BEST OF ICELAND THE BEST INFORMATION ABOUT ICELAND AT YOUR FINGERTIPS EINAR TH. THORSTEINSSON www.best-of-iceland.com THIRD EDITION BEST OF ICELAND www.best-of-iceland.com
Best of Iceland is really just that. You can find fascinating articles about land, its history, nature, wildlife, natural wonders, energy sources—green and clean, volcanoes, glaciers and ice caves, art and culture, museums and galleries, swimming pools, and accommodation, restaurants, Icelandic design and innovation, the Arctic Circle, – and the endless exciting possibilities of activities available to visitors to Iceland.
At the beginning of the last century, Icelanders ranked among the poorest in Europe. Following its independence in 1944 the country has made enormous economic and social strides. Now, it is acknowledged to be a world leader in fields such as fishing and geothermal energy. Although Iceland is a relatively small country with about 370,000 inhabitants— about the population of a small town elsewhere—the vibrancy of society and its desire to progress has brought a peaceful revolution in living standards.
Today, visitors can enjoy the winter wonders with the snow pursuits and the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). The summer season with the Midnight Sun offers a huge range of activities. Whether it is whale-watching, fishing, sailing, riverrafting, horseback-riding, camping, hiking, mountaineering,
glacier-tours, skiing, snowmobiling, adventure tours, hang-gliding, or just plain relaxing in a hot tub in the tranquil nature, here you will find many of the best possibilities that Iceland has to offer, with all the necessary contact information for follow-up.
There is a treasure trove of information on each of the ten main areas, their specialties and interest points; Reykjavík, West Coast, Westfjords, North-West, North-East, East, SouthEast, South, South-West and, of course, the Highlands. Best of Iceland gathers a collection of many of the best articles from the Icelandic Times magazine in this single volume.
The tourist industry is an ever-growing field and thus we do not claim to give a complete account of all the possibilities – but we offer plenty to go on. You can be pretty sure you’ll find everything you need in this book. It’s good for a coffee table but better as a reference manual for travellers to this thrilling country. Don’t leave home without it!
Einar Th. Thorsteinsson Editor in Chief and Publisher
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Best of Iceland
Information about Iceland at Your Fingertips
It took a volcano to bring Iceland to the centre stage in the eyes of the world, early 2010. From being Europe’s Best Kept Secret, the country was suddenly thrust into the limelight, making Iceland a top tourist destination. Now a few years later, thousands of people all over the world are seeking information about Iceland and the number of visitors is burgeoning.
The Best of Iceland provides valuable resources of information that you can use to plan your trip and use as you travel. It answers those basic questions of where to stay, where to go, where to eat and what to do and buy. It contains a wealth of information about the country, its nature, culture, customs, history, recreational activities and lifestyle.
Enjoy your visit & welcome back!
Hot Water 50
Sustainable Artisan Knifemaking in Iceland 51 Interview with Whale 52 Árbær Open Air Museum 54
Keflavik International Airport .............................. 56 Filming in Iceland ................................................ 57
The one and only Grafarvogur 59 Farmsteads in Reykjavík Eskihlið 60 Klambratún Park 62 Tróndur í Gøtu 64
From Mexico to the edge of the World 70 Reykjavík’s New Lifestyle Destination 74 The Icelandic Sheep 76
Reykjanes A geological Wonder 78 Welcome to Suðurnesjabær................................80 Iceland’s First Mantle Eruption ........................... 82 Reykjanesbær ..................................................... 86 1,000 Years of Fish 90 Birds in Birdwatching 92
Visit the Great North 126
The Arctic Coast Way 128 Ásbyrgi 129 Birdwatching in Paradise 130
The Klondike of the Atlantic 68 The Psalmist Hallgrímur .................................... 133 It's a Bird's Life ................................................. 134 Akureyri 136
A Charming Farm in Marvellous Mývatn 138 Fjallabyggð 139 Hólar In Hjaltadalur 140 Rauðanes 141 Iceland’s whale population is changing 142
The Highlands in North East Iceland 144 Þorsteinn Ásgeirsson 146
The Pearls of East Iceland 158
Where the Sun comes up .................................160
A Fairy tale home .............................................. 162 Bird Paradise 163
Vikings and Settlement 6
National Day of Iceland 12 History of Iceland 14
Iceland Symbolised in clothes 15 Men who Made Iceland 16
The Iceland-China model saving the world? 20
Inside Iceland's renewable energy 26 Arctic Circle Assembly 2022 28
Gunnlaugur Scheving......................................... 30
Landsvirkjun ...................................................... 32
The Mansion of the Icelandic Soul 35
Land of Contrasts 36
The Alpingi at Pingvellir 37
Enjoy the Christmas Spirit in Hafnarfjörður 38
The Most Important Fishing Nation in Europe 40
The Northern Lights Season 42
From Rock Quarry to City Landmark 44
About Einar Thorsteinn Asgeirsson 46
A Historical Perspective of Iceland's Whaling 48
Go West! 94
Everything Volcanic 96 Birds in Breiðafjörður 98 Dalabyggð 102 Krauma Geothermal Baths 104 Akranes ............................................................. 106 Eiríksstaðir Museum, Dalir, West Iceland ......... 108
Do you want to know everything about the First settlers In IceLand? 109
Wild Westfjords 110 Between Two Cliffs 114 Beauty in Remoteness 116 Iceland's First Settler 117 Mystic History 118 Hrafnseyri 120 Breathtaking Landscapes 122 Enjoy the Culture............................................... 124 Culture and Nature............................................ 125
Explore the Beauty of East Iceland 164 A Unique Bathing Experience 166 A Birdwatcher's Paradise 168
Survey the Scenic South 170
On Top of the World 172
Vast Volcanic Hot Spots 174 History & Skálholt 176 Skógar Museum ........................................... 177
Birds of Southern Iceland............................ 179 Tárnessýsla Heritage Museum 180
Iceland the Glacieal Country 181 Sagnaheimar Folk Museum 182
Litla Horn 183
Researching Iceland's Puffins 184
Between the Glaciers 186
The Threat From Iceland 188
Glacier & Geothermal Energy 192
The House that disappeared 193 The Golden Circle 194
SETTLEMENT Vikings AND
At the time when the Irish had discovered Iceland and started regular sailings there, boatbuilding and skill in navigation were also developing on the west coast of Norway. The settlements in the deep and narrow fjords were cut off from each other by high mountains and woods. Hence, sea transport was soon to become the most important mode of communication. Wood was plentiful for shipbuilding and it is believed that shortly before 800 the Norwegians were able to build seagoing ships. Sailing skills developed, first in the fjords and along the coast, whereby the isolation of the many small places was broken, finally leading to the quest for the open sea, the westward voyages. Before 800 the Nordic peoples had hardly any links with the mainstream of European civilisation, but then suddenly the Vikings came on the scene, sailing in elegantly shaped, fast-running and beautifully decorated ships to distant shores. In the beginning they raided and
plundered wherever they went or traded with the people they came into contact with, but later they settled in other countries, establishing colonies. This was the Viking period, from about 800 to 1050, the beginning of an extremely dynamic epoch in the history of European exploration. The Norse Vikings first went to the Shetlands, then to the Orkneys, Scotland and Ireland. There they may have heard of the voyages of the Irish to Iceland and therefore sought this island in the north, but they might also have stumbled upon it accidentally. Anyway, it could hardly be long before the Vikings with their increasing number of ships at sea would discover Iceland. Seagoing ships were, of course, a precondition for the settlement of Iceland. No remains of ships from this period, however, have been found in Iceland, only fragments of small boats in burial mounds. Information on the Viking
Seagoing ships and certain navigational skill were obviously a prerequisite for the settlement of Iceland. No remains of seagoing ships from the Viking age have been found in Iceland. This ship is the Oseberg ship located at the Viking Ships Museum in Oslo
ships has to be sought in Norway, where two big Viking ships have been found, and in Denmark where some old ships have been excavated at the bottom of Roskilde fjord. Among them was the knörr, a type of vessel considered to have been the cargo ship of the Viking period. Norse seafarers discovered Iceland around 850 A.D. or shortly thereafter.
Three Vikings are mentioned by name in written sources as explorers of Iceland. The Viking Naddoddur is said to have been the first Norseman to come to Iceland and he did not find any sign of human habitation. He sailed back to Norway,
calling the country Snæland (‘Snowland’). Gardar Svavarsson, a Swedish Viking, sailed to Snæland. He was the first Nordic man to sail round the country, finding that it was an island. Consequently he named it Garðarshólmur (‘Gardarsholm’). He wintered at Húsavik on the Bay of Skjálfandaflói. Next spring when he was ready to sail back, he lost a boat from his ship with a man called Náttfari together with a man and woman slave. They settled in Reykjadalur. Therefore Náttfari is the first Nordic man to settle in Iceland, but as he did not come to Iceland on his own initiative, he has not been included with the settlers.
Flóki Vilgerðarson, a Norwegian viking, sailed to Gardarsholm, intending to settle there. He therefore took with him his family and livestock. For guidance he took with him three ravens. When he released the first some way out, it flew back to Norway. When the second was set free further out, it returned to the ship, but later when the third was released, it flew straight ahead, directing its owner to Iceland. After that Flóki was called Hrafna-Flóki (‘Raven-Flóki’). They sailed along the south coast and to the Vatnsfjörður fjord on the north coast of the Bay of Breiðifjörður. Here they spent the summer fishing without procuring any hay for the livestock, which consequently perished during the following winter. Next spring Flóki climbed a mountain to look around. He then had a view over a fjord filled with ice. “Therefore they named the country Iceland, a name it has had ever since”, says Landnáma, the Book of Settlements.
After three years in Iceland Flóki sailed back to Norway. Flóki had no favourable reports to make on Iceland, whereas his crew spoke well of some things and ill of others. It is believed that Garðar Svavarsson and Hrafna-Flóki came to Iceland around 865 or later.
The first Norse settler in Iceland is traditionally considered to have been Ingólfur Arnarson. On sighting the Icelandic south coast, he cast his high-seat pillars overboard, vowing that he would build his home wherever they drifted ashore. Ingólfur landed on or near the promontory of Ingólfshöfði on the south coast where he spent his first winter in
Iceland. Next winter Ingólfur was at Hjörleifshöfði, the third at the foot of Mt. Ingólfsfjall, but when his slaves finally found his high-seat pillars, which had drifted ashore at Reykjavík, he built his home there.
It has been estimated that Ingólfur came to Iceland in either 870 or 874, the latter date being traditionally recognised as the year when Norse settlement began in Iceland. Ingólfur’s wife was Hallveig Fróðadóttir, Reykjavík’s first housewife.
The Age of Settlement lasted for about 60 years, ending in 930 when the general assembly, the Althing, was established at Þingvellir. During this period about 1020 thousand people, mainly from Western Norway, the Scottish isles and Ireland, settled in Iceland. This was the first permanent settlement of European people on the other side of an ocean, and as such,
is considered to have been the first Norse settler in Iceland. He arrived in 870 or 874, but the latter date has received traditional recognition. He built his home at Reykjavik where his high-seat pillars had drifted ashore.
it was an important historical event. The settlement of Norsemen in Iceland was a natural continuation of their Viking incursions to the west from Norway.
Soon after the settlement it became evident to the Icelandic seafarers that there was a land to the west of Iceland. Landnáma (the Book of Settlements) relates that the Viking Gunnbjörn drifted westward from Iceland, coming to a land called Gunnbjarnarsker (‘Gunnbjörn Skerries’). Snæbjörn Galti found this land again in 970.
Eiríkur rauði (Erik the Red) was born at Drangar on the north-west coast of Iceland. His son was Leifur heppni Eiríksson (Leif Eiríksson the Lucky). Erik the Red sailed to the west around 982, looking for Gunnbjarnarsker. He sailed up to the east coast of Greenland and then southwards along the coast, inside the
drift ice. He was then the first man known to have rounded Hvarf (Cape Farewell), the southernmost tip of Greenland. When reaching the western coast, he found inhabitable areas. He explored the region for three years, calling the country Greenland, as he realised that an alluring name would attract more settlers.
After one year back home in Iceland, Erik sailed again for Greenland in 986, now accompanied by 25 ships and more than 300 settlers from Iceland. Only 14 of these ships arrived safely in the settlement area, the other ships being lost at sea or returning back to Iceland. The Icelandic settlements in South-west Greenland were in two regions: one was called Eystribyggð (‘the Eastern Settlement’), now the Julianeháb district, and the other Vestribyggd (‘the Western Settlement’), now the Godtháb district. Erik the Red built his home at Brattahlíð at the bottom end of Eiríksfjörður (‘Erik’s Fjord’), now called Kagssiarssuk. Brattahlíð was thence the focal point of the Icelandic settlement in Greenland and the Þjóðhild Church was built there.
One of the settlers who went to Greenland with Erik the Red was Herjólfur. He lived at Eyrarbakki (Eyrar) on the south-west coast of Iceland. His son was Bjarni Herjólfsson. When Bjarni came back home from a voyage abroad later that same summer, he was told his father had
emigrated to Greenland. Although late in the season, Bjarni set off in his ship to follow his father to Greenland. He and his men drifted westwards, past Greenland, came to a low wooded coast, sailed north and northeast, and finally arrived at Herjólfsnes in the Eastern Settlement of Greenland (now Ikigait).
Around 990 Leif Ericsson sailed from Brattahlíð on an exploration voyage on Bjarni Herjólfsson’s ship, and it is believed that Bjarni himself went with him on this voyage to the west. During this expedition they came to Helluland (Baffin Island), Markland (Labrador, Newfoundland), and an area further south which they called Vinland, but it is uncertain where that land was.
Several expeditions were made from Brattahlíð around the year 1000 for the purpose of further exploration and settlement of Vinland. The leader of the main expedition was Þorfinnur Karlsefni, whose wife was Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir. They intended to settle down in Vinland, but due to a conflict with the natives there, most likely Eskimos, the settlers returned to Greenland after a two-year stay in Vinland. Later Þorfinnur Karlsefni and his wife Guðríður moved back to Iceland together with their son, Snorri Þorfinnsson, who was born in Vinland. He is the first white man known to have been born in America.
Routes followed by the Nordic Vikings on their western voyages before and during the age of the Icelandic settlement. From the west coast of Norway, the Vikings first sailed to Scotland and Ireland where Viking colonies were established. Iceland was settled both direct from West-Norway and from the Viking settlements in Ireland and Scotland. From Iceland the Vikings sailed to Greenland where they established Eystribyggð (the Eastern Settlement), and Vestribyggð (the Western Settlement), both on the west coast of Greenland. Bjami Herjólfsson sailed from Iceland around 985 or 986 for Greenland, but drifting farther west he discovered America. Leifur Eiriksson (Leif Ericson) sailed from the Icelandic settlement in Greenland to explore the American coast further during the years 1000 to 1014, and then he found the land he called Vinland, which has not been conclusively identified. The Viking settlements in America were not permanent as the Vikings withdrew from there after fighting with the indigenous natives, most likely eskimos. Shortly after 1410 the connections with the Icelandic settlements in Greenland were disrupted, the fate of the settlers there being unknown.
Although permanent settlement in Vinland was abandoned in the years around 1000, fishermen from the Icelandic settlements in Greenland had stations there later on, bringing back with them many products, especially timber, as it was much shorter to transport it from there than from Norway.
The Vinland voyages, therefore, did not result in permanent colonisation by Nordic people on the American mainland.
That was the end of the westward drive during the Viking age, with only a small community remaining behind in their homeland, Iceland. The connection with the Icelandic settlements in Greenland was also disrupted shortly after 1410, the fate of the settlers there being unknown. Therefore, the only permanent settlement during the Viking age in a new land was in Iceland. During the first few years of Norse settlement in Iceland it is believed that the number of inhabitants increased rather slowly, the first settlers appropriating very large areas. The main influx of settlers in Iceland occurred during rather few years towards the end of the age of settlement, between 890 and 910. The settlers came mainly from southwestern Norway, a famous Viking area during the Age of Settlement. Land was scarce there, and most of the Vikings who raided the Scottish islands and Ireland came from there.
Later they established Viking colonies and in due course they intermarried with the Celtic population of these countries. The Vikings had also taken Celtic people as slaves and brought them back to Norway. Thus, during the Icelandic Age of Settlement, these Vikings had come into close contact with Celtic people and must, therefore, have been considerably influenced by Celtic culture. At that time there was no uniform nation in Norway as the separate fylki (‘shires’) were independent communities. Harald Fairhair was the first king to reign over most of Norway after his conquest of the different shires. The Vikings in south-west Norway fought bravely against him, but in the Battle of Hafursfjord towards the end of the 9th century, Harald Fairhair won a famous victory over the westcoast Vikings. After that many of them fled from Norway to their relatives on the Scottish islands and Ireland, while others went to Iceland.
Later the Vikings on the Scottish islands raided places in Norway until King Harald Fairhair sent a fleet with warriors to the islands and conquered them. Then several of the Vikings fled from the Scottish islands to Iceland. But at the same time as the WestNorwegian Vikings were faced with this defeat both in Norway and on the Scottish isles, the Norwegian colonies in other areas
were also overpowered, sustaining heavy losses in many places. They were thrown out of Dublin in 902 and their areas were reduced both in Scotland and on the Hebrides. As King Harald Fairhair had conquered the areas of the west-coast Vikings in Norway, they could no longer expect any support from Norway. Therefore the situation both in Norway and on the British islands no doubt encouraged mass-emigration to Iceland during the decades just before and after 900.
Þorfinnur Karlsefni, an Icelandic seafarer, was the leader of an expedition from the Icelandic settlements in Greenland to Vinland in North America around 1000 A.D. His statue in Reykjavík is by Einar Jónsson, the sculptor, whose museum in Reykjavík contains many splendid works of art.
It is interesting to note that, due to inexplicable fate or a remarkable chain of events, it was mostly the West-Norwegian Vikings who had had the closest contact with Celtic people who emigrated to Iceland. Vikings who had been living for two or three generations in Ireland and on the Scottish isles had established close relations with Celtic families through inter-marriages and friendship when they moved to Iceland, and it is well known that both free people and slaves of Irish origin came along with the Vikings to settle in Iceland. It is therefore historically proven that the people who settled in Iceland were almost entirely of Norwegian-Irish stock. The Nordic root, however, is dominant with respect to language as all the settlers spoke the then common Nordic tongue, and only very few Irish words found their way into the Icelandic language except in personal names and place names.
On the other hand, it is believed that Irish culture had great influence on the saga writing and other literary activities of the Icelanders. The fact remains at least that nowhere else in the Nordic countries did saga-writing become as common as in Iceland. Indeed, the Icelandic sagas are the main source of information on all the Nordic countries during the Viking age and the period of the Icelandic Commonwealth. Irish culture also influenced Icelandic religious traditions and enhanced navigational skills during the Viking age. As mentioned above,
the Irish had sailed to Iceland long before the Vikings arrived, and it is not impossible that some of the Norse settlers who came from Ireland brought with them Irish navigators. Furthermore, it may not be entirely an accident that after the Vikings had been in contact with the Irish and become acquainted with their navigational skills, the Icelanders discovered Greenland and later Vinland on the American continent. It is not being suggested, however, that the navigational skills of the Norse Vikings might not have been sufficient for them to achieve what they did.
So far, historical sources have been drawn upon in an attempt to verify the origin of the Icelandic population. By measuring skeletons in burial mounds from the pagan period in Iceland and comparing them with skeletons of a similar period in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the Viking settlements on the Scottish isles and Ireland, scientists have demonstrated that height and headforms indicate that the settlers in Iceland were mainly of West-Norwegian origin, the same being true of the Viking settlements in Scotland and Ireland. These people are a mixture of Nordic and Celtic populations. Finally, it may be pointed out that blood group studies show that the A-group is the commonest among the Norwegians, the Swedes and the Danes, whereas the O-group dominates among the Icelanders. Similar studies in the British Isles show that the Scots and the North-Irish have a blood group distribution similar to that of the Icelanders. Thus, both archaeology and blood group studies support the historical evidence that the Icelandic population is of West-Norwegian/ Celtic origin, whereas the Icelandic language is purely Nordic.
-Hjálmar R. Bárðarson
The Central Square where people gather in Reykjavík
In olden times, when Reykjavík was simply a farm, Austurvöllur (the East Field) was its best grassfield, and much larger than it is today. It extended over much of what is now the old centre of Reykjavík: from Aðalstræti to Lækjargata, and from Hafnarstræti to the Lake.
When Reykjavík Cathedral was built in 1788-90, rock was quarried nearby and stored on Austurvöllur.
By the early 1800s the field was in a poor state due to overuse and turf-cutting (for construction). As a result the town magistrate banned unauthorised turf-cutting.
In 1806 he stated that it had once been a fine, useful field, but was now nothing but a neglected peat-bog. At that time, dumping of ash and refuse on the field was prohibited, but no other measures were
taken. The field was marshy and uneven, and unsuitable for building.
As the village of Reykjavík grew, it gradually encroached on the field. In the
19th century it served as a campsite for countrymen visiting the town, and also for early tourists.
In 1874 the town council of Copenhagen presented a statue to the people of Reykjavík: a self-portrait by IcelandicDanish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. The town council chose a place for it in the middle of Austurvöllur, and in the summer of 1875 the field was fenced, levelled and turfed, and paths were made. The sculpture was ceremonially unveiled on 19 November 1875, the artist’s birthday. It was Reykjavík’s first public sculpture.
In 1930 the fence was removed, opening the square, and in 1931 the Thorvaldsen statue was moved to the Hljómskálagarður park, to make way for a statue of Jón Sigurðsson (1811-79), leader of Iceland’s
A drawing of Austurvöllur and surrounding area in 1820, by Aage Nielsen-Edwin.
Scottish sheep grazing on Austurvöllur in 1932
Photo. Magnús Ólafsson
Tug-of-war on Austurvöllur in 1912. Photo. Magnús Ólafsson
Celebrations on Austurvöllur as women in Iceland gained the right to vote, June 19th 1915. Photo. Magnús Ólafsson
In the early 20th century an artificial skating rink was often created in winter on the square, which was popular with the townspeople.
Many entertainments and social events have taken place on the square over the years, and the people of Reykjavík have traditionally gathered here, in front of Parliament House, whether to celebrate or to protest. At one of the first protest meetings, in 1905, thousands objected to the laying of an undersea telephone cable to Iceland. On 30 March 1949 a protest against Iceland joining NATO led to violence; police used truncheons and teargas on the crowds. Every year people gather on Austurvöllur to celebrate National Day on 17 June, when
a wreath is laid before the statue of Jón Sigurðsson; and in December crowds come to see the lights lit on a Christmas tree, a gift from the people of Oslo.
After the Icelandic economy collapsed in the autumn of 2008, Austurvöllur was again the scene of protests. People gathered, listened to speeches, and hammered on pots and pans to express their rage, in what has become known as the Kitchenware Revolution.
Austurvöllur, in its present form was designed by Sigurður Albert Jónsson, former chief of The Reykjavík Botanical Gardens, and presented to the city by Hafliði Jónsson, former chief of Reykjavík Parks Department; in 1999 the plan was simplified and renewed, to designs by landscape architect Þórólfur Jónsson.
Reykjavík’s Historical Plaques
In recent years the City of Reykjavík has been installing plaques at historic sites around the city. The markers display pictures and information about the site’s history, art, literature and social life. This is the information displayed at the Austurvöllur Central Square.
Text and photos: Reykjavík City Museum See more at www.reykjavikcitymuseum.is
19th-century independence movement, by sculptor Einar Jónsson.
A drawing of Austurvöllur and surrounding area in 1801, by Aage Nielsen-Edwin.
