The Urban Waterfall of Nedre-Foss, Oslo

Nedre-Foss, Oslo

photography by: Omri Westmark

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Historically, most of the rivers which ran through Europe’s largest cities were wide and navigable. In sheer contrast to its more formidable counterparts, Oslo’s Akerselva River has an average width of only 15 meters. But what this river lacks in size, it makes up for in a series of over 20 urban waterfalls, one of which, Nedre-Foss was formerly home to Norway’s oldest mill and is now a part of a recreational park where the area’s history and nature are celebrated.

With a length of merely 8 kilometers and a width akin to a city bus, the Akerselva River might pale in comparison to other waterways throughout Europe. Nevertheless, the 150-meter-high elevation difference between its source, Maridalsvannet Lake, and mouth, Oslofjord, blessed the river with multiple cascades, some of which were formerly utilized for power generation by mills.


Tucked away in a quiet residential area of Oslo, Nedre-Foss is one of Akerselva River’s most significant waterfalls. In the early 13th century, the area around the waterfall was home to a sizable farm, whose main source of power was apparently a mill standing at the exact location of Nedre-Foss. Considered by some as Norway’s first mill, the water-powered facility along with the surrounding farm changed hands many times over the centuries.


Among its more notable owners were the Hovedøya monastery, the Grüner family and the Norwegian King, who transformed the sawmill into a timber processing epicenter. As agriculture became less and less lucrative, the area underwent a rapid process of industrialization with the mill powering the then newly built factories.


Amid Oslo’s urban revival, the once industrial and agricultural district experienced an influx of incoming residents who slowly but steadily made it one of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods. At that point, the mill was deemed obsolete and in 1986, it was demolished. The end of the mill signaled the rebirth of Nedre-Foss waterfall, which subsequently regained its former natural glory.


As recently as 2017, the waterfall was integrated into the aptly named Nedre-Foss Park, whose design was inspired by its bygone era as a mill site. Three years later, the massive greyish-hued grain silo that sits next to the waterfall was converted into a student dormitory, further cementing the place’s complete face-lift.


To overcome Nedre-Foss’ vertical angle which hinders the movement of spawning fish, an elaborate fish ladder was constructed in 2014 along the waterfall. Made of multiple steps, the ladder offers a safe passage for salmon, trout and other species of fish who swim to an upstream location where they would ultimately spawn.