It must be the most viewed building in Norway. Perhaps its exterior appearance does not tell you anything, but it is most likely that you have contemplated its interior in the images of the delivery of the Nobel Peace Prize. Since 1990, with Miahíl Gorbachev as the winner, every December 10 the ceremony takes place in the hall from the Oslo City Council (with the only exception of 2020, when the gala was virtual due to the pandemic). This iconic red brick building has a long association with peace…and war.
Located in the heart of the city, near the port, the Town Hall has a sober appearance. Its two towers stand out, 63 and 66 m. The highest houses a carillon of 49 bells (the smallest, 14 kilos; the largest, 4,000 kilos) that rings every hour between 7 pm and midnight. His repertoire is very wide: it ranges from classical pieces and Norwegian folklore to songs of grease and the most current pop. Another element to highlight is the astronomical clock on the façade, in gold. In addition to marking the hour, the day and the month, it indicates the position of the sun and the moon, and the zodiacal signs.
Entrance to the Town Hall is free. It stands out for its wide hall (39 meters long, 31 meters wide and 21 meters high), famous for hosting the Nobel Prize winners. People, institutions and campaigns that have stood out for their work “in favor of fraternity among nations, the abolition or reduction of raised armies and the celebration and promotion of peace agreements.” The laureates summarize the history of world conflicts of the last three decades: South Africa, Israel and Palestine, East Timor, Northern Ireland, the two Koreas, Tunisia, Colombia, Eritrea, climate change, chemical and nuclear weapons, human rights of women and children, sexual violence as a weapon of war, famine…
All of them received a diploma, a medal and remuneration (currently 10 million Swedish crowns, about one million euros) in a setting that speaks in turn of the sufferings of war.
War and peace
The frescoes of hall they reflect the history of Norway between the wars and under Nazi occupation (1940-1945). Its authors, Henrik Sørensen and Alf Rolfsen, were personalities recognized for their commitment to peace. In fact, a large mural by Rolfsen, precisely titled the dream of peace, today decorates the library of the United Nations Office in Geneva. Likewise, the architect of the City Hall, Arnstein Arneberg, designed the interior of the UN Security Council in New York.
For his part, the mayor who promoted the construction of the town hall, Hieronymus Heyerdahl, presided over the Norwegian Red Cross between 1917 and 1922. Both organizations, both the Red Cross and the United Nations, have received the Nobel Peace Prize in more than one chance.
But beyond these connections, the history of the building itself is marked by the wars of the s. XX. It was planned during the First World War (1915), its construction did not begin until the interwar parenthesis (1933), it had to be suspended during the Second World War (1940) and it was finally inaugurated in the context of the Cold War (on 15 May 1950, coinciding with the 900th anniversary of the founding of Oslo).
And why is the Nobel Peace Prize awarded in Oslo?
It is not clear why the chemist, engineer and inventor Alfred Nobel created a prize in defense of peace. Some scholars suggest that it was a way to compensate for his contribution to the war industry as a result of his inventions, such as dynamite and other explosives. It is also speculated that he may have been influenced by Baroness Bertha von Suttner, novelist, pacifist, Nobel’s friend, and her personal secretary for a brief period. She was the first woman to receive the award, in 1905.
It is also not known why the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Norway, unlike the rest (Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Literature and Economics), which are awarded in Sweden. According to the Prize’s own website, his adviser Ragnar Sohlman, chemical engineer, manager and creator of the Nobel Foundation, could have inspired him. His wife, Ragnhild Sohlman, was born from Kristiania (Oslo’s old name). There is also speculation with the name of the Norwegian writer Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Nobel Prize for Literature in 1903.
It should be noted that when Alfred Nobel wrote his will, at the end of the s. XIX, Norway and Sweden were united. But the Norwegian Nobel Committee points out today that Sweden’s militaristic tradition could have tipped the balance of the Peace Prize award in favor of Oslo. Both countries separated in 1905, four years after the first awards were granted.
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This is the most viewed building in Norway, the heart of world peace