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.
THIS WEEK: The Polar Ship Fram Museum.
Next year marks 100 years since Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his team became the first to reach the South Pole. It will also be 150 years since another Norwegian polar hero and humanitarian, Fridtjof Nansen, was born, and it was Nansen’s polar ship Fram that Amundsen borrowed for his South Pole Expedition.
That makes it a good time to beat the crowds and go see the vessel in its A-framed building, right next to the newly re-energized Maritime Museum. A visit will also give you a solid foundation of polar history, before next year’s celebration begins. More than 80 events have already been planned, including the release of an international documentary on Nansen and exhibits in Paris and New York.
There’s been some controversy over a common celebration for both Nansen and Amundsen. Some academics and historians fear Nansen’s other accomplishments, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922, will be overshadowed by all the hype attached to his polar bravado.
It’s the polar expeditions, though, that brought Nansen the most fame and allowed him to support Amundsen’s later venture. Nansen sailed the Fram through the Arctic in 1893, allowing it to drift north through the ice. His entire polar expedition lasted three years, and in 1910, Nansen let Amundsen use the Fram to sail to the South Pole. Another Norwegian, Otto Sverdrup, also took Fram to Greenland.
Today the Fram, claimed to be the strongest wooden vessel ever built, remains on display at Frammuseet (The Fram Museum) on Oslo’s Bygdøy Peninsula. It’s also billed as the ship that’s been the farthest north and farthest south in the world.
It’s been preserved in its original state, and retains that wonderful musty smell associated with old wooden vessels. It’s possible to see how Nansen, Sverdrup, Amundsen and their crews slept, ate, lived and worked on board, under much warmer conditions that those they braved.
The museum also tells the history of the polar expeditions and the personalities involved. It was high drama of an earlier age, and says a lot about the maritime skills of the Norwegians. The museum will publish Nansen’s diaries next year.
An exhibit also opened at the museum last fall, portraying the story of the Belgica, a Norwegian-built vessel that made the first scientific expedition to Antarctica in 1897. A young Roald Amundsen was part of the crew, and the vessel later sunk off Harstad.
Just outside the museum is a collection of other historic vessels including the Gjøa, the much smaller vessel that Amundsen sailed through the Northwest Passage before he headed for the South Pole. The Gjøa spent many decades berthed at the western end of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, facing Ocean Beach just off the Great Highway, until funds were raised to return it to Norway.
It’s well worth your time to stroll around the outdoor fleet at the tip of the Bygdøy Peninsula, an area that offers great views back to the city and over to the islands in the Oslo Fjord. Boats run back and forth to Bygdøy from just outside City Hall, and you can also take a “hop-on hop-off” fjord cruise on a tall-masted ship that stops at Bygdøy’s Museums pier as well.
The Fram Museum
www.fram.museum.no (external link)
Open: Daily from 10am to 4pm (until 5pm from May 1, and 9-6 from June 1-Aug 31)
Admission price: Adults NOK 60, students and retirees NOK 25, children under age 16, NOK 25.