Women’s Freedom Day celebrated on Austurvöllur, June 19th 1919. Photo. Magnús Ólafsson
Lighting the lights on the Olso Tree in December 1983. Photo. Jim Smart
Austurvöllur in 1905. A statue of Bertel Thorvaldsen, later relocated to Hljómskálagarðurinn Park. Photo. Magnús Ólafsson
National Day of Iceland
17 th June
On 17 th June, 1944, the whole of Iceland was alive with celebrations. It was the country’s independence from Danish rule on the birthday of Jón Sigurðsson, (18111879), the hero who, though he would never experience it, had fought tirelessly and peacefully for this day, while other countries had violent revolutions. The day is marked by prayers, parades, performers, pageant and parties. It’s a family day to reunite out in the mild summer weather over barbecues and games. Now the country is free to follow its own choices.
Icelandic scouts walk down Suðurgata from Austurvöllur towards Jón Sigurðsson’s gravestone in Hólavellir cemetery
President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson and Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir walk from Alþingi to Austurvöllur during the day’s celebrations.
Circus in Hljómskálagarður Park Brass band of Reykjavík play national songs on Austurvöllur
Street artists entertain people on corner of Laugavegur and Skólavörðustígur
Jazz on Skólavörðurstígur, Hallgrímskirkja Church in the background
Actress Hanna María Karlsdóttir was the Mountain Woman (Fjallkonan) this year.
The Svanur brass band plays for people on Lækjartorg Square
Photo: Páll Stefánsson
A Very brief
The Settlement of Iceland by the Vikings started in 874 and was largely completed by 930 AD. It was precipitated largely by internal struggles in Norway between King Harald the Fairhaired and other nobles. King Harald won a major victory late in the 8th century, after which he drove his enemies to the Scottish Isles, which he then later conquered. Many fl ed onwards to Iceland. The first Viking settler in Iceland is believed to be Ingólfur Arnarson. He started a farm in Reykjavík. The years between 874 and 930 AD saw increasing numbers of Viking settlers arriving from Scandinavia (bringing with them Celtic women and slaves) and claiming land in the habitable areas.
Parliament: The Alþingi, Iceland’s present-day parliament, is the world’s oldest existing national assembly. A constitutional law code was written and the Alþingi parliament established. Founded at Þingvellir in 930 AD, the country’s democratic system of government was completely unique in its day. The judicial power of the Alþingi was distributed among four regional courts, together with a supreme court which convened annually at the national assembly at Þingvellir. The Alþingi assembled for two weeks every summer and attracted a large proportion of the population.
Christianity was peacefully adopted at Þingvellir in the year 1000 AD. The first diocese was established at Skálholt in South Iceland in 1056 and a second at Hólar in the north in 1106. Both became the country’s main centres of learning.
The Sagas include some of the classics of world medieval literature and are written in the ancient Viking language— Old Norse. Between 1120 and 1230, the Norse Sagas were written down on vellum in Iceland. The first literary medium to emerge was poetry, which tended to be heroic in theme. Poetry was then replaced by epic and dramatic tales of early settlement, romance, disputes and the development of Iceland.
Conquered: Norway laid a claim to Iceland and conquered the island in 1262 in a navy battle which resulted in the infamous Sturlung Age, a turbulent era of political treachery and violence, dominated by Sturla Thurdason and his sons. Iceland became a Norwegian and later a Danish province and didn’t regain it’s independence until 1944.
Emmigration: In the last quarter of the 19th century, the Icelandic nation was beset by problems of hardship, overpopulation, disease and famine. Icelanders had been emigrating west to North America since 1855, but the first organised journey was undertaken in 1873 when a large group sailed from Akureyri. The greatest exodus to the west took place shortly after 1880 and the situation lasted until 1890, when living conditions began to improve.
Home Rule came to Iceland with the appointment of the fi rst Icelandic government minister. In 1918, Denmark, recognised Iceland as a fully sovereign state, united with Denmark under a common king. Denmark, though, retained responsibility for Iceland’s defence and foreign affairs. In 1930 there were huge celebrations at Þingvellir in honour of the millennial anniversary of the founding of the Alþingi parliament.
1944 Independence: When the Germans occupied Denmark in April 1940, Iceland took over its own foreign policy and proclaimed its neutrality. The island’s vulnerability and strategic value became a matter of concern for the Allies, who occupied Iceland in May 1940. Following a plebiscite, Iceland formally became an independent republic on June 17, 1944.
The Icelandic National Costume holds great signifi cance in the minds of most Icelanders. Every independence day (17th June), an Icelandic actress is chosen to represent the Fjallkona (the lady of the mountains) who symbolises Iceland as a whole. The Fjallkona appears in full traditional garb; the splendid Skautbúningur, complete with elaborate embroidery, belt of linked silver, silver brooch and a high white headdress.
Independence costume Th e origin of the Icelandic costume is unclear, as historical evidence is scarce before the 16th century. But from the 16th and 17th century evidence is more readily available from paintings and manuscripts. Interest in the traditional costume grew considerably in the 19th century when Iceland’s campaign for independence from Danish rule gained
momentum. The costume proved a useful tool for a nation with a growing sense of national identity and became a symbolic icon for Iceland’s spirit.
In order to preserve knowledge of the Icelandic traditional costume and the making of these costumes, the Ministry of Education and Culture established a National Costume Board in 2001. This board has since collected and supported extensive research on the Icelandic traditional costume.
Th roughout its history the national costume has developed and adjusted to diff erent fashion landscapes and now has several variations, including: Peysuföt, Upphlutur, Kyrtill, Skautbúningur and Faldbúningur.
You can catch a glimpse of the Icelandic National Costume at Árbæjarsafn.
Further information at www.buningurinn.is
Men who Made Iceland
Poet and writer of Iceland’s national anthem
The Westfjords have produced some of Iceland’s outstanding leaders in different fields, particularly in the 19th century, at a time when many of the world’s greatest names were born.
Matthías Jochumsson (11. November, 1835 – 18. December, 1920) was born on the Skógar farm on the south part of the Westfjords to a poor farming family. He did not begin school until a comparatively late age when his talents were recognised and he attended the Latin School in Reykjavík.
During the Christmas holiday in 1861, he wrote a play called, ‘The Outlaws’ which his fellow students performed the following year. It became an instant success, thereby
distinguishing Matthías as a major poet, which marked the beginning of modern Icelandic drama.
The play tells the story of the outlaw Skugga and his companions and their conflicts with the locals, and was inspired by the stories of outlaws living in the Icelandic wilderness. It has since been performed many times and Matthías, who had been planning to become a businessman, discovered his love of languages and literature that was to define his life.
On graduating, he became a priest but, when he lost his second wife, it led to great mental anguish and a reconsideration of his religious beliefs. He took a break from the priesthood for some years, becoming the editor of the most popular weekly Icelandic journal, Þjóðólfur.
Although he returned to the Lutheran priesthood, his was a liberal thinking in contrast to the harsh religious dogmatism of the day. He travelled extensively, being drawn to the Romanticist and Reform movements like the Unitarian church. He read the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and was said to be Iceland’s most able proponent of the liberal religious position.
He translated ma ny works from different languages, including a number of Shakespeare’s works, but it was his prolific poetry that made him popular. He wrote his most famous poem for the 1,000 year celebration of Ingólfur Árnason’s pioneering of the country. This was destined to become Iceland’s national anthem.
He was the first poet to be granted a pension and the title of National Poet by the Alþingi, the Icelandic governing body in 1900, when he retired as a clergyman.
Through his religious poetry, hymns and funeral elegies, along with his heroic narrative poems, he continued to preach Christian faith and humanity.
He moved to the northern town of Akureyri, where he built a house in 1903, where he lived until his death. The house is now open as a museum and study centre. –ASF
Men who Made Iceland Halldór Laxness
The Nobel Prize-winning Writer from Iceland
Halldór Laxness (1902-1998) stands as a luminary amongst the other Icelandic writers of the 20th century. He was a prolific author during his long career, writing 13 major novels, five plays and a dramatisation of one of his novels, not to mention his collections of short stories, essays and memoirs. His books have been translated into 43 languages and published in more than 500 editions. His career was unique, the diversity of his works almost without parallel and, with every book, he can be said to have approached his readers from a new and unexpected direction.
The Writings of a Master
In the 1920’s, he wrote a modernist novel with a surrealist overlay, ‘The Great Weaver from Kashmir’ (1927), as well as progressive poetry, while in the 1930’s, he wrote social realist novels, including ‘Independent People’ (1934-35) about Bjartur, the farmer of Summerhouses, “the story of a man who sowed his enemy’s field all his life, day and night. Such is the story of the most independent man in the country”, as it says in the book. In the 1940’s, he embarked on historical novels, including ‘Iceland’s Bell’,
his contribution to Iceland’s campaign for independence, which was published 194346. Among other well known works by Laxness are ‘World Light’ (1937-40), ‘The Atom Station’ (1948), ‘The Fish Can Sing’ (1957) and ‘Paradise Reclaimed’ (1960). Laxness wrote absurdist plays in the 1960’s and, 40 years after ‘The Great Weaver from Kashmir’ and, at nearly 70 years old, he began to flirt anew with the modernist in novel, along with a new generation of Icelandic novelists, in ‘Under the Glacier’ (1968).
Ideals and Beliefs
Laxness’ ideals and beliefs changed with time, as reflected to a certain extent in his works. He began his writing career as a Catholic, then turned to socialism, but later lost interest in all dogma—except perhaps Taoism. He never attempted to disown the earlier views which he subsequently repudiated, regarding them instead as an instructive part of his psychological development. Yet, from the earliest period to the latest, it is possible to detect the same basic themes in his books. He looked at things differently from other people, his writings were often barbed, and
yet he always managed to see the comic aspects of his characters and their actions. His sympathy was invariably with the underdog. –SS
Men who Made Iceland Skúli Magnússon
There are a number of people who had a great influence on the nation through their lives and work.
In the 1700’s, Iceland was under Danish rule. They held a trading monopoly and the merchants were often corrupt, whilst the communities were small and wielded little economic power.
Skúli Magnússon (1711-1794) was born in the remote village of Keldunes in NorthEast Iceland. His family moved to Húsavík, where his father was a priest.
As a teenager, he worked in a Danish merchant’s company, learning the way business was conducted. The merchant told him to “Weigh it right” - meaning to cheat the poor customers. This made him very angry and he swore to use his life to replace the dishonest merchants and set up a trading system to improve the living standards of the people.
In 1732-34, he studied at Copenhagen university, though he didn’t gain his degree. Instead, he took a position in South Iceland as the county magistrate before moving 3 years later to Skagafjörður in the north.
In the first year in his new position, a Dutch trading ship foundered in the fjörd. Skúli, on discovering the sailors illegally trading with the local people, seized their ship and its cargo which he used to build the village of Akrar. He also procured new type for the printer, enabling the printshop to run the year round.
His vision was to use his wealth and power to destroy the corrupt system and strengthen the country. In Skagafjörður, he sued one of the monopolistic merchants for selling poor iron and mouldy f lour and for selling over the maximum price allowed. He won the case and became very popular with the people.
He was known as ‘Skúli fógeti’ as he was the king of Denmark’s representative and when the country’s Danish Governor was dismissed in 1749 for drunkeness and bankrupcy, Skúli was appointed to his position—the first Icelander to become Governor.
He moved south to Bessastaðir in 1750 and established a commercia l enterprise in competition with the Danes which would make enhancements and inventions in agriculture and industry. Within 6 month s, he received t he Danish king’s approval. He became known as ‘The Father of Reykjavík’ and was the only one bringing news
and information to the country. Reykjavík was little more than a smattering of houses, farms and fields at this time.
Skúli built simple factories, focussing on agricultural machinery, sulfur processing, a wool weaving centre, dyeing, rope-making, leather work, shipbuilding and fishing. He wanted Icelanders to use decked boats so they could fish in deeper seas, increase their catches with less risk to life than the open rowing boats used at the time.
The only building from that time still standing is Aðalstræti 10, in Reykjavík’s centre, which operated as a factory until 1803.
It then became a private residence where some of Iceland’s most prominent citizens have stayed, including Jón Sigurðsson, the leader of the 19th century Icela ndic independence movement. A round 2000, the conser vationists renovating it wanted a business reflecting Skúli’s spirit of innovation and design to use it. Kraum was the company chosen.
Skúli set up a farm on Viðey island and built Viðeyjarstofa as his official house between 1753-55. He worked tirelessly before finally retiring in 1793. He died the following year.
In 1954 a statue of Skúli Magnusson was erected to commemorate the centenary of free trade in Iceland. – ASF
Men who Made Iceland Jónas Hallgrímsson
Changed the face of Icelandic poetry
Many of Iceland’s greatest heroes were not fearsome warriors but all were fighters for what they passionately believed in. They were not from the cities, as Iceland didn’t possess any. Their education was not in a monolithic ediface, churning out spiritless robots but in the home and the fields and on the sea, where character was built in the face of adversity.
Jónas Hallgrímsson was born the third of four children in 1807 in the beautiful valley of Öxnadalur, a narrow dale enclosed on both sides by high mountains with jagged peaks. From the sehumble beginnings, surrounded by a culture of oral storytelling of folklore, poetry and sagas, in the pristine beauty of the nature he would later write about, he rose in his short lifetime to become the nation’s most loved and popular poet.
A Stale Diet
From the sagas of the Middle Ages, Icelandic poetry had fallen into a stale regimen of pathos and criticism. Even the poems of Jónas’ role model, Eggert Ólafsson, who broke new ground with his writing, are considered stale and dull by comparison.
Jónas was schooled for six years at the Latin school in Bessastaðir, now the home of the Icelandic president, with a rigorous training in Latin and Greek classics that would stand him in good stead. He developed an interest in science that was ahead of his time but didn’t live long enough to codify his ideas.
University in Revolution
In 1832, he sailed to Copenhagen, where he started studying law at the university. After 4 years, he switched to literature and natural sciences, excelling in both. Revolutionary fervour was sweeping Europe, with independence movements
fighting for freedom from the established order. With three friends, he founded a magazine, Fjölnir, for which he wrote for the rest of his life. Its goal was to inspire patriotism in Iceland.
On graduating, he was given a grant to do scientific research in Iceland, which gave him the opportunity to follow his interest in botany. He had only really just begun to formulate his ideas when he fell down the stairs at his home in Denmark. Blood poisoning set in and led to his untimely death.
A Literary Legacy
Thus, it is for his poetry that he is best known, rather than his scientific work. He first published many of his poems in Fjólnir. His poetry expresses his love for his country, its beauty and landscapes that so influenced his early life, in particular. He
is considered to be a founding father of the Icelandic Romanticist movement and his style completely changed the direction and form of Icelandic poetry, breathing new life and vigour into its expression.
Such was his inf luence on Icelandic literature that his birthday, 16th zof November, is celebrated as Icelandic Language Day. Each year, the Minister of Education gives the Jónas Hallgrímsson Award to an author in recognition of their contribution to Icelandic literature. – ASF
Jónas Hallgrímsson’s birthplace, Hraun in Öxnadalur, Eyjafjarðarsýsla, is by the Ring Road, west of Akureyri. Photo Páll Stefánsson
The Iceland-China model saving the world?
Interview with Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, former President of Iceland
lafur Ragnar Grímsson, President of Iceland [1996–2016], was born in 1943 in the town of Ísafjörður (Fjord of Ice) in Iceland’s remote Westfjords. Isolated, out at the farthest point in the High North, until World War II, Iceland was one of the world’s poorest nations, still under the Danish rule of King Christian X. .
Iceland’s rise is one of the 20th century’s biggest adventure stories …
Iceland’s silent revolution
A silent revolution was taking place in Iceland in the 1930s. Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík, started using geothermal water to heat houses instead of coal, which was responsible for the heavy
pollution that turned the skies black. They began drilling for hot water in the 1940s – which intrigued UK Prime Minister, Winston Churchill at the time. They began harnessing glacial waters in the 1960s, creating abundance of electrical power and springboarding the country’s industrialisation.
Fifty years after Reykjavík municipality had started the geothermal revolution, the groundwork was laid for the ‘big leap’, with the Geothermal Power Plants at Svartsengi (Black Meadow) that created the magical Blue Lagoon, and Nesjavellir (Peninsula Fields) just south of Þingvellir (Parliamentary Fields), where the world’s oldest and longest running national Parliament was founded in AD 930.
These power plants were Iceland’s crown jewels, generating electricity and producing hot water for district heating. Iceland had become the cleanest country on the Earth and a world leader in geothermal energy. Living standards rocketed to the world’s top five.
Iceland’s first PhD in political science
In 1962, the young Grímsson had gone as a student to Manchester, England to study and became Iceland’s first Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Political Science in 1970. He returned to Iceland and in 1973 became the University of Iceland’s first professor of Political Science. He served as a member of the Althing, Iceland’s Parliament, for the People’s Alliance between 1978-1983. He was a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and became President of Parliamentarians for Global Action, receiving the Indira Ghandi Prize in 1986. He then served as finance minister 1988-1991 and was re-elected to the Althing and served from 1991-1996, when he was elected the country’s President. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson served as President of Iceland from 1996-2016. He succeeded Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, who in 1980, was the first woman elected Head of State. The four focal points
The four focal points
I sat down with the former President at Reykjavík’s Hilton hotel in late August. It is three years since Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson stepped down from the Presidency. However, he is very active with the annual Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavík. When Ólafur Ragnar was elected President of Iceland in 1996, a new millennium was approaching; the 21st century was just around the corner.
“In the first years of my Presidency I pondered what would matter most to Iceland in the coming century. I came to the conclusion that four main issues would dominate; global warming; geothermal energy; the Arctic and the rise of Asia. So, in my second New Year Address to the Nation, I started to discuss some of these issues,” Mr. Grímsson says.
On 1st January 1998 President Grímsson addressed climate change and advocated Iceland taking a lead among the nations as dramatic melting was taking place in the Arctic. “We Icelanders should lead international demands for immediate radical measures to counter climate change, embrace cooperation among nations, advocate abandoning fossil fuels and promote new technologies of environmentally friendly energy. Joyfully we should embrace opportunities in the Century of the Environment as we tackle projects that present themselves with our wit and knowhow.”
World leader in Hydro& Geothermal Energy
President Grímsson stressed Iceland’s unique experience as world leader in Hydro- and Geothermal Energy, abandoning coal and oil for heating. In September 1998, in a speech at Rovaniemi University in the north of Finland, President Grímsson put forward the idea of Arctic cooperation. “Few were in attendance; scholars and nerds. There were many sceptics but I was convinced that this was the way forward,” he stresses.
Emerging Asian markets, with China’s and India’s populace growing middle classes and colossus economies, offered huge opportunities. To prosper and stay on top of the world, Iceland needed to keep its focus on the East, as
well as what was happening in Europe and America, the President argues.
“It was imperative to create a vision of Iceland’s role on the global stage in a new millennium. The US had become our most important trading partner in the middle of the 20th Century. New challenges were imperative as Iceland defined its role in the 21st Century. Asia’s phenomenal economic rise could be a similar springboard for Iceland as had been the case with the US fifty years before,” President Grímsson says.
Outspoken on the rise of Asia
During these years Mr. Grímsson was outspoken on the rise of Asia, with India and China becoming economic powerhouses. He advocated closer relationships and trade deals with Asia. He was much criticised for his stance by those who wanted to join the European Union as the EU had started its expansion to Northern & Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union in 1991. While Sweden and Finland joined the EU, Iceland joined the European Economic Area in 1995 along with Norway but refused full membership of the EU. The energy rich Norway, Iceland and Switzerland went their separate ways among the European nations.
Personal tragedy & a letter to President Jiang Zemin
However, personal tragedy was to strike as the First Lady, Guðrún Katrín Þorbergsdóttir, became seriously ill with leukaemia. In the summer of 1998, she
flew to Seattle for treatment but sadly passed away later that October.
While staying at Guðrún Katrín’s bedside at the hospital in Seattle, the President started working on an extensive letter to the then President of China, Jiang Zemin. President Grímsson already had close ties with Indian leaders and had a great personal relationship with the late Prime Minister Rajiv Ghandi but was less informed on China. He had gone to China in the early nineties with former Prime Minister Steingrímur Hermannsson as a member of what they called the ‘Hermannsson’s delegation’. In Shanghai they were shown a Legomodel of skyscrapers, reminiscent of Manhattan and their hosts were adamant that Shanghai would be a thriving city in the 21st century.
The United Nations University Geothermal Training Program had been operating in Iceland since 1979 with many Chinese students. Iceland had opened an embassy in Beijing (Peking) in 1995. It became active in promoting geothermal solutions and assisted with establishing a geothermal laboratory in Beijing’s port city, Tianjin. Then, at the turn of the century, the Icelandic geothermal company Enex advised on the geothermal heating of the Olympic village in Beijing (Peking). However, the relationship between the two countries was about go to the highest levels.
In his letter to President Zemin, President Grímsson proposed cooperation between the nations on many of the issues which would be become
Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, former President of Iceland
important in the 21st century; including clean energy transformation to combat climate change. China was experiencing economic growth unparalleled in history as hundreds of millions were coming out of poverty and the middle-class grew at a rate never seen before. China was also seeing the peaceful return of Hong Kong from Great Britain and of Macau from Portugal.
President Grímsson’s trip to India
President Grímsson was invited on a State Visit to India in the year 2000, at the turn of the new millennium. India showed President Grímsson exceptional respect. He was the first President of Iceland to visit India and was warmly greeted by K.R. Narayanan, President of India.
The same year he got engaged to Dorrit Moussaieff and they were married on President Grímsson’s 60th birthday in 2003. Iceland’s new First Lady was born in Jerusalem and raised in the United Kingdom from a young age.
President Zemin’s visit to Iceland
In June 2002, after four years had passed since the letter was written, President Zemin came to Iceland on a State Visit. The two Presidents went to Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Plant. President Zemin, an engineer himself, and his delegation, many of whom were also engineers, were highly impressed at what they saw. Green Energy had increasingly become a pressing issue as China’s oil and coal consumption had rocketed and black skies full of pollution were overwhelming its cities.
President Zemin’s visit to Iceland was very successful, to say the least, and President Grímsson’s letter turned out to be the foundation of future relationships between Iceland and China. Nesjavellir is an engineering masterpiece and the visit made a lasting impression on President Zemin.
China fast tracks Geothermal Energy
When President Zemin arrived back in China, inspired by the Icelandic model, he gave orders to fast-track Geothermal Energy to replace oil and coal for district
heating. China was going to copy the Icelandic model. In 2003 President Zemin stepped down and Hu Jintao became his successor. China was emerging as a major world power on the global stage.
Presidential visit to China
In 2005 Mr Grímsson made a one-week State Visit to China, accompanied by 400 fellow countrymen, including many business leaders, travelling by Boeing 747. The Icelandic President met with President Hu Jintao for the first time and also Premier Wen Jiabo as well as other dignitaries. President Hu had been in
office for two years. “Having established close relationships with China during President Zemin’s time in office, my visit to China was highly successful and President Hu continued where President Zemin had left off. As well as visiting Peking, we visited Qingdao and Shanghai. It was an amazing experience as the Lego model I had seen on my visit in the early nineties had materialized into real skyscrapers, with people everywhere on the streets. The Chinese are truly exceptional people. They think long term and 50 years are, in their mind, a short time span,” President Grímsson says.
President Zemin and President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson
Grímsson meets Xi Jinping in Peking
President Grímsson went again to China, this time attending the 2008 Olympics in Peking, where the Icelandic handball team had reached the final of the handball event. At a luncheon, President Grímsson met the future President, Mr. Xi Jinping, for the first time. “I asked Mr. Xi a question on what he thought were the most pending issues facing China. I found his answer especially interesting and I have often quoted his answer: “Our mission is to create prosperity for our people without harming others.”
