Scandinavia--Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Finland--is blessed with five distinct, yet related, cultures.

Learn about the stories behind the legends, about the countries, and most of all about the people.


"We sailed our ships to any shore that offered the best hope of booty; we feared no fellow on earth..."
Saga of Arrow-Odd

What is Gjetost?
A town in Sweden.
Brown goat cheese.
The word for "hello" in

Roasted fish.
The word for ghost in

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OSLO - Norway

Clustered around the head of the 68-mile-long Oslofjord, Oslo is probably the most spacious city in the world. Its 175-square-mile metropolitan area consists of over 75 percent forests and five percent water. Its fine deep harbor, Pipervika, stretches into the heart of the city and from it leave ferries to Denmark and Germany.

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Feature: Stavanger
Featured City: Oslo
Food: The Great NordicDiet
          Swedish Semla
          Norwegian Cuisine
          Canned Sardines
History: The Round Tower
Arts:   Vigeland Park, Oslo
          Georg Jensen
People: Henrik Ibsen    
News: Happiest Countries          

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Copenhagen's Rundetarn:
The Round Tower

by Bob Brooke

King Christian IV of Denmark transformed the city of Copenhagen into the most beautiful in Scandinavia. The crowning touch of this transformation was the Rundetarn, or the Round Tower, an observatory attached to a church.

Early in the King’s reign, he laid out a new section of town, which he named Christianshavn. The Round Tower looms over the old professor houses situated in the narrow streets in the old Latin quarter. Surrounded by churches and standing opposite the old students' residence hall "Regensen," also built by Christian IV, the tower connects with Vor Frue Kirke (The Church of Our Lady).

Why did the King build this tower? He was a practical monarch, so he didn’t mind erecting a church for the benefit of the students of the Regensen and the professors of the university, but he wanted more than that. Since a church tower is of little use, King Christian decided to combine the church with an observatory, then used the church’s large attic to house the university library.

In 1637, workers laid the foundation stone for the tower. A plaque at its entrance states in Latin that the king laid the stone himself. Unfortunately, he was in Germany at the time, but it does acknowledge the King’s personal involvement in the construction of the observatory. Historians believe King Christian got the idea for the observatory tower from Christen Longomontanus, a professor of astronomy and a pupil of the famous astronomer Tycho Brahe.

Christian IV was a builder and a knowledgeable entrepreneur who knew what he wanted, but he wasn’t an architect. Few drawings of the buildings he had built exist. One that does remain shows the picture puzzle which the King decided should be placed on the wall of the tower. Each of its parts—Doctrinam, meaning learning; justice, symbolized by the sword; dirige, meaning lead; Jehovah, in Hebrew characters, in the heart of Christian IV—together translates to "Lead, Oh Lord, learning and justice into the heart of the crowned King Christian IV." To this day, It has puzzled many.

This mysterious inscription is not the tower’s only peculiarity. Inside, a winding brick walkway twists like a spiral in eight or nine turns around the massive core of the 35 meter high tower. When workers completed the tower in 1642, King Christian wanted to ride up the winding walk, which eventually ends a staircase only a short distance before the platform of the observatory.

But the King wasn’t the only royal to ride to the top of the tower. When Czar Peter the Great of Russia visited Copenhagen in 1721, he also rode to the top. The Czarina followed in a carriage drawn by six horses, no less! As the tower gained in popularity, the people of Copenhagen grew to love it. King Frederik IV finally opened it to the public for a small fee so that everyone could enjoy a view of the city.

Workers didn’t complete construction on the church, itself, until after King Christian’s death in 1656. In 1728, the Great Fire in Copenhagen partially destroyed both the church and the library. The Round Tower was too solid to catch fire and, thus, survived. Today, the old library attic acts as an exhibition space.

It wasn't only the Czar Peter the Great who loved the Round Tower. The residents of Copenhagen did, also. Today, the tower attracts almost as many tourists as Tivoli and the Little Mermaid. And though there are taller towers commanding wider views than the Round Tower, the view from it is special. As an old man, King Christian enjoyed the view from his tower, satisfied with everything he had built and given to Copenhagen.

< Back to Copenhagen                                                                Go to Georg Jensen >

Every year about 95 000 people die in Sweden and, according to the law, everyone must be buried. There must be room for everyone in the cemeteries, therefore the future needs of space have to be predicted. Because of this funerals must be part of the planning process.

Read more about Swedish burials

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In the early Middle Ages, driven by famine at home and the promise of wealth to be had in other lands, the Vikings set out from Scandinavia to conquer parts of England, Ireland, France, Russia, and even Turkey. Bolstered by their successes, the Vikings pushed westward, eventually crossing the North Atlantic and founding settlements in Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland in Canada.
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