Norsk Folkmuseum-Oslo, Norway: The World’s First Open Air Museum

Living History.

The Open Air bug hit me hard after visiting Skansen in Sweden, completely rewriting my Scandinavia travel itinerary to focus on history. The Nordic countries have the best natural landscapes and their open air museums stirred something crazy in me that I never acknowledged; I’d rather be living in the past in a musty smelling room admiring ceiling molding than chasing trends.

Naturally, my first stop in Oslo was a full day at the Norsk Folkmuseum. It’s recognized as the world’s first open air museum and was founded in 1881 as a private museum for King Oscar II.

Physical history has the ability to remove the present day and spark your conscious into thinking about the past. Reflect on what life was like for the individuals that once stood in that very room you’ve found. Round the corner of a narrow hallway and stoop your back in the same manner that the building’s prior inhabitants would do. Observe the hard work that would go into cooking an entire meal in a fireplace that required constant tending. Daily life routines of the past are a world away, but the participants were no different than we are today. Just people living.

The simplest of wooden structures give you the best prompt for imagination; what the hell did they DO all day? (Farm, obviously. Someone has to do the surviving. )

13th Century Farmhouses
13th Century Farmhouses on a rainy day.
Maybe used for some sort of storage? Maybe for people?
Check out that woodwork. Betcha Abe Lincoln’s log cabin didn’t look like this.

These 13th century farm homes were practical, easy to heat, cozy, and long lasting. This wood has withstood (ha) centuries of Norwegian elements and is a testament to the hardworking farmers that evolved from hunter gatherer societies and began the march towards modern day civilization and societies. Small 1 room homes held large families where everyone did their part, a very necessary survival mode for agricultural life. Heating tinier rooms is energy efficient (No 4BR 2 Bath here), so skip those complaints over sharing a bed with fussy siblings. A modern teenager would *literally die* at the thought!

The Numedal Farmstead, perhaps from the 1700s
The Numedal Farmstead,  17th century, was the home of  wealthy merchant.

The wealthy had their perks, and it’s reflected in their homes that are elaborately strewn with decorative elements, varied building materials, and the privilege of large physical spaces. The rest of the population had much less to work with but the invention of leisure time and machines changed life so radically, and it’s fascinating to see how living spaces reflected this.

“Old Town”, a collection of buildings echoing from the 18th and 19th century, was where you could find anything that your (small town) heart desired. From leeches to hardware stores, your average town dweller frequently occupied spaces attached to the family business. Much more lucrative than a farmstead and with modern conveniences!

Corner Store
Corner Store for all your small town needs. Probably a lot of black licorice.

Gas StationThe blended time periods created pockets of history whizzing you around and seeing how spaces changed over time, many having multiple roles.

The highlight of this was a tenement building erected in 1865 that had each apartment interior furnished to showcase various periods from the 19th-20th centuries. A humble sitting room; small but efficient 70’s loft; a Pakistani immigrant home from 2002; the long march of time within the same building. Each door opened to a world gone, with the next generation’s take on living right down the hall. If these walls could talk!

Opening an apartment door to a room from the past!

The crown jewel and most impressive building was the Gol stave church dating from 1212. It was rescued from demolition and reassembled on the grounds, and oh boy how my cheeks HURT from smiling at a chance to walk inside.
Gol Stav Church, 1212
Gol Stave Church Door Detail

A look inside the Gol Stave Church
The inside altar

Right next to it were small log cabins that were used to house traveling lumberjacks. Yes you heard that right.

15th century graffiti, perhaps?
“Vintage” Graffiti

It’s hard to grasp the significance of the passage of time when you spend years learning history out of a textbook. Stark, white pages with blocks of texts are no match for actual VIKING MADE buildings.

Season decorations were put up all over the museum grounds, and we saw the remnants of a display on the Nomad population, the Sami. The Norsk Folkmuseum was a beautiful way to spend a winter day, and in the summer it must be a living dream. Still, winter gives a different perspective and had we been there earlier we would have caught holiday cheer Norwegian style. Not a bad way to spend a wet day in Norway.

If you were a viking, what would your name be?

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