Crisis in Iceland & Icesave Referendums
However, just a few months later, disaster struck. The Icelandic banks collapsed in October 2008. Iceland was in desperate need of support. The collapse of the banking system was the largest experienced by any nation in economic history. The country came under economic attack by the UK with Brussels’ support and was put on the UK terrorists list. Europe demanded billions of dollars for so-called Icesave accounts in the UK and Netherlands. The old colonial powers
put on an ugly face. The US turned its back on Iceland.
The leftist government that came into power in February 2009 wanted to appease Europe and applied for membership to the European Union and agreed to the UK’s demand to pay the Icesave reparations. The Althing twice passed bills to agree to Europe’s demands. President Grímsson twice refused to confirm the bills. The Icelandic Nation, as a consequence, twice went to the polls in national referendums. The nation twice refused the bills, basically refusing to pay the banksters’ reckless negligence that was jeopardising the nation’s independence and threatening to cast it into poverty. The stakes couldn’t be higher. The Icelandic nation’s right to refuse payments was later confirmed by the European EFTA court.
Iceland turns to China in hour of need Iceland was in need of a friend. “China’s support during Iceland’s hour of need must never be forgotten as Europe, as well as the USA turned against the country. One of the primary leaders of the Federal Reserve simply stated: Iceland is not any longer in the US area of interest,” President Grímsson comments.
“I wrote a letter, after consultation with then Prime Minister Geir Haarde, to President Hu Jintao outlining Iceland’s difficulties. It was by no means a foregone conclusion for China to assist tiny Iceland—a western nation and a member of NATO. Subsequently, a currency agreement was signed between China and Iceland and China later sent a highranking delegation to Iceland.
The preoccupied Icelandic media, with their focus on Brussels, did not pay attention to this unprecedented act of friendship. However, China’s support did not go unnoticed in London, Washington, Berlin, Brussels and Scandinavia’s Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki—all countries that had turned against Iceland. China was a staunch supporter of Iceland within the International Monetary Fund, as the European nations made crisis loans to Iceland conditional on payments of billions of dollars of Icesave demands. Iceland refused and China stood by Iceland in the IMF at these times of crisis. The following year China’s President of the Central Bank paid Iceland a visit. The signal was a clear as daylight. China is a friend of Iceland.
President Hu and President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson
India, too, showed Iceland exceptional respect by again inviting President Grímsson on a State Visit, this time in 2010, when he was honoured with the Nehru Award. India’s President Abdul Kalam had been to Iceland in 2005. The respect Asia’s most populous nations were showing Iceland was out of the ordinary, to say the least.
Xi Jinping & Relativity of Size Xi Jinping became President in 2013. He went on high profile visits to the United Kingdom and the United States and addressed the Global Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Times were changing. The same year, Iceland became the first European country to sign a Free Trade Agreement with China. Washington, London, Brussels and Berlin took notice. The Agreement was signed as Iceland’s left-wing government’s bid to join the European Union was collapsing due to the EU’s insistence on taking control of Iceland’s fishing grounds and thus turning the results of the Cod Wars on their head.
Arctic Circle Assembly
China received observer status in the Arctic Council in 2013 on the initiative of Sweden’s Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt,
with US Secretary of State John Kerry’s agreement. At the same time, President Grímsson launched the international Arctic Circle Assembly. Held annually in Reykjavík, its mission is to facilitate dialogue among political and business leaders, environmental experts, scientists and indigenous representatives. The Assembly has been a huge success. “China has been a prominent attendee at the Arctic Circle Assembly,” President Grímsson says, and continues, “People ask why the world’s biggest and most powerful nations should be talking to tiny Iceland. The answer is straightforward. Size doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether you come from a nation of 300 million or 300 thousand. It matters what you have to say. Iceland’s geothermal knowhow is unique. China is copying Iceland’s model with dramatic effect. It’s part of China’s escape from oil, coal and black skies. The model could help China to move away from pollution as it saved Iceland,” Mr. Grímsson says.
He points out that approximately 50% of energy consumption is for heating and cooling cities; with oil and coal overwhelmingly heating houses and water. If mankind masters city pollution, the battle against global warming will be won. The Iceland-China model could
contribute to saving the world. Arctic melting leads to violent storms in China and around the world. Higher sea levels threaten cities and even nations. Science has changed public perception and awareness. As a rising economic power on the world stage, China needs energy and raw materials. Its leaders are aware of the challenge as are the public. The protection of the environment has become a major issue. The Icelandic leadership on the Arctic is there for all to see.
Arctic Green Energy and Sinopec
In spite of the political storms in Iceland in 2008 which delayed the implementation of the geothermal model, the tide was not to be turned on IcelandChina cooperation. In 2011 Arctic Green Energy emerged under the leadership of Haukur Harðarson, who had settled in Saigon, Vietnam in 1992. The mission was to export Iceland’s success in geothermal energy. Haukur joined hands with the Sinopec Group – China’s largest and the world’s 3rd largest company.
An agreement of co-operation between Arctic Green Energy and the Sinopec Group was signed, witnessed by Icelandic Prime Minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir and China’s Premier, Wen Jiabo. The leaders were keen to follow the geothermal journey as they believed it had something special to offer the world. Sinopec Green Energy was founded and President Grímsson would visit Sinopec Green Energy in China. Haukur Harðarsson would later say, “President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson’s role in building the geothermal relationship between Iceland and all of Asia cannot be overstated. As a head of state, he stood out among his peers as a man of vison and passion, with a strong credible voice for environmental affairs, long before it became fashionable.”
Sinopec Green Energy’s phenomenal success
As we approach the third decade of the 21st century, the Icelandic-China Geothermal model is gathering pace beyond belief. Sinopec Green Energy’s success in China is phenomenal; in fact, revolutionising China just like
President Hu Jintao greets President Grímsson and First Lady Dorrit Moussaieff
it revolutionised Iceland in the 20th century. In just a few years, Sinopec GE has become the world’s largest geothermal company and drilled over 520 wells and started operations across 60 cities and counties in China; mostly in Hebei, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Shandong and Tianjin, now working in Xiongan city outside Beijing; China’s first “smog free city” is emerging as a global showcase of sustainability.
China’s geothermal revolution
Sinopec Green Energy operations have reduced CO₂ emissions dramatically. SGE has close to 50 million square metres heating capacity, serving more than 2,000,000 customers with 399 heat centrals. All in just a few years. Sinopec GE has proven that the most effective way of reducing air pollution and greenhouse emissions is to replace oil and coal with district heating systems driven by geothermal energy. China is emulating Iceland’s miraculous rise to good effect
A meeting at Bessastaðir, residence of Iceland‘s Presidency and is itself being revolutionised by the Icelandic model.
Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson stepped down as President of Iceland in the summer of 2016. A few months later, he was invited to China to witness the Sinopec Green Energy miracle with his own eyes. The reason was the 10th
anniversary of geothermal cooperation and the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Iceland and China. It was their way of saying thank you, President Grímsson, for the IcelandChina model that may be turning out to be saving the world.
Author: Hallur Hallson
Vice Premier Ma Kai with President Grímsson 2013
INSIDE ICELAND’S RENEWABLE ENERGY
Iceland has been a leader in utilising renewable energy for decades, from geothermal to hydropower. During the 20th century, Iceland went from one of Europe’s poorest countries, dependent upon peat and coal for its energy, to a country where practically all power is derived from renewable resources.
Generating geothermal energy Generating electricity with geothermal energy has increased significantly in Iceland in recent years. Geothermal power facilities generate 25% of the country’s total electricity production. It took a long road to get there.
“For Iceland, looking for alternative energy sources started with the energy
crisis in the 1970s as fuel prices were going up,” says Dr Guðni A. Jóhannesson, the Director General of Orkustofnun. “There was this national effort to turn from fossil fuels to geothermal energy to heat houses. Today, more than 90% of our heating for houses is from geothermal.”
Iceland’s success in this sector has inspired many countries. “It shows other countries what’s possible,” says Guðni. “We are distributed over an island, with only 360,000 people, and others can see how our investment has paid off. When people in Europe are now suffering from high energy prices because of the situation in Ukraine and the effect of fuel prices on the world market, we are heating our houses at steady prices. It makes a lot of
difference in a cold country, and other countries have looked at us as an example.”
Iceland’s precipitation and extensive vast highlands have an enormous energy potential for hydropower. Much of the rain is stored in ice caps and groundwater and dissipated by evaporation, groundwater flow and glacier flow. In 2014, Iceland’s hydroelectric power stations generated 72% of the country’s electricity production.
“We have also been active in the hydropower sector, and we are working internationally by helping other countries develop hydropower,” says Guðni. “In many cases, hydropower was not very popular due to mismanagement of social
Icelandic experts have cooperated internationally
Guðni A. Jóhannesson
issues and resettlement. Now there is a best practice protocol that makes it easier to implement hydropower.”
Sharing knowledge and resources abroad
Icelandic experts have shared their success in utilising renewable energy sources with countries around the world.
“There have been many opportunities to send our experts to different countries to help them utilise geothermal energy,” says Guðni. “This is significant, especially for developing countries where we lead geothermal training programmes.”
Icelandic experts have travelled to Indonesia, the Philippines, China, and Kenya, among other countries, to provide expert knowledge. “They are building out their geothermal capabilities and needed human resources,” says Guðni. “We can say Iceland has been a major player in these countries, and it’s very important for their economies and contribution to climate change obligations.”
Guðni adds: “We have a model that can be applied to more cities and countries. Those cities with geothermal heating can see that the pollution is significantly decreasing and the air is healthier to breathe.”
Icelandic experts have also helped Canada, the United States, Australia, Tasmania, and some African countries develop hydropower capabilities. “Africa has good potential for hydropower, but some countries need regional and social stability,” he says. “Off these big rivers, there are borders of two or three countries, so there needs to be cooperation between nations.”
The investments are worthwhile for many countries.
“Harnessing geothermal is an investment looked at as rather high, but you have a no-cost resource forever,” says Guðni. “That is, of course, very interesting to many countries, but it takes long-term thinking and commitment to see it through.”
THE ADMIRAL’S AND AMBASSADOR’S DEBATE ON UKRAINE CATCHES ATTENTION
The 2022 Arctic Circle Assembly was held in Reykjavík in midOctober with 2,000 participants from 70 countries attending more than 200 sessions. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, President of Iceland [1996-2016] welcomed Crown Prins Haakon of Norway. Other dignitaries were Katrín Jakobsdóttir, PM of Iceland, Múte Egede, PM of Greenland, Alar Karis, President of Estonia and Mary Simon, Governor of Canada. Prins Haakon showed a map of the Arctic saying to the audience: “This particular map is of great importance, not just to the four million people who inhabit this area. It is important to all of us. The Arctic is, in a way, the thermometer of the world. Here, the consequences of climate change are evident. And this map is a compelling image of our interconnectedness as a global community. Both east-west and north-south. Because – when ice melts in the north, the sea level rises in the tropical south.”
Múte Egede, prime minister of Greenland said: “We want growth in Greenland. We want green and sustainable development. This must be on our terms—and you are welcome if you respect and listen to us. When the focus is on Greenland, it is we who are the decision makers. We are the ones who show which direction to go ... Nothing about us, without us. Qujanaq”, meaning goodbye.
“The task is massive,” prime minister Katrín Jakosdóttir said. “Everything is changing! – We see more extreme weather around the globe. Only in the last two weeks, we saw hundreds of trees here in Iceland being ripped up by their roots because of extreme storms in the eastern part of the country. We see glaciers receding, permafrost melting, heat records being set and forests burning. All this is happening much faster in the Arctic, where the ecosystem is sensitive and the resources are great.” She said that Iceland will ban all oil drilling at its Dragon-area south of Jan Mayen by law.
Mary Simon, Governor of Canada, said that as an indigenous person, she calls the Arctic her home. “While the future of the circumpolar region remains bright, we also face many challenges. It will take all of us to make sure we remain on the right path for the benefit of Northern indigenous peoples and everyone else who calls the Arctic their home.”
NATO’s Admiral and China’s Ambassador
One of the most intriguing events was NATO’s Millitary Committee chairman’s interaction with the Chinese Ambassador. Dutch Admiral Rob Bauer said, “NATO will not ramp up activity in the Arctic after Sweden and Finland’s accession — unless
Russia makes offensive moves in the region. We will focus first and foremost on properly integrating Finland and Sweden into NATO.” He added that NATO would respond if Russia made the first move. NATO Allies are increasing their focus and capabilities in case of potential escalation in the North. “If the Russian actions basically force us to protect ourselves in a way that is different from what we do now, then that is the reason why we would be more present in the Arctic.”
Bauer said that NATO sees Russia as “...the most significant and direct threat to our security. We are seeing a disturbing pattern of increasingly aggressive behaviour... Russia seeks to destabilize countries through conventional, cyber, and hybrid means — including its recent invasion of Ukraine, which is causing an ...unprecedented level of destruction, violence, and displacement, reminiscent of Europe’s darkest days of the last century, when the rule of force eclipsed the rule of law.” Russia is NATO’s top threat at the moment, but Bauer also pointed to China’s increased presence in the region, including immense investments in energy, infrastructure and research. An Arctic with less ice means naval formations could move more quickly from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and submarines could … shelter in the Arctic everywhere,” Bauer said.
Arctic Circle Assembly 2022
Bauer: Why does China not condemn Russia
In a question-and-answer session after Bauer’s speech, The Chinese Ambassador to Iceland objected to his characterization, He Rulong said that the admiral’s remarks were “...filled with arrogance and also paranoia.” He argued that China’s activities in the Arctic should not be viewed with suspicion or singled out. Bauer replied: “I have a question for you, because you underline the principle of sovereignty and the importance of the internationally recognized borders in the world,” drawing applause. “I am correct, isn’t that true? Yes. So why is it possible then that China still is not condemning Russia’s attack in Ukraine?” Rulong replied that China’s view of the Ukraine crisis included a historic perspective and the world needs to “understand the root cause,” prompting scattered laughter when he called China “...the peacemaker in the world.”
Bauer said that the two Nordic countries’ close proximity to Russia — especially Finland’s long border with Russia — brought “...centuries’ worth of valuable knowledge and intelligence...” to the alliance, and the nations’ frequent joint military exercises over two decades means the Finnish and Swedish Armed Forces are already highly compatible with NATO. “Soon, with seven out of eight Arctic states being part of this great alliance, we will do everything we
can to make sure the Arctic remains free and open.”
The Admiral received a warm reception from the crowd, the Ambassador, scepticism and laughter. However, they shook hands afterwards and exchanged business cards. “It’s good to speak out and talk when you have different ideas”, the Ambassador tweeted afterwards. Their debate was covered in news media all over the world, not least USA and China. “I know of no other platform where discussions like these between representatives of NATO and China take place, with almost two thousand people present,” President Grímsson said to local newspaper Morgunbladid. “It was a special moment of high tension. All of the sudden, there was lively debate, truth to tell, quite extraordinary. You could hear a needle drop in Harpa’s huge assembly hall. Everyone present knew that this was a historical moment.”
Icelandair becomes partner of Arctic Circle
Icelandair and the Arctic Circle Assembly signed an agreement of cooperation with Icelandair becoming official partner of the Assembly. Icelandair will carbon offset all Icelandair flights concerning the Assembly. Icelandair CEO Bogi Nils Bogason said that its domestic flights would become sustainable through electrical powering. Iceland has a great
chance of becoming an electrical hub for flights across the Atlantic. “I’m of the opinion that it is advisable for Iceland to produce more green energy. We would help the world towards reaching its climate goals. Our partnership with the Arctic Circle Assembly is a part of Icelandair’s growing emphasis on sustainability and provides us with an important platform to participate in an active dialogue with key stakeholders, sharing our knowledge and learning from others. Our vision is to bring the spirit of Iceland to the world” CEO Bogason said.
Arctic Circle Prize 2022
The Arctic Circle Prize 2022 was presented by President Grímsson to the Alfred Wegener Institute and MOSAiC Expedition for their contributions to securing a sustainable and prosperous future in the Arctic and enhancing understanding of the pace of climate change in the world. The Frederik Paulsen Arctic Academic Action Award was awarded at the Arctic Circle Assembly for the second year in row. The Winners of the 2022 Award were Professor Hanne H. Christiansen and Associate Professor Marius O. Jonassen. Their winning project aims to develop an advanced permafrost and meteorological climate change response system in Arctic communities.
- Hallur Hallsson
At the beginning of the 20th century, Icelandic art was dominated by landscapes. Born in 1904, Gunnlaugur was to change that dramatically. Raised in East Iceland by a foster family, he adopted their family name, calling himself Gunnlaugur Scheving.
In 1921, his uncle introduced him to Einar Jónsson, Iceland’s leading sculptor. He attended Reykjavík’s first art school and had his first exhibition at only 17. Two years later, he enrolled in the art school in the Danish National Gallery, travelling between Iceland and Copenhagen to raise money for his studies. He entered the Academy in 1925, where he studied under Ejnar Nielsen and Aksel Jörgensen, and met his future wife, Grete Linck.
www.best-of-iceland.com 30 Reykjavik
The artist who challenged traditional views of art
Sailors in a boat 1947
Sea fog, 1968
Working in the Seyðisfjörður fishing industry in the summers, he sketched the working people around him. Taking his sketches back to Copenhagen, he embarked on a large painting called ‘The Skiff’, that was immediately bought for Listasafn Íslands, the new National
Gallery of Iceland, which now owns his works. Influenced by painters from the French and Italian schools, as well as Whistler, Munch, Krohg and Karsten, he developed his own style, featuring ordinary working people. Later, he illustrated the Icelandic Sagas and
themes of country life, interiors and the Virgin Mary. His last commission was for five paintings for the National Teacher Training College.
He died in December, 1972 and is remembered as a pioneer in Icelandic art.
Sea village Hauling the Shark, 1965
Taking on Climate Change with Renewable Energy and Green Production
Ljósafossstöð - It is planned to add an electrolyser to the hydroelectric plant to manufacture green hydrogen.
Developing solutions for emerging green energy opportunities
Green energy-intensive industries are critical in the fight against climate change, and Iceland-based Landsvirkjun is actively working toward solutions to supply renewable energy into this market. “The international opportunity in renewable energy and industrial production more generally is to fully take on solutions that mitigate climate change”, said Ríkarður Ríkarðsson, Executive Vice President of Business Development and Innovation at Landsvirkjun. “That really is what the renewable industry is trying to achieve internationally.” Iceland has numerous opportunities for business in green energy industries, including data centres, manufacturing batteries, food production and increasing production of environmentally-friendly electrofuels (e-fuels). “Landsvirkjun is actively developing its capabilities to develop and supply renewable energy solutions to future green industries”, he said.
Producing environmentally-friendly fuels
In order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, more green-energy sources need to be found. The production of green fuels, such as hydrogen or other e-fuels in the form of e.g. ammonia, methanol or methane is a central example of the many green opportunities waiting to be seized. “E-fuels are emerging as a likely huge sector”, said Ríkarður. “The strain on earth’s resources and climate is too great with our current paradigm of relying on fossil fuels for energy and massive land and freshwater use to support our food production. This needs
to change and evolve into a future system where we significantly increase renewable energy generation while reducing fossil fuel, land and freshwater use. This is a necessary tradeoff and balance we need to achieve to realise sustainable development. Roughly two thirds of Europe’s emissions can be addressed and managed through use of e-fuels. The remaining one third can be addressed through direct electrification and batteries. Both e-fuels and electrification rely on large increases in renewable energy generation.”
As noted, hydrogen and e-fuel production require a great amount of energy, and the demand for green hydrogen is expected to increase in the coming years. According to Iceland’s energy policy, the country intends to be free from using fossil fuels as the main energy source for transport by 2050. Iceland and other nations are in a position to benefit greatly from this development in economic, social and environmental terms. In Iceland, green fuel production will decrease petrol and diesel imports which leads to reduced greenhouse gas emissions and foreign currency reserve savings for the national economy. Over time, Iceland could become completely energy independent.
In Iceland, the data centre industry is well established and has been growing rapidly in recent years. A large reason why is the fact that the country is proven to mitigate risks, ensuring secure and stable operations for data centres. In recent years, Landsvirkjun has signed agreements with several international data centre service providers to supply certified and competitive renewable energy. These operations utilise 100% renewable hydro-electric, geothermal and onshore wind energy that allow them to provide certified green data services to their respective customers and end users.
Iceland has a young, educated and internationally-minded workforce, with high site availability and favourable business conditions, making Iceland an increasingly compelling option for data centres. The combination of competitive
natural and human resource means there is strong potential for continued data centre growth and associated job and value creation in Iceland.
Battery manufacturing is another interesting opportunity as the number of electric vehicles is growing rapidly and exponentially, which calls for a significant increase in the production of batteries. Numerous battery manufacturers are currently looking for suitable production sites across Europe and Iceland has attracted attention with potentially competitive sites.
Land is a big issue when it comes to renewable energy. “Land use is essential for producing competitive renewable energy
and green energy carriers such as e-fuels”, said Rikarður. “Therefore places that have the combination of land and infrastructure to build on have an opportunity and Iceland is one of those countries.” Iceland has great hydro and geothermal resources, but also a fantastic wind resource which, if harnessed, has the potential to competitively serve the island’s future renewable energy needs to accomplish total energy transition and independence as well as potential for export. “The land-use percentage for renewable energy generation in Iceland is currently around 0.3-0.4% while in Norway and Denmark it is around 1.5-2%”, he said. “If we go for land utilisation percentages similar to our neighbours in Norway and Denmark, we could become 100% renewably powered and help other countries get closer to the same goal of full energy transition.”
Fighting climate change
There are three main solutions to combatting climate change. “The first and most impactful is to significantly increase renewable energy generation as we need to switch over to renewable energy and away from fossil fuels”, said Rikarður. “Secondly, society needs to reduce the carbon footprint of production, thereby reducing our consumption footprint, using innovation and new or revised production processes. The third solution is capturing and using or disposing of the remaining carbon dioxide emissions. “These three factors are absolutely crucial for us to manage and master to get to a carbon neutral future”, said Rikarður. “If we can do this efficiently, we will solve climate change.”
There are huge investment opportunities in the renewable energy and carbon management sectors. “There is an ongoing massive transformation”, he said. “We want Landsvirkjun, Iceland and our partners to capture a share in these emerging and high-growth green energy markets while remaining competitive. We envision a future including our current customers and partners as well as new e-fuel customers, battery manufacturers, food producers, and data centres. Hopefully people connect to this vision in mind and spirit, seeing this will bring three key things most of us want for the future—clean air and water, a stable climate, and meaningful employment opportunities for us and next generations. This is how we sustainably strengthen our society, environment and economy and ultimately improve our quality of life.” -JG
One of the hydroelectric plants in the Sog-area is Steingrímsstöð but it opened in 1957. It utilises water from Efra-Sog, which falls from Þingvallavatn Lake to Úlfljótsvatn Lake.
Landsvirkjun has seven hydroelectric plants in the Þjórsá River area. Five in Þjórsá River itself, one in Tungnaá River and one in Köldukvísl River, which run across Þjórsá.
Turbines in Fljótsdalsstöð, the biggest hydroelectric plant in Iceland.
The Mansion of the Icelandic Soul
Gljúfrasteinn Museum is the Former Home
Gljúfrasteinn-Laxness museum, in the Mosfellsdalur valley, is only 20 minutes away from Reykjavík on the way to Þingvellir National Park. It was the home and workplace of Halldór Laxness, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955, and his family for more than half a century. It is now open to the public as a museum. Hardly anything has been changed in or around the museum since Laxness lived there and thus, it is a perfect example of how the cultural families of Iceland lived during a century of stunning changes, an era when Iceland took a leap from being a remote and tad reclusive fishing and farming community to becoming a player on the world stage.
Capturing the Soul
Laxness, who was born in 1902 and died in 1998, absorbed society’s players and all
its tiny steps as well as its big jumps, often foreseeing their consequences, and creating his much-loved literature from the fast-paced journey and characters the Icelanders dicuss and refer to as if they had actually existed. He totally captured the Icelandic soul.
