the City Council are the Labour Party and the Conservatives, with 18 and 16 representatives respectively.
The Mayor of Oslo is the head of the City Council and the highest ranking representative of the city. This used to be the most powerful political position in Oslo, but after the implementation of parliamentarism the Mayor has had more of a ceremonial role, similar to that of the President of the Storting at the national level. The current Mayor of Oslo is Fabian Stang.
Sentrum (the city centre) and Marka (the rural/recreational areas surrounding the city) are separate geographical entities, but do not have an administration of their own. Sentrum is governed by the borough of St. Hanshaugen. The administration of Marka is shared between neighbouring boroughs.
The gross domestic product of Oslo totaled NOK268.047 billion (€33.876 billion) in 2003, which amounted to 17% of the national GDP. This compares with NOK165.915 billion (€20.968 billion) in 1995. The metropolitan area, bar Moss and Drammen, contributed 25% of the national GDP in 2003 and was also responsible for more than one quarter of tax revenues. In comparison, total tax revenues from the oil and gas industry on the Norwegian Continental Shelf amounted to about 16%. The region has one of the highest per capita GDPs in Europe, at NOK391,399 (€49,465) in 2003. If Norway were a member of the European Union, the capital region would have the fourth strongest GDP per capita, behind Inner London, Brussels-Capital and Luxembourg.
Oslo is one of the most expensive cities in the world. As of 2006, it is ranked tenth according to the Worldwide Cost of Living Survey provided by Mercer Human Resource Consulting and first according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. The reason for this discrepancy is that the EIU omits certain factors from its final index calculation, most notably housing. Although Oslo does have the most expensive housing market in Norway it is comparably cheaper to other cities on the list in that regard. Meanwhile, prices on goods and services remain some of the highest of any city. According to a report compiled by Swiss bank UBS in the month of August 2006, Oslo and London were the world's most expensive cities. Total pay packets were the biggest in Oslo along with Copenhagen and Zurich -- but residents of the Nordic cities lose out when tax is taken into account.
The population of Oslo is currently increasing at a record rate of nearly 2 percent annually (17 percent over the last 15 years), making it the fastest-growing Scandinavian capital. The increase is due, in almost equal degree, to high birth rates and immigration. In particular, immigration from Poland and the Baltic states has increased sharply since the accession of these countries to the EU in 2004.
Oslo now has over 50 schools, colleges and universities in itself alone.
Public ferries run daily to and from the islands scattered in the Oslo harbour basin.
The tram system, Oslotrikken, is made up of six lines that criss-cross the inner parts of the city and extend out towards the suburbs. Trams partly run on in the streets and partly on separate roads. The metro system, known as the T-bane, connects the eastern and western suburbs and comprises six lines which all converge in a tunnel beneath downtown Oslo. The metro lines are identified by numbers from 1 to 6, with two lines running into the municipality of Bærum in the west. The tramway lines are numbered 11 to 13 and 17 to 19.
A new, partially underground loop line was opened in August 2006, connecting Ullevål in the north-west and Carl Berners plass in the east. Two new stations, Nydalen and Storo, have been operational for a couple of years already, the third station, Sinsen, opened 20 August 2006. This completed the loop. In conjunction with the opening of the circle line, there will be a major upgrade of the rolling stock, with delivery taking place between 2007 and 2010. An RFID ticketing system with automatic turnstile barriers has been under introduction for several years, but has been heavily delayed and is not yet in service.
A public bicycle rental programme has been in operation from April every year since 2002. With an electronic subscription card, users can access bikes from over 90 stations across the city.
Access into the city centre requires the payment of a toll at one of 19 entry points around the ring road. It costs 25 NOK to enter the cordoned zone at all times of day, seven days a week. A 20% price reduction is avaliable to car owners using the AutoPASS-system. Since 2 February 2008 coins are no longer accepted at the Toll Station, and all cars must pass through the automatic lanes without stopping. If you are fitted with the electronic AutoPASS system then you will be debited as you pass, all other drivers will receive an invoice in the mail.
Initially revenues from the road tolls funded the public road network, but since 2002 it mainly finances new developments for the public transport system in Oslo. There has been discussion whether to continue to use the cordon after 2007, based on the funding decisions, extensions, accommodation of time-differentiated pricing or replaced by another form of pricing altogether, perhaps to make congestion pricing possible.
Oslo was the host city for the 1952 Winter Olympics. Except for the downhill skiing at Norefjell, all events took place within the city limits. The opening and closing ceremonies were held at Bislett stadion, which was also used for the speed skating events. In recent years, the stadium has been better known for hosting the annual Bislett Games track and field event in the IAAF Golden League. The stadium was rebuilt in 2004/2005 and was formally opened for the Bislett Games on 29 July 2005.
Holmenkollen nordic skiing arena, and its centrepiece the ski jump, was an important venue during the 1952 Olympics. The arena has hosted numerous Nordic skiing and biathlon world championships since 1930, and its ski jump competition is the second oldest in the world, having been contested since 1892. Holmenkollen has been selected to once again host the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships, in 2011.
During the summer months, the harbour becomes a venue for various maritime events, including the start of a large sailing regatta that attracts around 1,000 contesting boats each year, and one race of the international Class 1 offshore powerboat racing circuit.
Two football clubs from Oslo, Vålerenga and Lyn, play in the Norwegian Premier League. In the 2005 season, the teams placed 1st and 3rd respectively. In addition, two teams from the conurbations are represented - Stabæk Fotball and Lillestrøm Sportsklubb. Oslo had two ice hockey teams in the highest division in the previous season, Vålerenga Ishockey and Furuset I.F., the former winning the cup and league double in 2007. Speed skating is also held at the Valle Hovin venue, which in the summer is host to large popular music concerts.
Ullevaal stadion, located in the borough of Nordre Aker, is the home of the Norwegian national football team. Built in 1926, it is the largest football stadium in Norway, and has served as the venue for the Norwegian Cup final since 1948. Both Lyn and Vålerenga use the stadium as their home ground.
Oslo is also home of Norway Cup - the world's biggest football tournament for youth from all over the world.
See also: Largest urban areas of Norway.
Oslo has a longstanding tradition of sending a Christmas tree every year to the cities of Washington, D.C., London, Rotterdam, Antwerp, and Reykjavík. Since 1947, Oslo sends a 65-80 foot (20-25 m) high spruce, which may be 50 to 100 years old (according to the sources), as an expression of gratitude for Britain's support to Norway during World War II which is usually placed in Trafalgar Square. For the 61st time, this spruce will have been lit by the Mayor of Oslo, Fabian Stang and The Lord Mayor of Westminster, Councilor Carolyn Keen, between 6 December 2007 and 4 January 2008, and it has received yet more special attention than before, expressing environmental concern.