Polar Legend Roald Amundsen’s home Uranienborg – hard-to-find treasure

Posted on May 17, 2013 | Comments Off on Polar Legend Roald Amundsen’s home Uranienborg – hard-to-find treasure

Amundsen's homeIt may have been difficult for Roald Amundsen to reach the South Pole but, unless you have planned your expedition well, it’s virtually impossible to find his home on a fiord south of Oslo. That’s rather strange because Uranienborg, Amundsen’s home from 1908 to 1928 is a national museum – and has been since 1935. But you won’t hear of it unless you ask. And note the directions well.

For the growing band of polar enthusiasts, Uranienborg is a place of pilgrimage. Most of us know that Roald Amundsen was the Norwegian explorer who beat Robert Falcon Scott to be first to the South Pole. But few are aware that he was the first to successfully navigate the Northwest Passage and probably the first to see the North Pole (from an airship – they didn’t land). He also sailed through the Northeast Passage along the top of Siberia. As the places he explored become more accessible, his feats seem even more extraordinary. Most were planned at Uranienborg.

Heading due south from Oslo, you will be following the eastern shore of Bunnefjord through a ribbon of suburbs and towns. At Kolbotn you veer towards the village of Svartskog and from there wind down the hill to the water’s edge, the end of the road, small statue and a nondescript gateway. A path leads to a house overlooking the fiord with a smaller residence alongside it. The small house is the home of the curator who waits for the visitors who rarely arrive. You are less than 20 km from Oslo but here by the water, the city seems very far away.

Despite several romances, Amundsen never married and his home reveals that he lived his life for his travels. The glass panels in the back door are covered by photographic plates of ships, Inuit people and snowy scenes that look as if they were taken within the past week. His very Spartan bedroom features reinforced ship’s portholes rather than windows, and maps abound. One of the most distinctive images of Amundsen is of him in a relaxed pose and wearing his bowler hat. The hat is still on top of his wardrobe.

Amundsen's home

The house is a museum with some restrictions on where visitors can and can’t go. So it’s impossible to pat the stuffed Adelie penguin in his office. But stored under the stairs as if it were put there when he returned, awaiting the next adventure is the sledge (explorers didn’t pull mere sleds) that he took to the South Pole. I asked – and was allowed to touch it. In terms of significance it’s rather like touching the lunar module that took Neil Armstrong to the moon.

On June 16 1928, Amundsen went looking for the missing Italian polar explorer Umberto Nobile. His aircraft took off from Tromso and he was never seen again. Amundsen and Nobile had flown the dirigible Norge over the North Pole in 1926 and later squabbled over who was responsible for the success of the expedition. Nevertheless, Amundsen helped search and it cost him his life. Nobile was subsequently found and rescued. Uranienborg was Amundsen’s departure point and the curator pointed out that the soap by the bath was the same cake that Amundsen had used to wash himself before he left to undertake the fatal flight. This was history coming to life. But it was hard to reconcile the overly cute gnomes motif in the bathroom with the man who used to sleep outside to toughen himself up for the poles.

Amundsen's home

Amundsen’s office was the planning centre for some of the world’s most remarkable explorations. It was at this desk that he wrote “The South Pole”, his account of the southern journey. Over the next 16 years, the large map of Antarctica above his office table must have given him great satisfaction.

The best analysis of Amundsen the explorer – and the most comprehensive demolition of RF Scott – is contained in Roland Huntford’s “The Last Place on Earth”. Amundsen is revealed to be a meticulous planner and well deserving of the high esteem he has been afforded. However, in many ways he wasn’t likeable. In the spare bedroom, the clothes and homework of the two young Inuit girls he adopted are still on display. He introduced them to western civilisation, educated them and then bundled them back to their village.

Down by the fiord gate the statue of Amundsen is striding out with a pole in his hand and a dog by his side. It’s a fitting image of a man who used his fitness and determination to open up several of the last undiscovered places on earth. Those who admire Amundsen will probably seek out Uranienborg and will be rewarded by the chance to view the house and its contents without any crowds. But the lack of promotion of the open house of a great explorer is just part of a long pattern of neglect. Somehow, Scott the heroic failure remains much better known than Roald Amundsen, the heroic success.

By David McGonigal


SAS flies to Oslo as part of the Star Alliance network.

Read: “My Life as an Explorer” by Roald Amundsen


Address: Roald Amundsensvei  192

NO-1420 Svartskog

Email: post@follomuseum.no

Telephone: +47 64 93 99 90

Web: www.follomuseum.com

Open: daily except Mondays from 11 to 4.

Amundsen's study

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