In the reception building at Gljúfrasteinn, you can watch a multimedia presentation dedicated to Laxness’ life and work. Indeed, it is worth your while, as the writer was both interesting and fun, with a tremendous sense of humour. There is also a souvenir shop on the premises where Laxness’ books can be obtained in various languages.
The Source of Inspiration
The reason Laxness built his home here was his love for the Mosfellsdalur valley. He was born and raised in the valley. It was there, at his grandmother’s knee, that he learned to appreciate the different destinies
of the human race and develop a kindness towards those less fortunate—which is quite apparent in his novels. The area where Laxness spent his childhood became his source of inspiration throughout his life.
The garden at Gljúfrasteinn is open to the public and a number of pleasant walks can be taken throughout the area. Halldór Laxness spent long hours roaming the beautiful countryside around Gljúfrasteinn and visitors are encouraged to walk along both the river Kaldakvísl and around the valley, which were both his childhood haunts and his inspiration in later life.
If you already know Laxness’ work, you will love this museum. And if you don’t know it, the museum is your first step towards an unimaginably versatile and rich world.
If you are planning to visit during the summer check the museum’s schedule first. During June, July and August there are chamber concerts in the living room, which sports a grand piano, as Laxness was an excellent pianist himself. -SS
Gljúfrasteinn • 270 Mosfellsbær +354 586 8066 email@example.com www.gljufrasteinn.is
of Icelandic Writer Halldór Laxness
Land of Contrasts
The geology of Iceland
Iceland is a land of contrasts and diversity where beautifully colored lava, wide expanses of sand, and the power of its waterfalls all interplay. Only a short drive from Reykjavík one fi nds oneself in a vast wilderness where lava formations resemble modern sculpture, bubbling holes of mud with superheated water are found, glaciers fi ll valleys and geysers explode.
Geological Hot Spot
On a geological time scale, Iceland is a very young country. It is situated astride a divergent plate boundary, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and on top of a hotspot presumed to be fed by a deep mantle plume. At the plate boundary the two major plates, the Eurasia and North America Plates, move apart today with a velocity of about 19 mm/year. Th e divergence continues today and is accompanied by earthquakes, reactivation of old volcanoes and creation of new volcanoes. The best place in the world to study divergent plate boundaries is Þingvellir (Thingvellir), a short drive from Reykjavík where one can observe both faults and tension fissures related to the rifting and drifting of the North A merican and Eurasian plates away from each other.
Volcanic Eruptions Every Five Years
Iceland is one of the most active volcanic regions on earth, with eruption frequency of about 20 events per century. Iceland is home to more than 100 volcanoes and on average, a volcano erupts about every 5th year. Volcanoes define a wide spectrum of forms, ranging from a crack in the ground to the stately strato volcanoes like the Hekla volcano. Icelanders have learned
to live with natural disasters and there is a risk that eruptions could take place at any time.
Laki’s great eruption in 1783 is the largest lava eruption known to the world in historical times. Enormous quantities of lava poured out and devastated immense areas of land. Poisonous gases and ashes from the eruption led to crop failure and livestock deaths.
In the famine that followed, one fifth of Iceland’s population died. Fortunately for Iceland, such cataclysmic events are rare.
A recent major eruption took place in 1973 when, without warning, a new volcano erupted on the eastern side of Heimaey in the Westman Islands.
In 1963, further south, accompanied by columns of fi re, clouds of ash and rumbles of thunder, a completely new island emerged from the sea. Th is island is called Surtsey after Surtur, the fi re giant from Nordic mythology.
Melting the Ice Age Away
After the last Ice Age, the land had changed and great mountain ranges had grown from the sub-glacial eruptions. Composed mainly of crumbly rocks, like easily eroded tuff and rhyolite, they are the beautifully coloured mountains at Landmannalaugar, the mossclad cliff s of Þórsmörk and the grey ridges that transect the northern desert.
Where the eruptions were long enough, they broke through the ice and a hard cap of lava formed. After the ice melted, flattopped ‘table’ mountains appeared, of which Herðubreið is the most striking.
The older parts of Iceland, the east, north and north-west of the island were eroded during the Ice Ages and steepsided
valleys and fjords were formed. Those mountains are made of many layers of basalts from eruptions that built the foundations of the island. Because of Iceland’s location, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the island will be in the process of formation and transformation. Its old parts, the east and west carried away by the elements, while new parts are created by volcanic action.
The Alþingi at Þingvellir
Þingvellir National Park is perhaps the most important historical site in Iceland. From 930 to 1798 Þingvellir hosted the Alþingi, a general assembly where many of the major events in Icelandic history took place. It is included on the list of UNESCO’s world heritage sites as it is considered giving ‘a unique reflection of mediaeval Norse/ Germanic culture and one that persisted in essence from its foundation in 980 AD until the 18th century.’
A Nationwide Assembly of Free Men
Th e Alþingi initially was a general assembly of the nation, where the country’s most eminent leaders gathered to set laws and settle disputes. Th e Alþingi was considered the most important social gathering of the year and lasted two weeks each time. All free men were allowed to attend and the event frequently drew a large crowd of farmers, traders, storytellers, travellers and, of course, those who had disputes to settle. Th ese guests would each set up their own camps during Alþingi and fragments of around 50 booths built from turf and stone can still be found there today. At the centre of the assembly stands Lögberg, or Rock of Law, on top of which an appointed offi cial would direct the events and recite the laws of the land.
Decisions that Changed History
Many important decisions were taken at Þingvellir and perhaps the most important one was the adoption of Christianity in the year 1000. At that time, Iceland was divided into two factions: heathens and Christians. Each faction had its own lawmaker and refused to acknowledge the
other group’s legislation, thus threatening to dissolve Alþingi. Famously, the two lawmakers decided that the heathen lawmaker would decide which faith should prevail. Th e heathen lawmaker, named Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði, went to rest under a fur blanket, under which he stayed the whole night, before he gave his verdict: Iceland would adopt Christianit y, although heathens could practice their religion secretly. Th is coined a common saying in Iceland, ‘to lie down underneath the fur,’ which is said whenever a matter needs to be given serious thought.
Parliament Under the King
The Alþingi took on a different role in the later part of the 12th century, when the executive power was transferred to the King of Norway with the adoption of the new legal corpora of the codex Járnsíða in 1271 and Jónsbók in 1281. Now Alþingi shared formal legislative power with the king and both the king and Alþingi had to give its consent for laws to be passed. Toward the end of the 14th century Norway and Iceland were brought under the control of the Danish monarchy through royal succession. In 1662 Alþingi relinquished its autonomy to the Danish Crown, including legislative rights. Alþingi continued to be held at Þingvellir until 1798. Today Þingvellir is a protected national shrine. According to the law, passed in 1928, the protected area shall always be the property of the Icelandic nation, under the preservation of Alþingi.
A World Heritage Site
Þingvellir National Park is not only impressive for it’s historical importance, it is also a treasure in its own right. In the last
few decades, research has made it clear that Þingvellir is one of the natural wonders of the world, with the geologic history and biosystem of Lake Þingvallavatn forming a unique entity. Being able to witness the evolution and formation of new species in a place like Lake Þingvallavatn is of immense value. The Þingvellir area is part of a fi ssure zone running through Iceland, being situated on the tectonic plate boundaries of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Th e faults and fi ssures of the area make the rifting of the earth’s crust evident. Preservation measures at Þingvellir were modelled on the national parks that had been established somewhat earlier in the United States to stem changes to the natural environment there resulting from encroachment by settlers. National parks conserved large uninhabited areas, which people could visit and enjoy - but not settle or develop.
Preserved for the World’s Enjoyment
Iceland identifi ed a similar need to preserve certain natural and historical sites for future generations to enjoy them in their original state. Today, Þingvellir is one of the most frequently visited tourist sites in the country. Each year, thousands of visitors go there to become better acquainted with Iceland’s greatest historical site and jewel of nature.
The World’s Longest Running Parliament at the Continental Divide
ENJOY THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT
Visit the annual Christmas Village minutes from downtown Reykjavík
Hafnarfjörður is a picturesque town with a scenic harbour, pretty parks, and interesting museums that are great to visit any time of year. But the town really comes alive in the weeks before Christmas, when it transforms into a winter wonderland.
Hafnarfjörður’s annual Christmas Village is an enchanting experience, with family and friends gathering and enjoying the atmosphere. There is a group of Christmas-designed stalls selling everything from snacks and hot chocolate to Icelandic crafts. It’s the ultimate Christmas market in Iceland; the Icelandic Yule Lads make regular visits to the village, delighting Icelandic children and tourists alike. The Christmas Village has been going strong since it debuted in 2003, and it’s always something to look forward to.
A recent charming addition to the Christmas Village is an ice skating rink, Hjartasvellið. Here, you can rent skates and glide on the rink, soaking in the wintry atmosphere. After some time on the synthetic ice, it’s lovely to sip a hot chocolate and buy some snacks from local vendors at the Christmas Village.
Meanwhile, Hellisgerði will be decked out in its Christmas costume— thousands of lights illuminating the park. Many choose to take a walk through the park before a visit to the Christmas Village to bask in the warm glow of the lights and enjoy the surroundings. The park, which is home to Álfabúðin (The Elf Shop), is delightful to visit, and it’s open over the weekends before Christmas. Here, you can enjoy gingerbread and cocoa,
shop Icelandic crafts and learn about the folklore of elves.
Hafnarfjörður is a bustling, scenic town with a lot to see and do. When not enjoying the Christmas Village, guests can visit museums for free, go swimming, and enjoy the town’s shops, cafes and restaurants. For a bit of culture, the Hafnarborg Center of Culture and Fine Art has two galleries with rotating exhibitions ranging from contemporary art by modern Icelandic artists to works by some of the island’s most celebrated artists of years past.
Visiting the cosiest Christmas town in Iceland is a must during December. The soft Christmas lights and warmth of the town are irresistible. And, it’s easy to get there as there is ample parking for your rental car or if taking public transport, bus number 1 takes you from downtown Reykjavík to the heart of Hafnarfjörður in 20 minutes. The Christmas town of Hafnarfjörður is eager to welcome you on your next December visit to Iceland.
www.best-of-iceland.com 38 Reykjavik
The MosT IMporTanT FIshIng naTIon In europe
Iceland is home to one of the world’s most modern and competitive fishing industries, based on the protection of the marine ecosystem and a sustainable harvest. Fisheries remain one of the strongest sectors of the Icelandic economy, making it responsible for a large share of both the GDP and the nation’s export revenue. Iceland, which is a small country with just 370,000 inhabitants, is undeniably one of the world’s leaders in total fisheries but has, in recent years, also become a leading country in the advancement of marine technology, fish detection instruments, as well as maintaining a sophisticated fishing sector,
exporting world-class produce around the world. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of fish to Icelanders, and it has been the nation’s backbone throughout the centuries as its chief food supply and main export product. Historical evidence suggests that Icelandic fish export dates back to the 12th century at the very latest, so Iceland has centuries of experience.
The fishing industry is one of the main pillars of the Icelandic economy. According to data released by Statistics Iceland, Iceland is the most important fishing nation in Europe. That year,
Iceland was the third largest fishing nation in Europe after Norway and Spain and the 23rd largest fishing nation in the world. China was the largest fishing nation in the world in 2018.
Iceland’s fishing industry is one of the key industries in Iceland and directly employs around 7,500 people or approximately 4% of the total workforce on the island. The fishing industry contributed 8.1% to the GDP directly and 25% if an account is taken of the indirect effects of the ocean cluster. Additionally, in 2020, the export production of marine products amounted to ISK 270 billion (€1.8 billion), a total of 604 thousand tonnes.
Iceland’s exclusive fisheries zone has an impressive 760,000 square kilometres, seven times the area of Iceland itself. Some of the most extensive fish stocks in the North Atlantic are found within Icelandic waters, including halibut, haddock, and cod, which is Iceland’s most important stock.
is one of the pillars of Iceland’s economy, and the country is a leader in fishing sustainability.
The Icelandic fisheries management system was implemented to ensure responsible fisheries, an important issue for Iceland. The fisheries management in Iceland is based on extensive research on fish stocks and the marine ecosystem. Decisions on allowable catches for quotas are made based on advice from the Icelandic Marine Research Institute. Catches are then monitored and enforced by the Directorate of Fisheries. These are the main pillars of the Icelandic fisheries management intended to ensure responsible fisheries and the sustainability of the North Atlantic Ocean’s natural resources.
Rapid advances in Icelandic fisheries have been accompanied by the development of manufacturing and service industries that draw on long experience of the practical needs of fishing and fish processing operations. The fishing fleet is equipped with advanced technology; the same is true for
the processing facilities on land. Among the leading fields are software, electronic and digital equipment, as well as landbased weighing and process control.
A wide selection of packaging for handling storage and retailing of fresh and frozen products are made in Iceland, as well as trawl nets, safety equipment and protective clothing. Icelandic manufacturers have designed and installed many processing plants around the world for companies ranging from vessel owners to industrial food processors.
Sustainable and responsible harvesting of wild fish stocks in Icelandic waters and good treatment of the marine ecosystem are of fundamental importance to Iceland. The fishing industry in Iceland is meeting the demands of buyers for sustainable use of marine resources with the Iceland Responsible Fisheries programme, developed based on commitments made through national law and international agreement.
Fish farming is on the rise in Iceland, as the total production of farmed fish in Iceland in 2017 was nearly 21,000 tonnes. Iceland has taken pride in the fact that several fish diseases are not found in Icelandic-farmed fish, and all reasonable precautions are taken to prevent the introduction of new fish pathogens to the Icelandic aquatic environment.
Atlantic salmon has seen considerable fluctuations in production, from almost 7,000 tonnes in 2006 down to just 292 tonnes in 2008 and 3,260 tonnes in 2015. The production growth has since been high; in 2017, the production reached over 11,000 tonnes. It is expected that salmon will remain the most important farmed species in Iceland over the next several years, with annual production expected to rise to 22,000 tonnes.
Iceland’s fishing industry is thriving and remains one of the most important in Europe.
The Northern Lights season
From September to Mid-April with Reykjavik Excursions
Reykjavik Excursions is one of Iceland’s oldest and most popular tour companies. In this way, Reykjavik Excursions has the possibility to offer to its clients more than two hundred different tours: it won’t be hard to find something interesting.
The winter time is when you can see the Northern Lights. With plenty of darkness and often clear skies, it is the season to enjoy the Lights and Reykjavik Excursions offers different variations of Northern Lights tours.
From the original Northern Lights tour, to a tour where the hunt for the Northern Lights is combined with a stop at the most beautiful geothermal spas Iceland has to offer, everyone should be able to find something to their liking.
Northern Lights Tour
This is the original Northern Lights tour. The destination varies between days, depending on the weather forecast and where the best Northern Lights sightings are expected to be. The sky is often lit up in a breathtaking dance of colours, ranging from green to purple.
The guide will tell you all about the Northern Lights on the tour and, if you do not see them, you can rebook again free of charge.
What to Bring
Warm clothing is essential, as you’ll hopefully spend some time outdoors, enjoying the Lights. Wear a hat, gloves, warm shoes and socks and several layers of clothes. Photographers love shooting the Northern Lights for good reason! They
can usually get a picture that far exceeds what the human eye can see.
Photographers should bring a tripod and an external shutter release for the time exposures. After manually setting the focus to infinity, your camera settings should be as follows: ISO 200, f 2.8 and expose for 30 seconds. Please note that the use of built-in or external flashguns disturbs other guests as the eyes need some time to adjust to the darkness for Northern Lights viewing.
Warm Baths & Cool Lights
Reykjavik Excursions offers special tour combos where you can relax in one of the most precious geothermal spas you can find in Iceland. You can choose between the renowned Blue Lagoon, the naturesoaking Fontana in Laugarvatn or the
Sky Lagoon, the newest spa in the city of Kópavogur.
From the BSÍ bus terminal, you are taken to the geothermal baths of your choice. There, you will get ample time to have a soak and enjoy the purest geothermal waters on earth. After this relaxing time, you will go out for a hunt for the Northern Lights with Reykjavik Excursions’ specialised guides, which hopefully will give you the show of a lifetime.
Reykjavik Excursions is much more Apart from Northern Lights tours, Reykjavik Excursions offers different kinds of tours, thanks to the alliance with other companies which operate within Icelandia. With companies like Icelandic Mountain Guides and Dive.is, you can find all kinds of tours to fill all
your Icelandic desires. You can go from a walk on the top of a glacier with Icelandic Mountain Guides down to a swim in the deep core of the European rift in the crystal clear Silfra river with Dive.is. Then, if you are adventurous enough, you can try their ATV and snowmobile tours as well!
The tour company’s webpage is also full of information on all the tours it has on offer. There it is possible to book tickets for all of their tours, including the Flybus and Blue Lagoon transfers. Reykjavik Excursions runs a pick-up service to many of Reykjavík’s hotels, hostels and guesthouses, called Flybus+.
Reykjavik Excursions by Icelandia
BSÍ Bus Terminal • 101 Reykjavík +354 580 5400 firstname.lastname@example.org www.re.is
FroM rock Quarry To cIT y L andM ark
A Brief History of Skólavörðustígur
One of Reykjavik’s most notable landmarks is Hallgrímskirkja, which towers over the cityscape from a hill in the city’s centre. The street leading up to the church is famous for its bustling street life, diverse restaurants, art galleries, innovative design shops and quality shopping.
The rock collectors
Given Reykjavik’s relatively short history, it is hard to imagine that, only two centuries ago, a group of schoolboys collected rocks and stones from the area, scaled the hill and proudly raised a cairn to honour their newly built school nearby. The year was 1793, only sevens years into Reykjavik’s official trading town status, and the hill had not yet been built upon and, in fact, was registered as a falcon reservation at the time.
No horses allowed
The hill was thus named Skólavörðuholt, which literally translates School cairn’s hill. The cairn didn’t prove to be a durable
construction and fell into disrepair, so city officials took action. A seven-metre high tower was raised in 1834 on the top of the hill, providing splendid views over the city. The city also committed to maintain the tower and the surrounding area and thus a road leading up the hill was built. The road was given the name Skólavörðustígur and was meant as a scenic pedestrian street and therefore all traffic by horse was forbidden (also to minimize the road’s maintenance). The ban on horse traffic proved to be difficult as the hill was also used as a rock quarry for constructions in the city, especially the harbour area, which meant hauling rocks down the slope had to be done by manpower.
A man with a vision
The first buildings started rising around Skólavörðuholt in the mid-19th century, some of which are still standing and preserved by the city, including the stillused city prison. In the early 20th century, Guðjón Samúelsson, the state architect of Iceland had big plans for Skólavörðuholt as a centre of culture, education and religion. Although those ambitious plans didn’t work out as the university was given land further to the west, he did design the majestic church that stands there today.
Make room for Leif
The statue of Leif Eiriksson, the first European to discover North America, on Skólavörðuholt was a gift from the United States for Iceland’s millennium celebration of Althingi’s founding in 1930, but to make room for the generous gift, the tower on Skólavörðuholt was demolished, leaving people without a favourable view over the city.
This was remedied as Samúelsson’s plans for Hallgrímskirkja, the grand church on top of Skólavörðuholt named after Iceland’s primary psalm composer, Hallgrímur Pétursson, were made into reality. He started designs in 1937 and construction started in 1945, though the church wasn’t completed until 1986 - 36 years after Samúelsson’s death.
A Lasting Monument
The church has proven to be a lasting monument, as the surrounding area has changed from a rock quarry with a cairn on top into a lively and colourful neighbourhood where Reykjavik’s top chefs, designers, craft folk and artists congregate. -VAG
Photo from the year 1902 of a seven-metre high tower was raised in 1834 on the top of the hill, providing splendid views over the city on “School cairn’s hill”
ABOUT EINAR THORSTEINN ASGEIRSSON
An Exceptional Scholar and Designer
EINAR THORSTEINN was born with both unusual artistic abilities and also high sensitivity to engineering. He graduated from the University of Technology in Hanover in 1969 and then worked in the Studio of architect Frei Otto, who was the world’s pioneer of lightweight buildings. For example, he created the technical foun
dations of the transparent tent that was built over the main fields of the Munich Olympics in 1972. Frei Otto was post humously awarded the Pritzker Archi tecture Prize for his work.
During this time, Einar Thorstein also got in contact with Buckminster Fuller, who designed the geodesic dome of the USA pavilion for the Montreal Expo
in 1967. Gradually, Einar Thorsteinn became a great scholar in the theories underlying these two areas of design and built many dome and tent buildings in Iceland and elsewhere.
In order to become a creative designer in these areas, Einar Thorsteinn had to dive deep into various laws of nature and mathematics. His best tool for his
ETh in his model room
The first dome
A tent at the Blue Lagoon
Overview of polyhedreons
research was to make models resembling crystals. Linus Pauling, the main scholar specialising in crystals, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his pioneering research in this field. Einar Thorsteinn corresponded with him, discussing issues surrounding crystalline structures. Like Fuller, he came to Iceland three times for scholarly exchanges with Einar Thorsteinn.
In 2000 Einar moved to Berlin to work in Olafur Eliasson’s Studio. There he assisted the artist in the design of numerous sculptures, many of which are based on Einar’s spatial research. Einar worked with Eliasson till 2012, when he moved back home to Iceland.
In 2011 Hafnarborg, The Museum of Hafnarfjordur, created an exhibition of Einar Thorsteinn’s work. It was initiated by Olof K. Sigurdardottir, the director of the museum. She hired Goddur, a Professor of the Art Academy of Iceland and architect Petur H. Armannsson, as curators. They also edited the 96-page exhibition volume: “Hugvit2 (The Genius of the Mind)”. In the preface, Ms Sigurdardottir says about Einar Thorsteinn: “His works reflect his great knowledge and unique vision of the laws of nature...” On the work of the curators, Ms Sigurdardottir says: “They have been able to create a picture of a designer and
no less, of a thinker...”. In an article in the exhibition volume, Armannsson says: “Einar Thorsteinn is undoubtedly one of the most distinguished and most imaginative thinkers that the Icelandic nation has produced” and “He is the space age man of Icelandic architecture...”. -TV
Museum of Design and Applied Art Garðatorg 1, 210 Garðabær www.honnunarsafn.is
ETh and connecting points
Dwellings for theologians
A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE OF ICELAND’S WHALING
In June 2022 Iceland resumed commercial whaling after halt of four years. Two whaling ships owned by Hvalur hf. (Whale Ltd) – left Reykjavík harbour. 100 days later, the whaling vessels had caught 148 fin whales. Kristján Loftsson, CEO of Hvalur hf. was quoted saying that the whaling season had gone well and the company would resume whaling in 2023. There had been abundance of whales south and south-west of Iceland. The whale hunting quota issued by Iceland’s Marine Research Institute was 161 fin whales. The whaling season ended in September.
As early as the 12th century, Icelanders hunted whales with spears from open boats. Whales would be harpooned and drift ashore. Farmlands situated on isolated
fjords in the Westfjords of Northern Iceland and Reykjanes in the Southwest were sought after because of whale and timber drifting ashore. The Basques started commercial whaling in Iceland after retreating from Newfoundland towards the end of the 16th century. The Basques built whaling stations in the early 1600s; the best known being at Strákatangar (Boys’ cove) at Strandir in the east Westfjords, where tobacco pipes have been excavated. The whalers would sell tobacco and other goods to the locals and buy fish, sheep and wool garments.
