The Vøyenfallene Waterfalls in Oslo – A Piece of Urban Nature

Vøyenfallene, Oslo

photography by: Omri Westmark

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In contrary to most of Europe’s large capital cities, Oslo is not bisected by any navigable waterway. Instead, the Norwegian capital is home to a narrow, yet torrential river which has dozens of rapids and falls along its course. Standing out as Akerselva River’s most powerful waterfall, Vøyenfallene is far more than just a charming cascade. For over a century or so, the strong stream of water fueled the local lumber and textile industries, while as of today, the falls serve as a natural hideaway, imbued with serenity and semi-wilderness.

Stretching 8 kilometers through multiple residential boroughs, the Akerselva River in Oslo is a sliver of nature, surrounded entirely by urban environment. Due to the sharp topographic gap between its mouth and source, the river is dotted with twenty cascades, whose roaring sounds echoes across the surrounding streets and parks.


For much of the 18th and 19th centuries, the sheer force of water plunging its way down offered a free and widely accessible source of energy. That in turn prompted the construction of dozens of mills along the river. With a drop of over 20 meters across three separate falls, the Vøyenfallene Waterfall in the modern-day neighborhood of Ila, was considered a coveted spot for any power-generating facility.


It should then come as no surprise that during the 1700’s, no less than four large sawmills huddled along the gushing waters. With an incessant supply of hydropower, the area’s timber industry was booming for decades on end. At one point, several barriers were installed at the top of the fall in order to alter the flow of water so it would spread evenly between the 4 mills. In fact, this is why the upper cascade has an odd, triangular shape to date.


Throughout the mid-19th century, when the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, a series of large-scale textile factories popped up on Akerselva’s western bank, utilizing the strong stream for manufacturing. In its heyday, the local textile industry employed more than a thousand workers, most of whom were women.


Unsurprisingly then, the district’s legacy of female labor is well ingrained into its past and present. The adjacent bridge, Beierbrua, which now offers a stunning vista of the falls is sometimes nicknamed the “Ladys’ Bridge” for once being a main passage where hundreds of women made their way to and from the workshops.


Another anecdote revolves around a nearby reddish-painted house, formerly a part of a sawmill. Story has it that the novelist Oskar Braaten, whose mother worked in one of the local fabric factories, was inspired by her toil when writing his play “the Child” in 1911. The small wooden edifice shares its name with Hønse-Lovisa, a fictious figure who is modeled after Braaten’s mother and lived within its confines according to his well-renowned play. As of today, the house serves as a quaint café only meters away from the thundering waters of Vøyenfallene.