Views and News’ Museum Guide

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Norway’s capital is packed with museums, and they’re often popping up in the news. We intend to follow that news, and focus every week this spring on a specific museum worthy of a visit.

FIRST OUT: The newly renamed Norwegian Maritime Museum on Oslo’s Bygdøy peninsula. 

The Norwegian Maritime Museum is berthed alongside the fjord at Bygdøy in Oslo, and a visit can include a shoreline stroll with views back to the city and over to nearby islands. Ferries run from City Hall to Bygdøy, and the #30 city bus also stops just outside the front door. PHOTO: Views and News

Shipping has been part of Norway’s national heritage since the days of the Vikings. It long ranked as one of the country’s most important industries, with a huge merchant fleet and seafaring traditions that bound the country together not least because of Norway’s long coastline.

When Norway struck oil in the North Sea, its shipping industry could help propel the country’s emerging oil industry through its expertise in shipbuilding, tankers and supply vessels. Shipyards could start building oil rigs, and an offshore business was born.

The former Norsk Sjøfartsmuseum on Oslo’s Bygdøy peninsula is now itself being propelled into a re-birth of sorts, through a major burst of renewal that prompted an official name change last month to the Norsk Maritimt Museum (Norwegian Maritime Museum). Crown Prince Haakon and Anniken Huitfeldt, the government minister in charge of cultural affairs, were on hand for an informal unveiling just before the Easter holidays of new exhibits and plans for more.

It’s all part of a rehabilitation of the museum as it moves towards its 100th anniversary in 2014, the same year that Norway will celebrate its bicentennial.

The Norwegian Maritime Museum is located just next to the A-fram building housing the historic polar exploration ship "Fram." Across the street is the Kon-Tiki Museum, and various historic small vessels are displayed outdoors in a maritime park. PHOTO: Views and News

The museum is keen to shake off a tired image, end years of neglected maintenance and attract more visitors. It especially wants to offer family entertainment, and already is offering treasure hunts led by costumed pirates for children, and a new exhibit with an indoor pool that allows children and adults to play with radio-controlled boats.

“This is going to be popular,” laughed the crown prince, as he guided a boat around the pool himself.

There also are new workshops for making model ships and more “Family Sundays” are planned. The museum remained open all through the Easter holidays, and small children excitedly followed a female pirate around the exhibits, picking up maritime lore along the way.

Many of the long-time exhibits remain, not least an extensive collection of maritime paintings featuring legendary Norwegian artists like Christian Krohg and Hans Gude. Visitors can still wander inside the preserved accommodation quarters of an old coastal steamer, and see what the crew’s quarters looked like on a containership from the 1970s. Norway’s involvement in the cruise industry is also evident through large, detailed models of vessels like Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s new Adventure of the Seas: The line was, after all, founded by three Norwegian ship-owning companies.

Professional pursuits
The museum’s important archaeological and historical work is also on display, highlighting its role in preserving treasures found during the ongoing redevelopment of Oslo’s waterfront. Museum staff monitoring the dredging of seabed untouched since the 1700s have taken care of sunken ship structures, porcelain, glass, even a huge collection of old clay pipes from the 1600s found inside a wooden box that was preserved in the mud. The pipes provided new insight into use of tobacco in Norway nearly 400 years ago, and they’re on exhibit at the museum.

A newly expanded maritime library is also open already, catering to researchers or anyone interested in maritime history. Other exhibits due to open over the next few years include a simulator from the bridge of a vessel and a modern ship brokers’ office, to give museum visitors an idea of how today’s shipping markets function.

The Maritime Museum has raised NOK 90 million through the sale of adjacent property and from the shipping industry, to renovate the museum for its looming centennial. The museum hopes the state will contribute more than the NOK 12 million it gets every year now.

“We need more funding,” new museum director Knut M Nygaard told newspaper Aftenposten recently. “The goal is to double our number of visitors, to 150,000 a year, and we’re investing in family-friendly activities and experiences. We’re casting loose.”

The Norwegian Maritime Museum
www.marmuseum.no (external link)
Open: Daily from 10am to 4pm (until 6pm from May 15 to Sept 14)
Admission price: Adults NOK 60, students and retirees NOK 35, children under age 16, free.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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