The murder of the Basques During the infamous Monopolistic Trade Period between1603-1787, Danes banned ‘foreigners’ as their colonizing
grip on the Icelanders tightened. At the Althing 1615, King Christian IV’s letter was read, banning all foreign whaling off the coast of Iceland. That summer, three Basque whaling vessels were stationed at Strandir in eastern Westfjords, where whale oil was processed. The Basques prepared to leave for their homeland in September, 1615. A severe storm hit the vessels and they ran aground. Eightythree seamen survived, three drowned. The shipwrecked Basques rowed north by Hornstrandir to Ísafjarðardjúp in their small boats, as they had been told that an old sailing ship might take them to their homes. They divided into several groups, one with seventeen sailors staying at Æðey Ísafjarðardjúp (Æder Island), where five of them were killed by locals. Others sailed further to Leirufjörður and fifty-one took over the sailing shipl to take them home. The conditions were harsh and, in order to survive, the Basques committed robberies. The locals
Photo: Friðþjófur Helgason Text: Hallur Hallson
sought them out and in total, thirty-one Basques was killed. It is believed that the rest escaped by boarding a British vessel, returning home in the year 1616.
The Norwegians arrive
In the late 19th century, the Norwegians arrived and founded whaling companies, operating fourteen whaling stations on the east and west coasts producing much sought-after whale oil. The first Icelandic Company was established in 1897 but went bankrupt 15 years later. However local
sentiments towards the Norwegians were mixed. In 1913, a total ban on whaling was enacted to preserve whale stocks for Icelandic interests, due to a perceived Norwegian threat. In 1935 a law declared that whales in Icelandic territorial waters could only be hunted by Icelanders.
Icelanders take over
In 1948 the Icelandic Hvalur hf. (Whale Ltd) purchased the American naval base at Hvalfjörður (Whale Fjord) – north of Reykjavík and converted it into a
whaling station. Hvalfjörður had played a crucial part in the Battle of the Atlantic during World War II. Into the early 1950s, Norwegian crews were involved in training Icelandic whalers. In 1949, the International Whaling Commision – IWC– was established, publishing guidelines for the international regulation of whaling. Iceland was a member of the IWC from the outset. In 1982, the IWC voted in favour of a moratorium on commercial whaling to come into force in 1986. Under pressure from US, Iceland did not object to the ban. However, Iceland submitted proposals to continue whaling for research purposes to be funded by selling whale meat to Japan. The proposal was rejected by the IWC scientific committee.
As Iceland continued whaling, international pressure grew. The conservation group Greenpeace sent their ship, The Rainbow Warrior in protest as did the militant Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. In 1986, the Sea Shepherd group sabotaged the whaling station at Hvalfjörður and sank two whaling boats in Reykjavík harbour. Sanctions followed as international pressure grew.
Iceland left the IWC in 1992 but later made unsuccessful attempts to re-join. In 2003, Iceland proposed to resume research whaling after a 14-year break. Over the next four years Iceland caught minke whales and issued licences for commercial whaling. The struggle continued with protests from USA, UK, France, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Australia and Brazil. The country was at odds with its allies. Iceland returned to commercial whaling in 2013 but stopped in 2020, during the Covid pandemic. Iceland has now resumed whaling and so the struggle continues. However, resistance grows from within.
Coming to an end?
Early in 2022, Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir stated in Morgunblaðið that there is ‘little reason’ to permit whaling after the current licence expires in 2023. She claims that whaling is economically of little value and the negative impact is considerable. The government plans to carry out an assessment on the potential economic and social impact of whaling.
When the price of fossil fuels is high and the pollution that such combustion emits into the atmosphere is a serious problem, it is very beneficial to have district heating as 89.6% of all housing in Iceland uses.
Iceland’s first real district heating was installed in Laugaskóli, the school in Reykjadalur, Suður-Þingeyjarsýsla. It was first used in 1924. The first district heating in Reykjavík was in Austurbæjarskóli. A 3 km pipeline was laid from Laugardalur to heat the school in 1930.
Today Veitur operates thirteen district heating utilities, one in the entire capital area, five in the West, and seven in the South. The company serves up to 70% of the population, a truly giant company in its field in the world. The company distributes 89.9 million cubic metres of hot water per year. The length of the district heating pipes is 3,066 km or 1,905 miles, from 78 utilized boreholes. The average annual consumption of Icelandic homes is 4.5 tonnes of hot water per square metre of housing.
Photo and text: Páll Stefánsson
There is a borehole at the west end of the Hilton hotel by Suðurlandsbraut. At the entrance of the American Embassy at Engjateigur is hot water well.
Solar energy and geothermal energy in the centre of Reykjavík.
Borehole by Kringlumýrarbraut, the Japanese Embassy and Valhöll, the Independence Party’s headquarters, in the background.
Sustainable artisan knifemaking in Iceland
whales. If we buy wood, we only buy from specially certified companies in the USA, which can reliably prove that the trees were legally chopped down.” Additionally, they get wood from old trees in Iceland that need to be cut down.
When people think about knifemaking, nature and waterfalls are probably the last things that come to mind. However, that is precisely what you find when you visit Páll Kristjánsson’s and Soffía Sigurðardóttir‘s world-renowned sustainable knife atelier. Situated in the idyllic Álafosskvos in Mosfellsbær, only a 15-minute drive from downtown Reykjavík, the atelier offers some of the best knives you will ever own.
Páll Kristjánsson, or Palli as he likes to be called, has been making knives for over 30 years. His craftsmanship is renowned worldwide, but his knives are unique because he only uses sustainable materials. “Soffía and I use materials that otherwise would be thrown away and
give them a new life”, Palli says. “Some of the materials we use are birch, rowan, horses’ hooves, reindeer antlers, sheep horns and whale teeth.” As a result, every knife is one of a kind and made with Japanese Damascus steel or stainless steel from Denmark, Germany and Sweden.
Soffía Sigurðardóttir’s artisan kitchen knives are made with only the best blades, which have to be handled with care. She is also the only kitchen-knifemaker in Iceland. “I get inspiration from nature and my surroundings when I’m creating the knives. One colour combination of rust-red and green, I got from a ship in the shipyard in the Old Harbour in Reykjavík”, Soffía says.
“Sustainability and the environment are very important to us. No animals are hunted for us. The ram horns and horse hooves come from slaughtered animals, and the ivory comes from beached
It’s not only Palli and Soffía who sell their art in the atelier. Palli’s brother Bjarni is also an artist. His primary medium is ebony and ivory, from which he carves out small animals and other figures. Just like Palli and Soffía, his materials are sustainably sourced.
Visiting the atelier gives a particular sensation of calmness. It is evident the work done there is done with care. The smell of the different woods and leather of the sheaths, combined with the calm sounds of birds chirping and the waterfall, which is literally in their backyard, makes for an exceptional experience. One which is highly recommended. -HDB
Álafossvegur 29 • 270 Mosfellsbæ
Páll Kristjánsson: +354 899 6903 www.knifemaker.is
Soffía Sigurðardóttir: +354 895 7654 www.kitchenknives.is Bjarni Kristjánsson: +354 697 6294 www.bj-art.is
One of a kind knives that will last you a lifetime
InTerv Iew w ITh a wha Le
On the first weekend of August in 2009, which is a national holiday in Iceland, I had an experience that has changed my life. I was staying with my family on the Hella farm in Steingrímsfjörður in the Westfjords. It’s a wonderful place where you can immerse yourself in nature, and listen to the grass growing. On the far side of the fjord you’ll find Hólmavík, a fishing village with a few hundred inhabitants. At the mouth of the fjord there is Drangsnes with a similar population, and finally, the island of Grimsey, which is only inhabited by puffins.
Adventure in the morning
On this morning, our kids had made their way to the beach early, looking for adventure. Usually nothing happens when you are looking for adventure. But this morning was very different. Our kids found a whale on the Hveravík beach. A real blue whale that was still alive, blowing water fountains into the air. We all rushed to the beach and gazed at one of the largest living animals in the world, right in front of us. It must have been hunting for mackerel and got too close to the beach and became stranded in the shallow water. Mackerel have previously not been so far north, but marine scientists believe that the increased temperature of the oceans is responsible for this new development.
With the whale in the water I dressed in my wetsuit, my friends tied a rope around my waist to secure me and I started wading through the water to the colossus. What an incredible feeling to touch him, to sit on his back, to feel its gurgling and bubbling, while little fountains of water escaped from its blowholes! It seemed like the whale knew
exactly that we wanted to help. That was not easy, as it must have weighed 200 tons.
To the rescue!
The 20-ton MS Sundhani from Drangsnes came to our aid and, with the help of the approaching high tide we would try to drag the whale into deeper water. We tied a rope around its tail and succeeded, using all the machinery to the full, to actually move the colossus. It responded initially with some panic movements, which is understandable, but then it calmed down and followed the ship out into the fjord. Half of the rescue of this magnificent creature was done!
Magic between whale and human
In the end, the removal of the rope was rather a larger problem, and we finally decided to just cut it. This was the start of the second incredible story, as the whale remained close to the ship. Not only that but it swam around it several times and picked up the rope with its head, as if it wanted us to understand that the loose, hanging rope would cause its death.
So I went into the water one last time—this time on my own and in full confidence that
An incredible story from the Westfjords by Magnús Kristjánsson www.icelandictimes.fr
the whale would trust me. And the miracle happened—the whale lay calmly in the water and waited, until I had removed the rope. Only then did it swim quietly away.
Later, from the beach, I could watch my friend for a long time, breaking through the waters of the fjord, on his way to freedom. We both learned a lot that day.
Focus on French Magnús company, Aðalsendibílar focusses on the needs of French visitors, with all the guides being graduates in French.
Tours for groups large and small Tours run throughout the year, with vehicles to suit the conditions and the groups’ needs. Whether a coach for large groups or SuperJeeps for smaller groups, the tours visit all the main sites and custom tours are a speciality. -DT
Islande.is +354 772 5225 email@example.com www.islande.is
www.best-of-iceland.com 52 52
Árbær Open Air Museum
Step back into past while exploring these historic buildings
Reykjavík City Museum was founded in 2014 when The Settlement Exhibition, Reykjavik Maritime Museum, Reykjavik Museum of Photography, Viðey Island and Árbær Open Air Museum were combined into one museum.
Árbær was a traditional farm on a hill just east of Elliðaá River. Through the centuries, it was a resting place to and from the entire Seltjarnarnes Peninsula, including Reykjavík. The last inhabitants of Árbær left in 1948, and nine years later, the Reykjavík town council agreed to rebuild the farm. It was decided that a collection of culturally important houses would also get a home there. There are over twenty buildings in the museum today, most of them from Reykjavík’s centre. The first house to be moved to Árbær Open Air Museum was Hansen’s House, named after merchant Símon Hansen, who built it at Pósthússtræti 15, just east of Reykjavík Cathedral in 1823. The house represents the oldest type of half-timbered House in Reykjavík. Many renowned people lived in the house, such as Jón Árnason, a collector of folklore, Sigurður Guðmundsson, Iceland’s first painter, and photographer Sigfús Eymundsson. Sigfús was a pioneer in photography in Iceland, a bookseller, and an enthusiastic seller of one-way trips to North America.
The Árbær Open Air museum is a fun and lively museum. Guðbrandur Benediktsson is the director of Reykjavík City Museum.
Hansen’s House, the first house to be moved to the museum in 1960, was originally built at Pósthússtræti 15 in 1823
Árbær Open Air Museum is popular among tourists
The original Árbær farm
Árbær Open Air Museum.and the church of Árbær, Kópavogur can be seen in the distance
It is not difficult to find your way around Árbær Open Air Museum
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN REYKJAVÍK
The Cathedral of Christ the King, Landakotskirkja, stands at the top of Landakotshæðinn in the western part of Reykjavík.
The National Church of Iceland is Lutheran, with 70% of Icelanders registered in it. The history of Christianity is as old as the settlement in the country, but Icelanders converted to Christianity (Roman Catholicism) in the Alþingi of 1000. The Reformation took place here in 1550 after Jón Arason, bishop of Hólar in Hjaltadalur, was beheaded in 1550, along with his sons. The first Catholic priest since the Reformation, the Frenchman, Bernard, came here around 1860, bought the Landakot cottage on the outskirts of Reykjavík and built a small chapel near the town in 1864. After the First World War, Catholics in Iceland began to discuss building a new and larger church. The architect Guðjón Samúelsson was commissioned to design a church in the neo-Gothic style. When the church was consecrated in July 1929, it was the largest church in the country. Guðjón designed many historic buildings in the capital, including the Lutheran Hallgrímskirkja, the largest church in the country at the top of Skólavörðuholt.
A workplace like the Boatyard in Reykjavíkurhöfn (Reykjavík harbour) is a lively spot in the middle of the city.
Looking north up Bergstaðastræti towards Skólavörðustígur.
THE CHARMING ÞINGHOLT
Þingholt is a neighbourhood in the centre of Reykjavík. Bergstaðastræti can be called its main artery. The street extends from Landspítali University Hospital by Barónsstígur to Laugavegur, the primary and oldest shopping street in Reykjavík.
Hotel Holt, one of the more luxurious and older hotels in the country, noted for its art collection, is on this street. The Kaffibarinn bar is on the street, too. It has been one of the most popular bars in the country for the last 25 years. The Gandhi Indian restaurant is there also, where you can even buy Greenland beer.
LIVELY REYKJAVÍK HARBOUR
Iceland is the 19th largest fishing nation globally and number three in Europe, after Russia and Norway. In terms of per capita, it is by far the largest in the world, after the Faroe Islands, as the country catch measures just over a million tonnes of fish a year. The stern trawler Bergur VE 44 (pictured) was built in Denmark 23 years ago and arrived in the Westman Islands from Norway 6 years ago. Bergur is 36 metres long and 569 GT (Gross ton) in size. It was being repaired in the boatyard in Reykjavík recently. Vísir, the Grindavík fishing company, bought the trawler from the Westman Islands, to be delivered to the company shortly. Forty-six trawlers fish around Iceland, but they are by far the largest fishing vessels fishing in the Icelandic fishing jurisdiction. There are 649 other fishing vessels, according to Statistics Iceland.
Photo and text: Páll Stefánsson
KEFLAVIK INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
Isavia reports KEF Continues Growth while Increasing Service
Iceland is clearly having a moment; tourism is booming and travellers can’t get enough of the island’s natural wonders. Keflavik International Airport is one of the fastest growing in Europe. During the summer months, Isavia, which oversees Keflavik International Airport, reports that over 20 airlines are flying to dozens of destinations.
Increase in flights
The growth after the height of the Covid-19 pandemic has been swift. In September 2022, 653,622 passengers travelled through KEF airport, an increase even compared to the same month pre Covid-19 in 2019. The rapid rise in numbers can be challenging for staff, but there are hard-working and positive staff members working for Isavia and the other companies providing services at the airport. It can be challenging to maintain a high level of passenger satisfaction at a time of very rapid growth for many years. However, it can be seen in the Airport Council International’s Airport Service Quality surveys that the staff work
hard to keep the airport at the same top service level even under a lot of pressure.
When arriving at KEF
Separate from expansion plans, there are several conveniences to enjoy at KEF. For instance, travellers can sign into free Wi-Fi to let friends and family know that they have arrived safely and to catch up on the news. There are numerous eateries at the airport and, after passing through immigration, travellers can get something to eat before going on their way and exploring the natural wonders of Iceland. For instance, the airport is home to international chains Joe and the Juice and Jómfrúin, which serve healthy food options.
Before collecting baggage, travellers can visit the Duty-Free shop, which is located in the same area as the baggage claim. You can buy everything from perfume and candy to alcohol and skincare products, all tax and duty-free.
When Departing KEF
It is recommended that passengers arrive 2.5 hours before departure, then there is plenty of time to relax and enjoy the commercial area. If you travel with Icelandair or PLAY, you can use the super-easy self-check-in counters and bag drops. Travellers are welcome to sign back into the free wifi and enjoy the many shops, where they can buy souvenirs and gifts to take home for family and friends.
Shopping at KEF
Keep in mind that KEF is one of the few airports in the world where all retail, food and beverage outlets are duty-free for all passengers. You can find all major Icelandic designers and high-end brands like 66 North, Blue Lagoon, and Epal. The shops are both Duty-Free and Tax-Free for all passengers regardless of what passport you may hold or which country you are flying to or from. The Duty Free stores are open according to passenger flights through Keflavik Airport.
FILMING IN ICELAND
Iceland’s unique landscape, from bubbling hot springs to erupting volcanoes, attracts film productions from around the world. There’s increasing demand to capture Iceland’s dramatic landscapes in feature films and television series and to take advantage of an attractive incentive scheme.
Over the past few years, some of the biggest movies and television shows have been filmed in Iceland, including Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Thor: The Dark World, Justice League, and Game of Thrones.
Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur recently opened two film studios in Iceland, RVK Studios, to accommodate the growing demand. RVK Studios has produced the Hollywood films Two Guns, Contraband, and Everest and the Icelandic television series Trapped and Katla.
Iceland may seem like an unlikely location to film, but new productions are announced all the time as the beauty of the island draws them in. Indeed, Iceland’s landscape is unrivalled, from wondrous waterfalls to the desert-like highlands; the contrast of landscapes is breathtaking.
Another Iceland-based production company, Truenorth, has worked on productions including The Northman, Dune, The Midnight Sky, and Blade Runner 2049.
Attractive tax incentives
Another part of Iceland’s appeal is due to the Icelandic government’s programme to reimburse up to 35% of the costs incurred while producing films and television programmes in Iceland. Production cost payments to employees and contractors are accepted if they are verifiably taxable in Iceland.
All productions for feature films, television shows and documentaries filmed in Iceland are eligible for a 25% refund, no matter the project’s total cost. To receive 35%, a production must fulfil three requirements, according to the legislation.
First, production costs incurred during the production of the film or television material shot in Iceland must be a minimum of ISK 350 million (EUR 2.5 million). Next, the project must have a minimum of 30 working days in Iceland, either filming days or defined
post-production working days. Of the 30 working days, a minimum of 10 filming days in Iceland is always required.
Lastly, the number of staff working directly on the project should be 50 at a minimum and amount to 50 working days. It is required that both salary and payments to employees and contractors be taxed in Iceland.
Iceland is an increasingly popular destination for filming for a very good reason. Unrivaled scenery, experienced film crews, local talent and impressive tax incentives continue to lure filmmakers.
HAPPY HORSEMEN IN RAUÐHÓLAR SUN ON SÓLEYJARGATA
These German travellers had fun horse riding around Rauðhólar. Rauðhólar is a cluster of pseudo craters on the outskirts of Reykjavík. The craters formed about 5,000 years ago when the Elliðaár lava flowed over moorland and the water under the glowing lava exploded. Beautifully shaped red-coloured spatter cones then formed during the steam explosions on the surface of the lava. Sand quarrying was extensive in Rauðhólar in the middle of the 20th-century, to make, among other things, the underlay for Reykjavík Airport in Vatnsmýri during the Second World War. The Rauðhólar area was protected in 1961 and is now a public park. Many people and animals make their way around the area on days with good weather, as it is only a stone’s throw from the capital.
The Office of the President of Iceland has been at Sóleyjargata 1, or Staðarstaður as the building is called, from 1996. Since Iceland became an independent republic on 17th June, 1944, six individuals have served as President of Iceland.
The first President of the Republic was Sveinn Björnsson 1944 – 1952, followed by Ásgeir Ásgeirsson 1952 – 1968 and the third President was Kristján Eldjárn 1968 – 1980. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the first elected female president in the world, was the President of Iceland in the years 1980 – 1996. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson was president from 1996 to 2016, when the current president, Guðni Th Jóhannesson, took over.
The creature received me well early this morning at Álftanes. After all, the weather was good after the wind and rain last night.
STRANGE CREATURES ON BALASTRÖND BEACH IN PEACE AND QUIET
On the beach by Bali, where Garðabær and Hafnarfjörður meet on Álftanes, there are about thirty strange creatures. An elderly fisherman and artist, Jón Guðmundsson, has been cleaning the shore of the rubbish that drifts ashore and creates these fine figures that stand there in Hafnarfjarðarhraun on Balaströnd. The lava is from an eruption from the Búrfell volcano in Reykjanes 7,500 years ago that flowed 12 km (7 miles) to the sea.
In 1838, 183 years ago, Guðrún Oddsdóttir became the first person to be laid to rest in Hólavallagarður, a new cemetery in Reykjavík. Guðrún, born in 1780, is a watcher, the guardian of this beautiful cemetery in the western part of the city. Art historian Björn Th. Björnsson called the cemetery “Reykjavík’s largest and oldest museum”. It was nominated for the Nordic Council’s Environment Prize in 2005. It is also an incredible source of the history of the art and symbolism, genealogy, architectural trends, crafts and horticulture of a growing town. By 1932, almost all the graves in the park had been allocated, and Fossvogskirkjugarður would take over as the capital’s main cemetery.
Photo and text: Páll Stefánsson
The light was incredibly beautiful and dramatic by Reykjavíkurtjörn yesterday afternoon. The Office of the President of Iceland is the white house behind the bridge. Hallgrímskirkja is at the top left, in shadow.
The one and only
If Grafavogur, a neighbourhood in Reykjavík, were an independent town, it would be the fourth largest in the country. More than 20,000 people live in the area, in a mixed settlement of singlefamily, terraced, and apartment buildings.
Development began in the 1990s and is still ongoing. Now, there is even a Vínbúð
Móskarshnjúkar (on the right) can be seen in the background.
(the state liquor store). Residents pointed out a few years ago that there was no such store in the city’s largest neighbourhood. At the same time, Kópasker, one of Iceland’s smallest towns in North Iceland, had one!
Grafarvogur can be broken down into eight smaller districts; Hamrar, Foldir, Hús, Rimar, Borgir, Vík, Engi, Spöng, Staðir,
Höfðar, Bryggjuhverfi, Geirsnef, Gufunes and Geldinganes. The last one is the only one still uninhabited, but there are plans for future construction there. The view over Reykjavík and Seltjarnarnes is breathtaking from there. Mount Esja gives Geldinganes, and the whole neighbourhood, good shelter from the cold northern winds.
The Grafarvogur neighbourhood is named after a cove of the same name, which is, itself, named after the now deserted farm, Gröf. It used to stand at the edge of the gorge where Grafarlækur flows into the sea.
Korpúlfsstaðir was originally a dairy farm built by Thor Jensen around 1925. The City of Reykjavík bought the land in 1942, and it is now an art centre, restaurant and facilities for golfers, while Korpúlfsstaðarvöllur Golf Course is on the old farm fields.
A large outdoor recreational area and an amusement park are in the neighbourhood.
Photographs & text: Páll Stefánsson
Hallsteinsgarður Park in Grafarvogur. It’s on a hill east of Gufunes. It has 16 aluminium sculptures by artist Hallstein Sigurðsson, made from 1989 to 2012, and is part of the Reykjavík Art Museum.
The Bryggjuhverfi district stands south of Grafarvogur; you can see Sundahöfn, Reykjavík’s large shipping port, across the cove.
Looking across Grafarvogur Cove to the Grafarvogur neighbourhood and the Grafarvogur church. It’s the neighbourhood’s only church and stands by the cove. Mount Esja and
Farmsteads in Reykjavík Eskihlið
1954. Here we can
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, drainage of the marshland began in the Reykjavík area. The drained land was allocated for farming under leases with inheritance rights. Grass fields were cultivated on farms and smallholdings in these areas, where animal husbandry and agriculture were established. Such farms played an important role at that time, when dairy products were always in short supply in the growing town of Reykjavík.
With the expansion of Reykjavík during and after World War II and the construction of new districts east of the old town, most of the farms made way for new housing, but in some cases the original farmhouses were integrated into the developments and remain standing among homes of a later period.
One such farm was Eskihlíð. The farmhouse buildings remain standing at the western end of the street of the same name. Watchmaker Magnús Benjamínsson (1853-1942) built a halfstone house here in 1892, which he named Eskihlíð (now Eskihlíð 2-4).
Aerial photograph from
see some of the farms built in this area in the the early 20th century. Information on Háteigur farm and Sunnuhvoll farm can be found at the corner of Háteigsvegur and Rauðarársstígur. Information on Reykjahlíð farm can be found on Stakkahlíð road.
Around 1915. A digger at the mine that was used to build the Reykjavík harbour. In the far back we can see the Eskihlíð farm to the left of the road. Photo: Magnús Ólafsson
Photo and text: Reykjavík City Museum
Eskihlíð was, at that time, an alternative form of the placename Öskjuhlíð. The farmstead stood on the north side of the main road that led out of Reykjavík via Öskjuhlíð, known as the Hafnarfjörður Road, and later the Reykjanes Road (now Skógarhlíð). In the first half of the 20th century several houses were built to the south of the road, also known by the Eskihlíð name (Eskihlíð B, C and D). These are no longer standing. In 1911 Ingimundur Guðmundsson (1876-1912) lived at Eskihlíð, where he built a barn at the west wall of the farmhouse, and a cattleshed and stable at the north side. For many years Eskihlíð was a large farm, especially in the time of Geir Gunnar Gunnlaugsson (1902-1995), who bought the farm in 1934 and established a large dairy farm.
Geir extended and altered the old house and built new outhouses – a cattleshed and barn – at the north side. The buildings remain largely as they were in his time. In 1945 the inheritance rights to much of the estate were revoked, when development of the Hlíðar district began. Geir continued to run his dairy farm until the mid-1950s, while building up a new farm at Lundur in Kópavogur, to where he moved in 1961. In 1959 the first Hagkaup store was opened by Pálmi Jónsson in the former Eskihlíð cattleshed. His company would later come to dominate retail trade in Iceland. From 2003-2013 the old farm buildings housed the Fjölskylduhjálp Íslands (Family aid) charity. In 2004 Konukot was established at the premises, charity that provides overnight accommodation for homeless women.
Hagkaup store in the Eskihlíð farmhouse 1965. Photo: Jóhann Vilberg Árnason
Þóroddsstaðir in Reykjavík around 1935-1940, now Skógarhlíð 22. Behind is the area where the streets Eskihlíð, Blönduhlíð, Drápuhlíð, Mávahlíð, Barmahlíð and Miklabraut came later. Far away is the residential area Norðurmýri under construction. To the right you can see the farm Klömbrur and Klambratún. Photo: G Ásgeirsson's amateur studio
Seen west along Miklabraut, on the left an apartment building at Miklabraut and Barmahlíð under construction around 1945. To the right Rauðarárstígur, Miklatún (Klambratún) and the farm Klömbrur can be seen on the far right. The National Hospital towering over the houses in Norðurmýri. Bollagata, Guðrúnargata, Kjartansgata and Hrefnugata. Photo: Sigurhans Vignir
The Klambratún Park occupies land in the district of Norðurmýri, formerly divided into smallholdings under copyhold (inheritable perpetual lease). The Norðurmýri marsh was a significant source of peat (for fuel), particularly during World War II, when imported coal was in short supply. In 1925 a farmstead was built here by physician and town councillor Maggi Júl. Magnús. He named it Klömbrur after the estate of Klömbrur in Vestur—Húnavatnssýsla, North Iceland, where he had family roots. The property was sold in 1934 to Christian Christensen, a Dane who settled in Iceland in 1931 with his Icelandic wife Ólöf Ólafsdóttir. They kept ten cows and sold the milk, which was delivered to people’s homes by horse-cart. Christensen subsequently operated an abattoir, a smokery and a meat shop on the farm. The farm buildings were demolished in 1965.
Concert in Klambratún Park in 1988, protesting the apartheid regime in South Africa. Megas and Björk on stage. Photo: Jóhann A. Kristjánsson
Schoolchildren at work growing vegetables on their allotments in Klambratún fields in 1956
Photo and text: Reykjavík City
In 1946 the Reykjavík municipal authorities purchased the land, which was then used for allotments where children grew vegetables during the summer holidays between 1948-58. The idea of creating a public park first arose in the late 1950s, and was put into practice a decade later.
The park was designed by landscape architect Reynir Vilhjálmsson. Designed in a modern style, the garden was influenced by Nordic trends. Klambratún Park is a popular place for outdoor activities and social gatherings. Open-air concerts and other events have been held there.
Kjarvalsstaðir, one of the Reykjavík Art Museum galleries, named after the famous Icelandic painter Jóhannes S. Kjarval, opened in the Park in 1973.
The name of Klambratún Park was changed to the grander Miklatún Park (“Great Park”) in 1964. The original name was restored in 2010.
Aerial photograph of Klambratún fields in 1949. The farmstead of Klambrar can be seen in the middle of the field
A view over Klambratún field and Öskjuhlíð around 1944. In the centre is the old farmstead of Klambrar, after which the park is named
Tróndur í Gøtu
Christian Roots and Royal Bloodlines
One of Iceland’s most common proverbs is Þrándur í Götu –in Faroese, Tróndur í Gøtu, literally meaning ‘an obstacle to someone’. However, it is not common knowledge that Þrándur Þorbjörnsson [945-1035] had royal bloodlines in abundance as the descendant of one of Iceland’s most famous settlers, Auður hin djúpúðga – the Deep-minded – who was born ca. 850 AD.
Auður settled in Hvammur in the valleys of West Iceland in the 10th century. Auður was a Celtic Christian, the daughter of Norse Viking, Ketill Flatnose Bjarnason, whom King Harald Fairhair had sent to win back the Outer Hebrides – known as Suðureyjar in the Icelandic sagas. Ketill Flatnose, as ruler of the Outer Hebrides, neglected to pay taxes to King Harald. Auður was wife to Ólafur White Ingjaldsson, King of Dublin, who was killed in battle in Dublin. The first sentence of the Erik the Red Saga states:
Ólafur was the name of a warrior king who was called Ólafur the White. He was the son of the King Ingjaldur Helgason, son of Helgi, son of Ólaf, son of Guðred, the son of Hálfdan Whiteleg, King of Uplands [first Yngling King in Norway]. Ólafur engaged in Viking raids in the West and conquered Dublin in Ireland as well as the shire of Dublin and made himself king.
Auður and King Ólafur’s only child was Thorsteinn the Red. After Ólafur‘s death in Dyflinn – Dublin – Auður, along with her young son, fled to the Outer Hebrides then ruled by her father. Þorsteinn the Red married Þuríður Eyvindardóttir, daughter of Eyvindur Eastman and Rafarta Kjarvalsdóttir, daughter of Cerball Kjarval MacDúnlaing [ca. 800888 AD], King in Ireland. Þorsteinn the Red and Þuríður had seven children; Ólafur feilan and six daughters, Gróa, Ólöf, Ósk, Þórildur, Þorgerður and Vigdís. Þorsteinn the Red became King in Scotland but was killed by the Scots at Katanes. The Icelandic Færeyinga Saga that was written in 13th century says:
There is a man named Grímur Kamban. Grímur was the first person to settle the Faroe Islands. In the time of Haraldur hárfagri –
Fairhair – a large number of people fled in the face of his tyranny. Some settled in the Faroe Islands and dwelt there, while some sought other unpopulated lands. Auður hin djúpauðga sailed out to Iceland and called in at the Faroes and there gave Þorsteinn the Red’s daughter, Ólöf, in marriage, and thence originated the greatest family line of the Faroe Islanders, which they call GataChaps, who lived on Austrey.
There was a man called Þorbjörn. He was known as Gata-Chap. He lived on Austrey in the Faroes. His wife was called Guðrún. They had two sons. The elder was called Þorlákur, and the younger Þrándur, [Tróndur]. They were promising men. Þorlákur was both big and strong; Þrándur was also of the same build when he grew up, but there was a large difference in their ages. Þrándur had red hair and a freckled face, handsome to look at.
After her son’s death at Katanes, Auður secretly had a Viking knörr [ship] built in the forest and set sail with the family treasures, along with Þúríður her daughter in law, grandchildren, freeborns and slaves. The family history, Laxdæla Saga, states:
Men do not know that ever has one woman gotten away from such strife [war] with as much capital and entourage. From that it was concluded that she was outstanding among women.
Descendant of royals
The municipality of Gøta, near the Gøtavik fjord on the Eastern island, was the home of chieftain Tróndur í Gøta, defender of Viking traditions in the face of the King of Norway and the chieftain, Sigmundur Brestisson. Tróndur, as a descendant of Auður the Deep-minded, would have known his foremother’s Celtic Christian heritage.
Tróndur í Gøtu – Þrándur í Götu – is the most famous of the Götu-Skeggjar or Gata-Chaps. It is common belief in Iceland that Tróndur was a heathen and worshipped the Viking gods and was a hero in the Faroe Islands. According to the
Færeyinga Saga, those who did not approve of Haraldur Fairhair’s rule of Norway between 872-930 AD settled, among other places, in the Faroes. In the early 11th century, Sigmundur Brestisson [961–1005 AD] was sent by Ólafur Tryggvason, King of Norway to Trondheim [995-1000 AD]. Sigmundur forced Tróndur í Gøtu to convert or face beheading. Although Sigmundur was killed, Norwegian taxation was upheld. The Kingdom of Norway entered the Kalmar Union with Denmark in 1397 and the Faroes gradually came under Danish control.
Epic in Faroese history
Sigmundur Brestisson and Tróndur Þorbjǫrnsson are two epic individuals in Faroese history. To the Catholic author of the Faroese saga there was no doubt: Sigmundur was the white knight and crusader fighting against Tróndur, who was said to be stuck in primitive and outdated Viking beliefs though he was really a Celtic Christian. Tróndur was renowned for his love for his land with deep sense of honour, executing the murderers of his enemy.
In this context, it’s worth noting that his foremother, Auður, had accepted Christ
and become a Celtic Christian while in the Outer Hebrides. Her granddaughter Ólöf would, in all probability, have been of the same religion as her grandmother.
The events of the Færeyinga Saga take place between the 9th and 11th centuries, but the story was written when the Roman Catholic Church had attained supreme rule in Iceland and Faroes.
Descendant of Ynglings and Skjöldungar
According to Sigurdur Bjarnason, one of Iceland’s leading genealogists, Tróndur Þorbjörnsson í Gøtu was a descendant of the Ynglings and Skjöldungar, the dynasty of Scyldings, who were the ancient Danish Kings. Skjöldur, the first Danish King, was claimed to be the son of the Viking god Óðinn, whom Bjarnason maintains, was born in mid3rd century AD. Snorri Sturluson wrote of Óðinn in Heimskringla. Ynglingasaga is the first part of Snorri’s history of the ancient Norse gods in Scandinavia and how Freyr founded the Swedish Yngling dynasty at Uppsala and their settlements in Norway and became ancestor to King Haraldur Fairhair.
Tróndur was a descendant of Ragnar Lothbrok – Ragnar Loðbrók – born in the mid-8th century, a legendary Viking King of Denmark and Sweden, known from ancient poetry. According to the traditional literature, Ragnar distinguished himself by conducting many raids against the British Isles and the Holy Roman Empire during the 9th century. Ragnar Lodbrók’s son, Sigurdur Snake-in-the-Eye, born ca. 780, became King of Sweden. He took up arms against his uncle Haraldur Wartooth in a bid to overthrow him and take the crown of Denmark. Sigurdur won the Battle of the Brávellir, where it is said that Óðinn himself intervened. Ragnar’s son, Sigurdur Snake-in-the-Eye, had a daughter, Tóra –Þóra, mother of Ingjaldur, who was father of Ólafur White, the King of Dublin and Þorsteinn the Red.
Ólöf Þorsteinsdóttir was about 17 years old when her son, Þorbjörn Gata-Chap –Þorbjörn Götu-Skeggi was born, father to Þorlákur and Tróndur.
- Hallur Hallsson, Editor & Historian
COD FISHING IN THE MIDNIGHT SUN
Summer sunset over Reykjavík Harbour is now a few minutes before midnight. This fisherman was just fishing for cod in the harbour, in the soft glow of the beautiful midnight sun. Cod has been our most valuable export for centuries. The quota for cod for the current fishing year, ending on 1st September, is 217 thousand tonnes, and now that two months are left, 191 thousand tonnes have been caught, or 88% of the total catch. The average price for cod from the sea is 372 ISK / kg or 3 USD / 2.5 EUR. The average weight of cod landed in Iceland on Friday, when the picture was taken, was 3.1 kg. Jigging, or fishing with a rod and line is, of course, not part of the cod fishing quota.
THE HRINGBRAUT TRAFFIC ROUTE
This bus was on its way from Skerjafjörður to Hlemmur and from there, on to the eastern part of the city.
It’s getting darker outside. At the beginning of August, the darkness swoops in, as can be seen in the photo. Taken at half-past ten, east of Hringbraut, the twilight is well on its way to complete darkness. Hringbraut is the main road to and from the western part of the capital. On the far left of the picture, you can see six construction cranes. This is the largest construction project in Icelandic history; the new Landspítali University Hospital is being built. In the middle of the picture, at the top of Öskjuhlíð, a small hill in the city, you can see the illuminated Perlan (the Pearl) resting on six hot water tanks. There is a museum in Perlan as well as restaurants, and of course a good view of the capital area. The Pearl was opened 30 years ago, in 1991. To the left of the picture, you can see the landing lights at Reykjavík Airport. The British built the airport during World War II and it has been the centre of domestic flights in Iceland since 1945. The airport’s location has been a matter of much controversy in recent years, as many do not think it is appropriate for the city’s best building land to be used as an airport.
Photo and text: Páll Stefánsson
AUTUMN HAS ARRIVED IN HARPA
It was autumn, wind and rain at Harpa yesterday. To the left, you can see the Edition hotel, which will open soon.
The Harpa Culture and Conference Center, which opened ten years ago in May 2011, is one of Reykjavík’s prominent landmarks. The house stands on the eastern edge of the entrance to Reykjavík Harbour. Due to fewer restrictions on the number of people allowed to gather, many concerts and events are on the agenda. Harpa has more or less been closed for a year and a half due to the pandemic. South of Harpa, two large and impressive houses are being built, the headquarters of Landsbanki Íslands, and Edition Hotel, the first five-star hotel in Iceland. These buildings will change the appearance of the capital considerably when they are completed.
THE FRENCH STREET IN REYKJAVÍK
Frakkastígur (French Street) is one of the most beautiful streets in the city centre. It is situated north of Skólavörðustígur and travels down from Hallgrímskirkja to the sea.
At either end of the street are works of art. The statue of Leifur Eiríksson stands at the top of Skólavörðuholt, and The Sun Voyager by Jón Gunnar Árnason stands by the shore on Sæbraut. Jón Gunnar won a competition for outdoor works for the 200th anniversary of the City of Reykjavík in 1986. The artwork was unveiled in 1990.
Frakkastígur takes its name from the French wooden houses that were transported from Austurstræti in 1901 when the street was built. At the bottom of Frakkarstígur, French shipping companies built a hospital in 1902, which is now used by a music school. Between 1830 and 1914, the French fished cod in Icelandic waters. It is estimated that around 4,000 French fishermen lost their lives by Iceland during this period.
THE TWO CULTURE HOUSES ON HVERFISGATA
The Culture House on Hverfisgata was built between 1906 and 1909 to house the National Library of Iceland, the National Archives of Iceland and the National Museum of Iceland.
The National Gallery of Iceland now operates the building, as the museums originally in the Culture House have received new and more suitable premises. The current exhibition in the house is “Fjársjóður Þjóðar” (“The Nation’s Treasures”), pearls of Icelandic art from the second half of the 19th century to the present day.
The National Theatre was opened in 1950, after being under construction since 1925, or for a quarter of a century. More than five million people have enjoyed performances in the National Theatre in the 70+ years since it opened. The house was designed by Guðjón Samúelsson almost a hundred years ago.
The Culture House on the left was designed by the Danish architect Johannes M Nielsen. The National Theatre on the right was designed by Guðjón Samúelsson, the State Master Builder.
From Mexico to
the edge of the world!
A Mexican photographer displays the nature of the North as art
Would you follow your dreams to the edge of the world? That’s what Mexican Arctic-nature photographer Marcela Cardenas did after falling in love with glaciers, icebergs, polar bears and winter landscapes. She had been dreaming for years about living amid spectacular nature and being able to capture its essence through her lens. “I’m deeply attracted to the blue ice found in glaciers and icebergs. They are the most fantastic natural formations, and each iceberg is a unique piece of art,” said Marcela.
Her free spirit, courage, and determination allow her to travel alone to remote places throughout the Arctic region, pursuing her own photographic projects. “I reinvented myself when I was 35 years old and decided to quit my unfulfilling office job. Instead, I followed my heart and passion and moved to the northernmost inhabited place on earth: Svalbard, Norway and made my dream come true!” said Marcela.
Svalbard, the kingdom of the Polar bear
Marcela had an authentic Arctic adventure driving her own snow scooter for over two years, exploring and photographing some of the most pristine nature in the world. “I love Polar bears, they are my absolute favourite animals, and I still get goosebumps thinking about my first encounter with one. There is nothing like seeing polar bears in their natural habitat,” said Marcela, who became a full-time photographer in 2011 while in Svalbard and has never looked back.
Greenland, The Land of the People Marcela later moved to Greenland for one year to start a new photo project and adventure. Greenland has breathtaking and unspoiled nature combined with the fascinating Inuit culture. “I felt so welcomed and embraced by locals. Greenlanders happened to be the most hospitable people I ever met; they were so kind, friendly, sweet, helpful, humble and giving,” Marcela said.
She was based in the town Ilulissat, around majestic icebergs which can be several stories high, thousands of sled dogs and the most colourful houses you can imagine. “I had the chance to travel to 25 towns or villages and have exhilarating and unforgettable experiences staying with locals. I was invited to join them for fishing, hunting, vacation in summer cabins and family celebrations, “said Marcela.
Iceland, The Land of Ice and Fire Marcela is currently living in Iceland and she loves every opportunity to photograph Icelandic horses, northern lights, puffins, ice caves, black sand beaches, waterfalls and many other amazing landscapes. But the definite highlight of her trip so far is the once in a lifetime opportunity to photograph the Fagradalsfjall volcano eruption last year. “It was easy to get lost in the moment since it looked so surreal, magical and breathtaking,” said Marcela.
Marcela values the total freedom to do what she wants and what she loves. Here is some food for thought, why not do as Marcela: “Follow your passion and find a way to get paid doing what you love, so you don’t have to work a day in your life!”
Marcela has a shop selling her photographs in Laugavegur 35 in the city of Reykjavik.
Cardenas +354/8540479 Instagram: marcelacardenas.m firstname.lastname@example.org
Reykjavík’s New Lifestyle Destination
Hafnartorg hosts more than 30 shops and restaurants
Food and wine
Hafnartorg Gallery is a brand-new elegant space with shopping, food, wine and culture in the heart of the old harbour district in downtown Reykjavík. Here, you can spend the day with over 30 stores and restaurants and tourist attractions nearby.
Hafnartorg Gallery opened in August, marking the latest part of the Hafnartorg area, which has been built up over the last 10 years. It’s home to Iceland’s first and only North Face store. Opening its doors in mid-2022, North Face is a long-awaited addition to Reykjavík’s list of international brands. Furthermore, Iceland’s-own 66 North has its flagship store in Hafnartorg Gallery, where locals and tourists alike outfit themselves in stylish clothing made to withstand Iceland’s elements. For those looking for elegant and unique home furnishings, Casa Boutique offers Icelandic and international designs ranging from luxury tea kettles to artisanal salts to leather handbags.
More shops are located in the Hafnartorg area, including GK Reykjavík, COS, H&M, Levi’s, Bio Effect, Collections, Michelsen, and Optical Studio.
An array of dining options await guests at Hafnartorg Gallery; there’s something for everyone. A brand-new food hall allows visitors to choose from many different types of cuisine. Neo offers New Yorkinspired pizza from Flatey and a great selection of craft beers, and Kualua serves delectable Hawaiian poke bowls. Meanwhile, Fuego uses fresh, authentic ingredients for its Mexican tacos and quesadillas, and Black Dragon is a delightful French-Asian fusion spot. Additionally, three restaurants pair delicious food with carefully-selected wine lists. Akur focuses on French cuisine, while La Trattoria is a high-end Italian restaurant and wine bar, and BRAND is Japanese-influenced wine and grill bar.
Nearby tourist attractions
Hafnartorg Gallery is close to many of the city’s main attractions, including Harpa Concert Hall for concerts and exhibitions, whale watching tours departing from the harbour, and Kolaportið for shopping in Iceland’s #1 indoor market. Also nearby are the family-friendly favourites Whales of Iceland and FlyOver Iceland. In Hafnartorg, guests can visit the world-renowned Icelandic Phallological Museum and the newly opened Skor, where you can enjoy games of darts, sing karaoke and grab burgers and drinks for a casual time.
Centre of culture
In November, Hafnartorg Gallery will begin hosting exhibitions, with the intent
of the space being a centre of culture in the harbour district. Musician Högni Egilsson from the bands GusGus and Hjaltalín will host a show that will combine music with an art installation. Other artists will present shows in the space, bringing an artistic element to the area.
Hafnartorg Gallery is easy to access as the country’s largest and most advanced parking garage lies beneath the area, with enough spaces for 1,200 cars. Travellers never have to worry about where to leave their rental car when visiting Hafnartorg Gallery. The area also has excellent cycling and hiking trails, and Hafnartorg is wellconnected to the Strætó bus system.
The area is a great starting point for a day of shopping in the city centre, a rest between destinations or a place to enjoy food and drinks before the cultural event. Make sure to spend some time at Hafnartorg Gallery during your trip to Reykjavík. -JG
Geirsgötu 17, 101
The Icelandic SHEEP
Sheep. They seem to be everywhere, wandering freely all over the mountains and highlands as if they own the country. They are one of the most common animals in Iceland.
Icelandic sheep are so called short–tailed animals, an ancient Nordic Breed which was formerly common in the north part of Western Europe, but now only found in a few areas of the world. It is a strong, hardy breed which has adapted well to Icelandic conditions.
The Icelandic sheep is special in many ways. Part of the breed is called ‘leader sheep’ and possesses unique qualities, not found in any other sheep breed in the world. Many stories have been told of their rescuing both men and other sheep from danger.
Around 1980, there were about 10 times more sheep than people in the country or around 2,000,000 sheep (including the summer lambs) and 226,948 inhabitants. The number has now been reduced by
almost half, because of overgrazing in some cases but also market developments.
In former times, sheep were allowed to graze freely all year round, even in winter. This had disastrous effects when the climate became cooler. The interaction of natural forces: water, wind, fire and ice, as well as the encroachment of men and animals has, in the course of time, disturbed the layer of surface vegetation. When destroyed, a chain reaction of soil erosion begins which is difficult to stop. This shows how hard the struggle for survival has been in Iceland. The sheep has been called one of the keys to survival the country in the old times. The animals could survive on winter grazing, and the people fed themselves on their meat and milk and made warm clothes from the wool.
Since the last decades of the 20th century, steps have been taken to fight erosion by reforestation, reseeding and other programmes to protect sensitive areas from overuse by men and animals. Government regulation now prohibits unsustainable use of land. One of these steps has been to reduce the number of sheep so now there are 475,000 adult sheep in the country or 1,100,000, including the summer lambs.
The mating season is in December. The farmer registers the individual matings, and their dates. So when the lambing season starts, he can look into his book to see who their father is and on which dates his lambs are due. It’s important to know the date of delivery so that he can keep the mother indoors when she gives birth and to be able to shelter the newborns on their first days. Each farmer has a special earmark, cut into one of the lamb’s ears soon after its birth.
This traditional book-keeping method would make it easy for farmers to provide a genealogical tree of the meat you are purchasing! Today, the lambs are also tagged with modern plastic eartags. Nowhere else in the world are sheep bred by this method because in most countries the sheep simply have their lambs outdoors and no one knows anything about their genealogy.
The lambs are born in May and stay with their mothers all summer long. After the first few days indoors, they graze on grass fields on the farm for 3-4 weeks. Then they are sent out to graze the hills and mountain pastures all over the country, running free until the middle of September, feeding
Strong and hardy, Icelandic Sheep contributed to the nation’s survival
on the rich and nourishing vegetation. During the intervening time, the farmer harvests the hay to feed his sheep during the winter. Only about 1% of Iceland is cultivated. This means that most of the grass and plants the sheep feed on is wild.
The Réttir (Round-up)
Farmers gather their flocks in the autumn. Systematically, they round up the sheep all over the country. There is practically no place in the wilderness of the highlands of Iceland where sheep cannot be found during the summer—except maybe on the glaciers. The round-up is conducted on horseback or on foot with the assistance of sheepdogs. The entire process may take up to a week and, during this time, participants stay overnight in mountain huts, where they pen in the sheep they have gathered so far, then hang up their damp clothes, uncork their hip flasks and swap stories and songs.
When the search is over and all the sheep are accounted for, the fat frisky lambs, ewes and rams are herded down to the lowlands and into a corral called a ‘réttir’, where they are identified by their earmarks and sorted into the correct pens, belonging to individual farms.
The réttir is a popular event across the country and most Icelanders like to take part in it, be they bureaucrats or bankers, school-children or teachers, sailors or seamstresses. Some travel companies offer foreign travellers the opportunity to participate also.
After the sheep have been herded into the correct pens they are divided up. Those destined for the slaughterhouse are removed from the flock. Those destined to live graze on fields on or near the farm, until November, when they are housed for the winter.
Sheep used to be sheared before they were released to roam the pastures. Nowadays, most farmers shear them in winter when they are indoors, as this wool fetches a higher price.
Wool was one of the country’s most important exports during the Middle Ages (along with dried fish, known as stock fish). It became the basis of a valuable export industry again in the 20th century.
The fleece of the Icelandic sheep, which varies in colour from white through grey and browns to near black, is made up of two layers. The inner layer of short, fine fibres, called ‘thel’ was used for knitting delicate laces, underwear and baby clothes while the coarser, longer, outer fibres, called ‘tog’ were used for warm and water resistant winter garments. Today the soft spun ‘lopi wool’ is used in traditionally patterned hand knitted sweaters, the most popular souvenirs from Iceland. AMB
Welcome to SUÐURNESJABÆR
Spend some time in the charming towns of Garður and Sandgerði
Suðurnesjabær is one of the four municipalities on Reykjanes Peninsula and lies along the seashore with beautiful surroundings and sea views in the unique Reykjanes Geopark. Suðurnesjabær consists of the two towns of Garður and Sandgerði, which merged in 2018.
Garður is a quiet seaside town on the northwest tip of Reykjanes and a great place to spend some time. The town is known for a pair of lighthouses, where on sunny summer days, you can find locals and tourists picnicking, basking in the sun and enjoying the scenery. The older, more traditional red-striped lighthouse was built in 1897, while the newer squaredesigned one was built in 1944 in a more modern Nordic style. This is a popular destination for photographers and offers good conditions to see the Northern Lights in the wintertime.
The Folk Museum is another must-see in Garður. The museum houses items that were essential for the livelihood of Icelanders on both land and sea, including tools, fishing items, and maps. It offers a window into what life was like in past generations, reminding visitors that life in Iceland was not easy for its early settlers. The museum also has an extensive collection of 60 functional engines provided by local resident Guðni Ingimundarson.
Fishing boats can often be seen from shore—and whales, if you’re lucky! There is rich birdlife in the region, ranging from
hordes of gulls, Arctic terns and gannets in the summer to ravens in the winter.
Meanwhile, Sandgerði offers an insight into one of Iceland’s major fishing communities. Situated on the northern tip of the Reykjanes peninsula, Sandgerði has a lot to do and see in town and a good camping site. Outdoor enthusiasts love the birdwatching and golfing opportunities. There are nature exhibitions at the Suðurnes Science and Learning Centre and a historical gallery.
In the historical gallery, you can visit the magnificent exhibition ‘Attraction of the Poles’ featuring the work, life and death of the French medical doctor and polar scientist Jean-Baptiste Charcot. His
research ship, the Pourquoi-Pas, was lost along the coast of Iceland in 1936 but a model of the boat is part of the exhibition.
Suðurnesjabær, with its beautiful seashore and beaches, is an ideal area to base yourself from while staying along the Reykjanes peninsula.
www.best-of-iceland.com 83 83
Increases understanding of the mantle
"This is absolutely magnificent. It is very likely that it will cause a breakthrough and increase our understanding of the mantle under Iceland. We know that the mantle is the main layer of the earth that we never see. It is always covered by the earth’s crust. Getting such emissions from the mantle is very valuable”, says Haraldur.
According to measurements by the Iceland University’s Department of Earth Sciences on the flow and chemical composition of the magma in the eruption in Fagradalsfjall, the lava flow more than doubled in the last week of May. Lava flow increased to 12.9 cubic metres per second from between 5-7 cubic metres per second.
The Volcano Museum in Reykjanes?
Haraldur has expressed interest in moving his Volcano Museum from Stykkishólmur to Reykjanes. “In Grindavík or by the Blue Lagoon, because we know that there is a lot of interest in the eruption and interest in Iceland in general as a geological phenomenon,” says Haraldur. Born in 1939 and now in his nineties, he has received numerous awards and is Iceland’s best-known geoscientist. He studied geology at the University of Belfast and graduated with a doctorate from the University of Durham in England in 1970. When Haraldur retired as a professor at the University of Rhode Island, he founded a volcano museum in the spring of 2009. The museum is the first of its kind in the world where Haraldur has collected artwork and materials related to eruptions and volcanic activity.
For most of his career, Haraldur worked abroad, mostly as a professor. He is at the forefront of volcanology. He has published, either alone or in collaboration with others, important articles on the results of research on large eruptions. In the Wikipedia summary, many eruptions are described such as in Santorinium, 1600 BC, Vesuvius 79 AD, when the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were destroyed. He has also researched and written about the eruptions in Tambora, Indonesia in 1815, Krakatoa, between Java and Sumatra
in 1883, St. Helens in Washington State in 1980, El Chichon in Mexico in 1982, Nevado del Ruiz, Colombia in 1985, the catastrophic eruption in Katla at the end of the last glacial period and Long Valley in California 760,000 years ago. In Iceland, he has been involved in research on the eruption in Lakagígar 1783-84, the Askja eruption in 1875 and the Eyjafjallajokull eruption in 2010, as well as on the geology of eruptions and ocean ridges.
Reykjanes fires in the Sturlunga Saga
There is very little mention made of eruptions in the Sagas, except where they relate to the people and events of the times.
The last eruption activity on the Reykjanes peninsula continued for 30 years, but it was also the final event in an even longer volcanic eruption period on the Reykjanes peninsula, which lasted for 290 years. The last eruption in Fagradalsfjall was the Beinavörðuhraun flow, more than 6,000 years ago.
The last eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula ended in the middle of the Sturlung Age, in 1240. There had been frequent eruptions in the Reykjanes system since the year 1210, with several years breaks in between. Among them was an eruption that began in 1226, six years after Snorri Sturluson returned from Norway and Sweden, and was probably
Geologist Haraldur Sigurðsson
the largest eruption in the cluster. In the Oddaverjaannál document, this eruption is mentioned and there is talk of a “sandstorm winter in Iceland”. The eruption from 1210—1240 is the only mention of the Reykjanes fires.
According to eldgos.is, the volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula lasted even longer, however, because the Reykjanes fire was only the last of many eruptions that, together, form one major volcanic period that stretches over 300 years, from the year 950 to 1240. Since then, there has not been an eruption in this area that is worth mentioning until now, a gap of almost 800 years.
There are six volcanic systems on the Reykjanes peninsula. The Hengill area, Reykjanes system, Svartsengi, Krýsuvík system, Brennisteinsfjöll and Fagradalsfjall, which is now erupting.
The chapel in Kapelluhraun
The Kapelluhraun lava flowed in the late 12th century. The chapel in the lava is remarkable. Kristján Eldjárn, the President of Iceland between 1968-1980, led a research study in 1950, when the chapel lay partially buried. It is located close to the aluminium smelter, which opened in 1969. The statue of Saint Barbara, the patron saint of metalworkers, was found in the chapel.
Jochum Eggertsson, 1896–1966, the nephew of Matthías Jochumson, claimed that Kolskeggur, the Wise Ýrberason, the leader of the Krýsvík people and the author of Hávamál, had been killed in Kapelluhraun lava field in 1054, where the chapel was built after an armed group overpowered him in Krýsuvík but before that Ioni [Jón] Kjarvalarson, the author of Völuspár, had been burned inside Vífilstaðir.
The dynamic and diverse Town of REYKJANESBÆR
Reykjanesbær, on the Southern Peninsula, Suðurnes, was founded when towns of Keflavík and Njarðvík merged, along with the village of Hafnir, back in 1994. Of these, Keflavík is known to Icelanders as ‘Beatles-Town’, being Iceland’s answer to Liverpool. The reason for that is Iceland’s first ‘Beatlesband’, Hljómar (Chords) was formed in Keflavík back in 1963. The larger-thanlife band members took Iceland by storm. Today, Hall of Hljómar bears their name, housing Iceland’s Museum of Rock ‘n Roll as well–a must visit for lovers of music. Njarðvík or Bay of Njörðr is adjacent to Keflavík, consisting of outer and inner Njarðvík. In its old town is a stone church
built in 1886. Of the three towns that make up the municipality, Keflavík is the largest, while Hafnir is the smallest.
Keflavík and Njarðvík had gradually grown together over the course of the latter half of the 20th century, until all that separated them was a single street. The northern side of the street belonged to Keflavík and the southern side to Njarðvík.
The town, in recent years, has been one of Iceland’s fastest growing municipalities with twenty thousand inhabitants. Ten kilometres away, Hafnir takes its name from two now deserted farms, and was formerly a thriving fishing community up to the 20th century, but today holds only approximately 100 inhabitants.
Next to Iceland’s International Airport
Iceland’s International Airport is south of Reykjanesbær town. Some five million people will pass through it in 2022, down from seven million 2019. As the covid crisis has passed, predictions for coming years are for up to eight million travellers. Reykjanesbær town serves as a gateway into Iceland, so in recent years excellent hotels and restaurants have begun operations.
The US arrived in Iceland in July, 1941 during World War II. They built Keflaviík Airport but left after the war, returning at the beginning of the Cold War, as Iceland had joined NATO. Keflavík became a United States Naval Base. The Americans
left in 2006, the naval base was closed. The soldiers returned home with their families and staff. They had lived in their own fenced-off town of 5,700 inhavitants. Today, the former ‘American’ town is a thriving district in Reykjanesbær, named Ásbrú (God’s Bridge) with Keilir University, educational institutions and businesses on the site.
Museums of Reykjanesbær
Duus Museum is the Art and Cultural Centre of the town. It houses the exhibition halls for the local museums, concert halls and halls for mixed cultural activities and is located near the marina at Gróf, overlooking Keflavík bay. On the cliffs surrounding the Duus Marina is a foot path where one might catch a glimpse of whales swimming nearby. The oldest of the Duus Houses is the Harbour house, built 1877. Danish merchant Hans Peter Duus [1795-1868] had the house built as a warehouse for Duus company.
There is also the unique Skessa Hellir (Giantess Cave). The design and creation of
the cave and the Giantess were in the hands of the North Storm Art Group., A skessa –a Giantess or Troll woman— is said to have come to the rescue of fishermen during a powerful storm.
Njarðvík is the home of Víkingaheimar – the Viking World Museum with its Viking ship, the Icelander that, in the Millennium year 2000, sailed across the Atlantic to New York to commemorate the thousand-year anniversary of Leif Erikson’s discovery of America. The Icelandic Fire Brigade Museum, with its huge trucks from the time of Iceland’s Defence Force, may be of interest for truck enthusiasts.
At Hafnir village to the south, ruins dating prior to The Settlement are being excavated. The mysterious four-thousandton ghost ship Jamestown stranded at Hafnir in 1881 with no-one aboard. It was crossing the Atlantic bound for Liverpool with high quality lumber. The crew had abandoned the rudderless ship in heavy seas, and four months later it ran ashore at Hafnir.
Surrounded by unique nature
The Reykjanes Peninsula’s nature is marked by active volcanoes and lava fields. Reykjanesbær is surrounded by unique nature. There are numerous hot springs around the Kleifarvatn lake and the Krýsuvík geothermal area with the geothermal power-station at Svartsengi and the world-famous Blue Lagoon. At Gunnuhver geyser, visitors can hear the vigorous noise, see the boiling water and feel the power and steam bursting from the ground. The geyser stands in the heart of Reykjanes UNESCO Global Geopark, where the North Atlantic Ridge rises from the ocean, with over one hundred different craters and lava fields, bird cliffs, high geothermal areas and black sand beaches. The Bridge between Continents spans the Álfagjá or Elves’ Ravine that marks the boundary of the Eurasian and American continental tectonic plates, enabling visitors to walk from one continent to the other.
The black sandy beaches inspired Clint Eastwood to recreate the battle of Iwo Jima in his movie Flag of our Fathers.
The photograph of the six soldiers who raised the flag on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima is arguably the most famous in American history. In his movie, Eastwood follows the stories of the six flag raisers.
The lighthouses of Reykjanes are beautiful structures, the first built 1847 at Garðskagi to guide seafarers into Faxaflói Bay, and the Lighthouse of Reykjanes, built 1878.
Eldey (Fire Island) is a seventy-seven metre-high rock that protrudes out of sea. Eldey is basaltic hyaloclastites, and is 0.3 km² in area. One of the biggest gannet colonies of the world is found at Eldey. It is the innermost of a chain of skerries standing on a shallow ridge, which stretches 45 nautical miles offshore to the southwest. Another of those skerries was Geirfuglasker, where the last breeding colonies of the now extinct Great Auk was located. Geirfuglasker disappeared during submarine eruptions in 1830.
At Hvalsnes (Whale Point), there is a church dear to Icelanders, built with basaltic lava stones and consecrated on Christmas Day 1887. Hallgrímur Pétursson [1614–74], author of the Passion Hymns served at Whale Point. Iceland’s main church, Hallgrímskirkja, in Reykjavík is named after Iceland’s most beloved priest.
Volcanic eruptions occurred in two periods on the Reykjanes Peninsula quite close to Reykjanesbær; from 2020 into 2021 and then in 2022 after nearly 800 years of inactivity. The eruptions were at Fagradalsfjall (Beautiful Mountain Valley).
National Geographic’s experts predicted that this “...may mark the start of decades of volcanic activity.” The eruptions were small by Icelandic standards, leading the magazine to predict that these eruptions are unlikely to threaten the towns of the Reykjanes area.
By Hallur Hallsson
1,000 years oF FIsh
A small fishing village has turned into an export hub
Fishing is in the blood and heritage of the Vikings of Iceland. Starting out as a small settlement founded by one of the first settlers, Molda-Gnúpur, in about 934, Grindavík has been in the fishing business for over 1,000 years. With rich fishing grounds not far from shore, for many years small, open boats set out to bring in a catch.
However, fishing around Iceland is not for the faint-hearted. It’s coasts are famous for their rich fishing grounds— and notorious for their tumultuous seas and shipwrecks. As fishermen across the world know, their profession is a dangerous business and the price of fish could be measured in men’s lives. With no real harbour, and the very powerful, rough seas to contend with, many lives were lost over the years. The cry, “Row for
your lives!” meant just that, as the tired fishermen tried to beach their boats on the shore. The broken remains of a trawler, tossed almost 100 metres inland, gives an idea of the powerful forces at work here.
At the end of the 19th century, the village population numbered just about 360. They had endured great hardships, including the plague and attacks by Algerian pirates, not to mention the harsh weather and major volcanic eruptions.
The lure of a rich catch of cod, much of which they sold as saltfish, or bacalao, to Mediterranean countries, where it is still very popular today, was what kept their hopes and economy alive.
It was not until a safer harbour was built by hard, manual labour in the 20th century, that conditions changed dramatically. The introduction of powered
fishing vessels of different sizes once again transformed the lives of the fishermen. Also, the introduction of compulsory seamen’s training led to a dramatic fall in the number of lives lost, while at the same time, boosting catches.
Further improvements to the harbour and now a very modern fishing fleet, supported by cutting-edge technological advancements has dramatically increased both the numbers and quality of the fish caught. The introduction of the Iceland Responsible Fisheries programme and the 760,000 square kilometres of the Icelandic exclusive fisheries zone has brought the country a protected, sustainable fishing area that has stopped the decimation of fish stocks through overfishing around the country by many other fishing nations. Today Grindavík’s harbour is one of the safest in Iceland and gets around 2,5003,000 landings that provide over 40,000 tons of fish per year. The latest addition to the catch is the Blue fin tuna–the most expensive type of tuna fish that is becoming successful in Iceland.
Proximity to the international airport at Keflavik means that fish caught one day can be on a restaurant table in New York or Italy the next day. That freshness makes a palpable difference in taste. Naturally, there are top class restaurants in the town itself where visitors can enjoy that day’s fresh fish catch for dinner, cooked by world-class chefs—a full dining experience with their international menu, supported by a full range of wines
and spirits. It makes a great stop and a memorable way to remember Iceland— especially before heading to the airport for a flight home.
The opportunity to see a fishing village in action today is a big draw for tourists who can see the fleet sail in and unload on the quayside. They can also observe the processing and packing taking place in a factory or enjoy a soup at the small fishermen’s café on the harbourside whilst watching the activity.
Just 3km down the road from the famous Blue Lagoon that formed as an outfall from the geothermal power plant built following the 1973 oil crisis, the small town still has the air of a quiet village. Now grown in size to over 3,000 inhabitants, it has numerous sport teams and a wide range of activities to enjoy. Hotels, such as the new Geo Hotel, guesthouses like Borg and a wellequipped camp site provide popular accommodation options for those wishing to enjoy the Reykjanes peninsula.
This vibrant community is today home to 29 companies directly involved in fishing, fish processing and packaging and a further 15 who provide services to the industry from nets to fuel, from transportation to technology—not to mention other tourist services. Their shared commitment to quality service permeates every aspect of their society. This is what has turned a small village into one of the most important centres of the fishing industry in Iceland.
Where and when to watch birds in Iceland
Top sites: You don’t need to go far to watch birds in Iceland as there are good birdwatching sites almost anywhere, even in central Reykjavík. Among the places most regularly visited by overseas birdwatchers are the Snæfellsnes peninsula in western Iceland, the vast sea-cliffs at Látrabjarg in the Westfjords, the Flói Nature Reserve in southern Iceland and the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago off the south coast. Perhaps the
most famous birdwatching site in Iceland, however, is the Mývatn-Laxá area in northeast Iceland, where more species of duck breed than anywhere else in Europe, 14 species in total, in addition to numerous other species. However, birds can be found throughout the country and the best areas are often close to water. This is especially true in winter, when birdwatching on the coast is almost always more rewarding than inland. Many European birdwatchers are particular keen to see Iceland’s ‘Big Four’, i.e. Harlequin Duck, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Gyr Falcon and Brünnich’s Guillemot, all of which are relatively easy to find at the right time of year or in the right areas.
Other target species
Iceland represents the southernmost limit of the breeding range for several High Arctic
birds. Few places offer better opportunities than Iceland to see Pink-footed Goose, Long-tailed Duck, Ptarmigan, Gyr Falcon, Red Phalarope, Red-necked Phalarope,
Glaucous Gull, Brünnich’s Guillemot and Snow Bunting. Red Phalarope, Gyr Falcon and White-tailed Eagle all enjoy special protection and visiting a nesting site of these species is strictly prohibited.
Another popular bird is the Atlantic Puffin, which is best seen in the Westman Islands archipelago, the islands of Breiðafjörður bay, the cliffs at Látrabjarg or in Borgarfjörður eystri.
When they can be seen Birdwatching is an all-year activity in Iceland. The best time of year, in the view of the author, is from mid-April to the end of June. Spring migration is at its peak from mid-April to mid-May, when the nesting season begins. This peaks in June, and peters out in July. Autumn migration lasts from late July until the end of October.
Coastal seas, especially off the southwest, are relatively warm due to the influence of the Gulf Stream, while inland, some bodies of water remain unfrozen throughout the winter due to geothermal springs or
spring-fed rivers, and so Iceland’s winter birdlife is quite varied.
The origins of Iceland’s birds
Iceland’s flora and fauna is largely European (Western Palearctic) in origin. Several species, however, have colonised the country from the west, and Iceland can therefore said to be the meeting point of east and west. Iceland furthermore marks the southern breeding limit for several species and the northern limit for several others and, as such, is also the meeting point of north and south. - JÓH
Jóhann Óli is President of BirdLife Iceland and author of the Icelandic Bird Guide.
Translation by Edward B. Rickson
Images by © Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson
Enjoy the Vast Beauty of West Iceland
A trip to West Iceland is perfect if you want to see a bit of everything. Blacksand beaches, hot springs, quiet fishing towns and a glacier accessible by foot await you. The West is frequently referred to as ‘Iceland in miniature’ as it contains so many interesting landscapes and attractions.
Visit stunning waterfalls
The West is home to some spectacular waterfalls. Glymur, Iceland’s second tallest waterfall, is a worthwhile detour before heading further west from Reykjavík. Glymur stands 198 metres high on the Botnsá river, the white water crashing down the side of Hvalfell mountain. The hike to the top can be a bit challenging for some, but it’s worth it! The view from the top over Hvalfjörður is quite striking on a clear day.
Hraunfossar is a series of waterfalls streaming over 900 metres out of a lava field. The falls are beautiful to visit in any season and rainbows are frequently seen when the sun breaks through on showery days. There’s a neighbouring waterfall very
close by, called Barnafoss. It’s a stunning, wide waterfall, with water rushing over a rocky landscape, creating several cascades.
Enjoy Iceland’s unique geology Iceland is paradise for geology buffs. Be sure to take a look at Deildartunguhver, which is considered Europe’s most powerful hot spring. It provides 200 litres of boiling— 100°C (212°F)–water per second. Visitors will see water bubbling up and splashing against moss and rock, a reminder that Iceland is very much alive with pure geothermal energy.
If you want to get up close and personal with Iceland’s interior, visit Víðgelmir, the largest cave in Iceland. With a guided tour, you can explore the beautiful ice formations, including scores of stalactites and stalagmites. It’s a fascinating look at Iceland from the inside.
See spectacular Snæfellsnes
The Snæfellsnes peninsula is considered the jewel of the western coast, in part, because the region has a taste of everything,
including a mighty glacier. Snæfellsjökull, the king of Icelandic mountains, lies on top of a volcano situated in the centre of a national park. The glacier’s peak reaches 1,446 metres and can be seen from Reykjavík on a clear day. The volcano is considered active, though it last erupted 1,900 years ago.
Meanwhile, the western edge of the Snæfellsnes peninsula is home to Snæfellsjökull National Park and small towns like Hellissandur, Ólafsvík, and Grundarfjörður. Charming fishing villages dot the peninsula and offer ample hiking routes and quirky museums. Other areas of interest include the beautiful rock formations and birdlife of ArnarstapiHellnar, and Kirkjufell, one of the most photographed mountains in Iceland.
It’s possible to visit all these places in three days and enjoy others along the way, but it is recommended to allot more time to the West for the sheer beauty and uniqueness of the region.
Make sure West Iceland is on your radar for your next trip to Iceland. -JG
Snæfellsnes is considered the jewel of the west coast, in part, because the region has a taste of everything Icelandic. If you’re looking for mountains, they’re there. If you want to attempt a glacier walk, Snæfellsnesjökull awaits. If you’re interested in volcanoes, Eldfjallasafn Volcano Museum in Stykkishólmur is the place to visit. The museum showcases works of art, old and new, which depict volcanic eruptions, as well as artefacts, and volcanic rocks. The museum focuses on volcanoes around the world.
Volcanic hot spot
Iceland has a high concentration of active volcanoes due to its location on the divergent tectonic plate boundary
of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and also because it sits over a geological hot spot. The island has 30 active volcanic systems, of which 13 have erupted since the settlement of Iceland in 874 AD. The most recent eruptions occurred in 2014 at Holuhraun near the Bárðarbunga system and the eruption under Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 that produced an enormous ash cloud.
Diverse aspects of volcanoes are presented at the Volcano Museum, from the science, geology and their environmental effects to how they appear in art and literature. Talks are given daily in the museum in English and Icelandic about volcanoes
and their effects, as well as information on geology for people with little or no previous knowledge of volcanoes. For visitors who would like an in-depth tour of the geology behind volcanoes, the museum offers geology excursions that visit a number of dramatic locations along the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
The world-renowned volcanologist Haraldur Sigurðsson created the Volcano Museum to share the wealth of knowledge he has accrued. Haraldur was born in Stykkishólmur in 1939, completed a BSc degree at Queens University in Belfast in 1965, and received his PhD
from Durham University in England in 1970. He worked at the University of the West Indies from 1970, conducting research on Caribbean volcanoes. He served as professor of volcanology at the University of Rhode Island for 40 years. His research has been principally in volcanology, both on land and on the ocean floor. He has worked in Indonesia, Italy, West Indies, USA, West Africa, Greece, South and Central America and elsewhere, but Iceland remains firmly his home where the Volcano Museum is close to his heart. - JG
Volcano Museum Stykkishólmur
Aðalgata 6 • 340 Stykkishólmur +354 433 8154 email@example.com www.eldfjallasafn.is
Puffin with food A playful pair of Red-necked Phalaropes
Brünnich´s Guillemots at Snæfellsnes A Common Eider drake on
A male Snow Bunting on Flatey Island Breiðafjörður is the domain of the Glaucous Gull
A White-tailed Eagle in flight in Breiðafjörður
A pair of Black-legged Kittiwakes with their chick
European Shag in Breiðafjörður
Black Guillemot on Flatey Island
Breiðafjörður Birds in
The Mystical Bay with Marvellous Birdlife
Breiðafjörður is an expansive and shallow bay located on the west coast of Iceland. The bay is the largest area of shallow waters and beaches in the country, and rich wildlife can be found both above and below its surface. The area has greater tides and tidal currents than elsewhere in Iceland, and it is believed that about a quarter of the country’s beaches are located in Breiðafjörður. The bay has more diverse benthic species than have been detected elsewhere in the country. While folk belief holds that the islands in Breiðafjörður are infinite, estimates put the number at approximately 2,500. Breiðafjörður was once a great source of food and numerous islands were inhabited. The islands are now mostly deserted, with only two which are inhabited year round—but many houses are maintained and used as summer dwellings.
The birdlife in Breiðafjörður is unique and one of the most important in Iceland and the whole of the North Atlantic. Breiðafjörður is protected according to law, in addition to being identified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International. The outpost of Breiðafjörður to the north and west is Látrabjarg, the largest bird cliff in the North Atlantic.
The microcosm is characterised by birds which are wholly dependent on marine life, and many of them nest in large colonies. Furthermore, the beaches in Breiðafjörður are an important stop for migratory birds on their way to and from wintering grounds east of the Atlantic and breeding grounds in Greenland and the Arctic Islands of Canada. The reason for this rich bird life is an abundance of food, which is based on an interplay of landscape, significant tides, and the fertility of the sea.
As an example of the importance of Breiðafjörður to birds, one can mention that
two thirds of the Icelandic White-tailed Eagle population and the vast majority of Great Cormorants and European Shags nest by the bay. By far the world’s largest Razorbill colony is on the Látrabjarg bird cliffs, and about one third of the Common Eider population is in Breiðafjörður. The largest Glaucous Gull breeding grounds in Iceland are in Breiðafjörður, and the bay is also home to large colonies of Northern Fulmars, Black-legged Kittiwakes, and Arctic Terns. In addition, a large part of the world populations of Brent Geese, Red Knots and Ruddy Turnstones pass through the beaches of Breiðafjörður in the spring and autumn.
The White-tailed Eagle is known as the king of Icelandic birds. This majestic bird of prey was almost extinct in Iceland in 1960, but BirdLife Iceland was able to save the population with its fight against narrow-mindedness and ignorant views. When the population was at its lowest, it managed to prevail in Breiðafjörður, which was and still is its main habitat in Iceland. Currently, the White-tailed Eagle mostly nests on islands and islets and on low peninsulas and cliff edges, but during the population slump, it nested quite a lot on steep, unscalable mountainsides. The eagle is wholly protected and its nest may not be approached unless permitted by the Ministry for the Environment. The Sæferðir company, which sails from the town of Stykkishólmur, has a permit to sail near an eagle’s nest and show tourists this magnificent bird.
The Atlantic Puffin is one of the most common birds which nest in Breiðafjörður, nesting in tight colonies on grassy islands which are plentiful in the bay. It dives for fish and, in late summer, it is often seen in flight carrying sand eels for its young. The
Puffin is very popular with tourists and Breiðafjörður is a good spot for viewing it.
The Baldur ferry stops on the island of Flatey on its trips between Stykkishólmur and Brjánslækur. A day can be spent on the island between ferry stops or a longer period if preferred. The bird life on Flatey is special and diverse and well worth paying attention to as many birds on the island are unusually tame. Prominent along the coast of Flatey are the jet Black Guillemots sporting white wing patches, red legs and the inside of their mouth is bright red. Their main source of food is butterfish which they hunt in the seaweed along the shore. Puffins are quite common under Lundaberg cliff and on the islands around Flatey. Other prominent sea birds are Shags, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, and Eiders. The Snow Bunting sings its wistful song from rooftops or rocky outcrops. The Red-necked Phalarope swoops and swirls on most ponds and pools but can also be seen at sea, while its cousin, the Red Phalarope, may also appear on the beach. Redshanks call from fence posts, Common Snipes drum overhead, and Arctic Terns dive at unwelcome visitors on the nesting grounds.
One cannot discuss the birds of Breiðafjörður without mentioning the Látrabjarg bird cliffs, even though it is not within the area covered by laws on the protection of Breiðafjörður and even though it is a different IBA. Látrabjarg is the largest bird cliff in the North Atlantic, and it is home to hundreds of thousands of sea birds: Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Common Guillemots, Brünnich’s Guillemots, and Puffins. Bjargtangar is the best place in the world for photographing Puffins; in the evenings, they are so tame that you can almost touch them, and nowhere else in the world can you take their portraits using a wide-angle lens! -JÓH
by © Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson
Hvalvatn, at the end of Hvalfjörður, is a gorgeous lake, as are its surroundings. Hvalvatn is the second deepest lake in Iceland and covers a 4.1 km² area. It is 180 metres deep at its deepest and lies at 378 metres above sea level.
The road from Uxahryggjavegur to the lake is difficult to cross and cannot be driven in smaller jeeps. Mt. Hvalfell is in front of the lake in the picture, surrounded by a spectacular and beautiful environment. The mountain that rises on the south side up from the lake is Botnssúlur. Botnsá River flows from Hvalvatn Lake to the sea in Hvalfjörður fjord.
There are two species of trout in the lake and one of them can become huge. Trout up to 12 pounds in size have been heard of, but the other char species are considerably smaller.
Botnssúlur are popular for hikers; there is a cluster of tuff peaks called Háasúla, Miðsúla, Norðursúla, Syðstasúla (1093m) and Vestursúla. They have in common that they are all located between Botnsdalur Valley in Hvalfjörður and Þingvellir National Park. The route between Þingvellir and Botnsdalur is called Leggjabrjótur, and it is a famous hiking trail.
Bask in the Scenery in DALABYGGÐ
When you enter Dalabyggð, you find a region of history and pristine nature, an area where you can be still and relax. Here, you can enjoy silence, nature, and culture— and experience Iceland like the locals do all year round.
The region is especially lovely during the winter, and Dalir transforms into a winter wonderland at Christmas. There’s an enchanting warm feel to the area, with houses and businesses putting up Christmas lights, creating a soft light amid the snow. And, if you’re lucky, you can catch the Northern Lights dancing and flickering in the dark night sky.
You can visit the sites of Auður djúpúðga (Aud ‘the deep-minded’), famously involved in the Saga of Erik the Red and Laxdæla Saga, and see the landscape that affected this intelligent and widely-travelled woman. Or visit the birthplace of Leif, ‘the lucky’ Eriksson, son of Erik the Red, where you can experience the way of life and conditions that his family lived in at Eiríksstaðir.
Look around valleys, beaches and waterfalls and the nature reserves of Breiðafjörður. You might find Holtasóley, the national flower of Iceland or Blóðberg, which is excellent for herbal tea. Before the summer ends, go berry picking for bilberries and crowberries in the hills.
The region is home to two award-winning guesthouses that offer comfortable stays
in the countryside. Nýp at Skarðsströnd was transformed by Studio Bua Architects and won the AIA UK 2020 Design Award. Meanwhile, Drangar Country Guesthouse won the Icelandic Design Awards in 2020, honouring the best Icelandic design and architecture annually.
You don’t have to go off-road to experience everything Dalabyggð offers, but you might get a better sense of everything with a little walk. This is a place to travel slow, take everything in, enjoy, and just be.
KRAUMA Geothermal Baths
Enjoy Iceland’s sublime naturallyheated waters while bathing in geothermal baths in West Iceland. Krauma, the newly opened bathing facility, offers five relaxing natural baths, along with a cold tub, two soothing saunas and a relaxation room, where you can lounge by the fireplace while listening to calming music. This is the perfect way to experience Iceland’s renowned waters in a more intimate setting than the more crowded Blue Lagoon.
Powerful hot spring
The water for the baths is heated by Deildartunguhver, which is considered Europe's most powerful hot spring. It provides 200 litres per second of hot water at 100°C (212°F). To achieve the perfect bathing temperature, Krauma mixes the hot water with cold water from Rauðsgil, which originates in what was the Ok glacier, Iceland’s smallest glacier. Visitors can see Deildartunguhver next to the baths, with its water bubbling up and splashing against bright green moss and jagged rocks. Seeing where the heated water comes from adds to this unique experience. Be sure to keep your distance, though, to avoid being splashed if you get too close.
Important hot water source
Deildartunguhver is crucial to the comfort of the region. Most of the water used for central heating in the West Iceland towns of Akranes and Borgarnes is taken from Deildartunguhver. The hot water pipeline to Akranes is 64 kilometres long, which is the longest in Iceland. It’s still about 78-80°C when it reaches the town.
West is best Krauma is conveniently located in West Iceland, where there are numerous attractions. Starting from Reykjavík, you can make stops at the popular fishing town of Akranes and climb to the top of its lighthouse for spectacular views, before continuing to
geothermal energy in these soothing
Borgarnes to visit the Settlement Centre to get a taste of the famous Sagas. In Reykholt, one of Iceland’s most notable historical sites, you can stop at the Icelandic Goat Centre before visiting Snorrastofa, dedicated to Snorri Sturluson, one of the most famous and important figures in Icelandic literature.
Snorri penned the Edda, Egil's Saga, and Heimskringla before his death in 1241. There is so much to see and do in West Iceland and Krauma is perfectly positioned.
Geology enthusiasts and spa lovers alike will enjoy a visit to Krauma. You can experience nature from its core while bathing in these unique geothermal baths in beautiful West Iceland. Make sure you pay a visit to Krauma during your visit to Iceland. -JG
Krauma Deildatunguhver, 310 Borgarbyggð www.krauma.is
Visit Lovely Akranes
Charming towns await travellers who drive north through the Hvalfjörður tunnel from Reykjavík. Just 50km from the capital is Akranes, a popular detour for those looking to explore the west coast and spend time in the countryside. Akranes is a traditional fishing village, peaceful and friendly, and home to a famous lighthouse that is open to the public.
The Akranes Lighthouse (Akranesviti) is a delightful place to visit at any time of year. Away from the bright lights, tourists and locals flock to the site in winter to enjoy the view of the Northern Lights dancing across the sky. In the summer, people picnic outside the lighthouse and, during opening hours, guests are invited in and can climb to its top. Built in 1947, the lighthouse has been used to host concerts and art exhibitions in recent years. Visit @akraneslighthouse on Instagram for photos and videos and its Facebook page for opening hours.
Rich town history
To get familiar with the town’s history, visit the Akranes Folk Museum, which is dedicated to exploring what Akranes was like
from the time of the Settlement to the present day. The museum recently underwent an extensive renovation, re-opening in 2020, and the revamped museum hall features multimedia exhibitions and historical and cultural artefacts from the town. There’s an audio guide available in the price of admission. Outdoors, there are various houses and boats crucial to the town’s history. Visitors can explore the houses. Visit www. museum.is and the Akranes Folk Museum’s Facebook page for more information.
Bathe in soothing Guðlaug
After exploring the lighthouse and folk museum, there is no better place to relax
than in Guðlaug, a heated natural pool situated along Langisandur, Akranes’ sandy beach. The two-tier structure is the perfect place to take some time off. For opening times and prices, visit Guðlaug’s Facebook page and visit @gudlaugbaths on Instagram for picturesque photos.
Akranes is a family-friendly destination, so ensure you take time to visit the town on your next trip to Iceland.
Eiríksstaðir Museum, Dalir, West Iceland
Step out of the present and into history
Eiríksstaðir, in Dalir, West Iceland is the site of the ancestral home of Erik the Red and his son Leifur, also known as “Leif the Lucky”, who is believed to have been born here in the year 974.
The story of the notorious Viking Erik, and his son Leifur, is recounted in the Icelandic sagas which chronicle some of their more well known exploits. It is believed that Leifur discovered the North American continent at L’Anse aux Meadows, (now part of Nova Scotia) around the year 1000, long before Christopher Columbus was born. Erik the Red is credited as being at the forefront of the settlement of Greenland, sometime between 980 and 990.
History comes to life
The ‘living museum’ at Eiríksstaðir is located on the very site where Erik’s family once lived. Archaeological research at Eiríksstaðir in the mid-20th century and again between 1997 and 1999 unearthed the remains of a 10th century Viking longhouse. Ruins are still visible but a reconstruction of the longhouse has been built just 100 metres from the original
site and it is here that visitors can immerse themselves in an age gone by.
A hands on experience
History comes alive as you warm yourself around the fire that blazes in the centre of the longhouse. Guides dressed in Viking garb recount tales about Erik and Leifur that are delivered in an informative, humorous and fun way. Children are enthralled by the lively storytelling and are afterwards invited to try on Viking costumes and practice with the swords and shields. The longhouse is furnished with everyday items that a 10th century Viking family would have used, including a working loom, eating implements, and ornately carved wooden beds. Built primarily of turf, driftwood and stone, using period tools and techniques, the longhouse is an exact replica based on archaeological research which is fascinating in and of itself.
The museum is open every day from 9.00 to 18.00, from 1st June to 31st August or by appointment outside of those dates and hours. There are restrooms at the site, as
well as a gift shop that carries hand knitted items, and a variety of interesting souvenirs.
Eiríksstaðir is located 150km north of Reykjavik, 1 hour from Borgarnes, 10 minutes from Buðardalur and a 10 minute drive from road 60 that leads to the Westfjords. -EMV
Eiríksstaðir Haukadalur Valley by road 586 371 Budardalur +354 661 0434 www.eiriksstadir.is firstname.lastname@example.org
do you wanT To know every ThIng abouT The FIrsT seTTLers In IceL and?
Some 1100 years ago, Iceland was a place covered with impenetrable forests and dangerous bogs, and it took groups of bold men to cross the rough North Atlantic sea, to discover the remote island and determine to settle there in order to start a new life. They were the first to name rivers, mountains and places that are world famous today, and many farms are still able to trace their history back to the days of the Settlement. As the most important source of Iceland’s history, the Sagas are a collection of exciting stories built around these first settlers. Understanding Iceland completely means paying tribute to their achievements, which made the country what it is today.
A Warehouse of Exhibitions
In 2006 an Icelandic couple, actor Kjartan Ragnarsson and news reporter Sigríður Margrét Guðmundsdóttir, decided to dedicate a project to the story of the Settlement. They found a charming old warehouse in Borgarnes in West Iceland and started building up two exhibitions on the brave pioneers who followed their curiosity into the unknown.
Provided with an audio guide available in 15 languages, visitors find themselves in an elaborate labyrinth that displays history in a
really exciting way. Step onto a moving boat and get the feeling of how it must have been to cross the ocean in an open boat! Listen to stories, while figures behind the glass silently watch over you. On the lower floor the exhibition of Saga hero and settler’s son, Egill Skallagrímsson, takes you right into the story, with Egill’s spirit at your steps.
Transformed through Art
Visual artists from Iceland and abroad contributed their work to both exhibitions, transforming it into a unique experience. Each audio tour takes 30 minutes, leaving the visitor with the deep desire to learn more. The Settlement Center’s shop serves as a treasure chest of books on Saga literature, as well as Vikingthemed handicrafts and woolen items created by local artists. Take your time to complete your visit with a dinner in the cosy restaurant that catches the atmosphere of the house perfectly and boasts a range of sophisticated Icelandic food at reasonable prices. -DT/ASF
The Settlement Center
Brákarbraut 13-15• 310 Borgarnes +354 437 1600 email@example.com www.landnam.is
The settlement center is only a one hour drive from Reykjavík
Into the Wild Westfjords
Discover Iceland “the Westfjords Way”
The Westfjords are an unmissable region of Iceland. Here, you will find steep cliffs with millions of nesting birds, well-maintained hiking paths, quirky museums, and some of the most breathtaking beauty on the island. To explore this beautiful slice of Iceland, there is a convenient new touring route called Vestfjarðaleiðin, or the Westfjords Way. This driving route encompasses a 950 km circle around the edges of the Westfjords and there are eight different types of route experiences to help travellers navigate the region.
Vestfjarðaleiðin pinpoints locations where the landscape views are impressive and the driving experience is thrilling. Examples include the pass between Hrafnseyri and Þingeyri, the road around Klofningur and the Neshringur loop.
Many experiences are unique to Iceland, with unexpected places, museums, and attractions. Examples on this route include the Samúel Jónsson Sculpture, the Museum of Sorcery & Witchcraft and the Sea Monster Museum.
to iconic sites
There are numerous opportunities to tour remote natural spots like the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, the Látrabjarg cliffs and the Rauðasandur beach. You can spend your time roaming these gorgeous natural sites, soaking in the spectacular scenery.
Water is abundant on the island and can be experienced by bathing in hot pools like Guðúnarlaug, visiting waterfalls such as Dynjandi, or getting into it by kayaking and whale watching.
Taking the air
There are countless sky-high viewpoints where you can marvel at mountains, ascend hiking routes and enjoy skiing in the winter months. Examples include: Bolafjall, Dynjandi waterfall, the experience of flying into Ísafjörður, or hiking the old road to Bolungarvík.
The Westfjords have a rich history and travellers can explore this through the sagas, visiting longhouses and museums. Examples include: Hnjótur Museum, Eiríksstaðir Viking Museum, Eldsmiðjan Iron making, and the Jón Sigurðsson Museum.
Taste the place
Foodies rejoice, Iceland has so many tasty options to enjoy and the Westfjords is no exception. The Vestfjarðaleiðin route leads you to the best eating places, coffee stops, excellent restaurants and farm shops. Examples include Erpsstaðir Dairy, Tjöruhúsið, and Sætt og Salt specialty chocolate. The Westfjords is also home to cosy cafes like Kaffi Sól, Litlibær, and Simbahöllin.
Get your phone ready as there are so many views and experiences that capture the essence of Vestfjarðaleiðin. Examples include: the aircraft at Hnjótur; Garðar BA64 Steel Ship; the red roofed A-frame sheep hut in Arnarfjörður, as well as wildlife like puffins, whales, seals, and Arctic foxes.
Easier to navigate
Vestfjarðaleiðin was created following the opening of a tunnel between Arnarfjörður and Dýrafjörður, an important link between the north and south parts of the Westfjords. The opening of the tunnel ensures the new Westfjords Way will be open year-round as travellers can now avoid the Hrafnseyrarheiði mountain pass, which is unpaved and closed for many months of the year.
In a country full of beauty, the Westfjords may be the most beautiful region of all. Endless coastlines, jaw-dropping cliffs, and spectacular mountain landscapes await those who make the trip. Discover Iceland the Westfjords Way. -JG
Bolungarvík. Photo by Friðþjófur Helgason
Between Two Cliffs
Hornvík Bay in Hornstrandir lies between two of the largest bird cliffs in Iceland, Hælavíkurbjarg to the west and Hornbjarg to the east. In past centuries there were three families’ houses in the small bay: Horn, which was abandoned in 1946, Höfn, which was abandoned in 1944, though the rangers’ service house is still there at Hornstrandir, and Rekavík behind Höfn, which was abandoned in the same year. Hornstrandir is the northernmost part of Vestfjörður, and was made a nature reserve along with Jökulfjörður in 1975. A well populated community existed there, even though living conditions were very tough, until the middle of the last century, when the whole area was abandoned. There is no road transport to or in the reserve, so walking is the only option to view and explore this area, which is one of the most remote, coldest, and also the most beautiful parts of Iceland. Almost everyone who has been to Hornstrandir agrees on that. Hornvík is the best place to start exploring the area, though it involves both a steep climb and incredibly diverse nature. Whether in its dark cold fog, it’s calmness or sunshine, there is nothing to compare to it in the whole country. Boat trips into the area, Jökulfjörður and Hornstrandir are available from both Bolungarvík and Ísafjörður.
Photos & text: Páll Stefánsson
Hælavík Cliff above Hornvík Bay
Hælavíkbjarg in the foreground, overlooking Hornvík. Hornbjarg is on the far side of the bay
The Horn house in Hornvík Bay was abandoned in 1946, but is now used as a summer house
Hornbjarg lighthouse and weather observation station at Horn below Hornbjarg peak
Beauty in Remoteness
History and Nature go hand-in-hand in Árneshreppur
When heading to the magnificent Westfords peninsula of North Western Iceland, approaching Árneshreppur County is one extraordinary journey.
How to get there
This least populated community in Iceland is served by Gjögur Airport, with year round scheduled flights by Eagle Air. From Reykjavík to Árneshreppur, flying takes only about 40 minutes-the ideal trip-especially in the wintertime, as the road connecting the region to the rest of Iceland can be closed for weeks during winter, leaving transport by air the only option.
You visit for the landscapes and the life With Árneshreppur boasting some of Iceland’s most astonishing landscapes, hiking trails and walking paths are truly enjoyed in this unique nature.
Then the geothermal swimming pool at Krossnes is surely both dramatic and scenic definitely something not to be missed.
Small but sufficient services
A bank, co-op and a café serve this bustling little community; Sparisjóður
Strandamanna Bank in Norðurfjörður is open every weekday but Wednesday from 13-16. The old Co-op has a petrol station as well as a great variety of products for sale. Then Café Norðurfjörður, one of the most northerly cafés in Iceland, offers a varied menu of delicious national dishes. Árneshreppur has also a great community centre, ideal for any type of celebration.
A trip back in time
For local history, Kört Museum has an impressive display of old artefacts from the area and offer arts and crafts for sale. Another example of notable work dating from the past is the creation of eiderdown duvets and pillows. Gathered by hand, the eiderdown is then cleaned and processed by people with decades of experience in this field.
One characteristic of the area are the two herring factories, built in early 20th century, one in Ingólfsfjörður and one in Djúpavík, a mute reminder of the times past.
Árneshreppur has several good options. The beautifully located Hótel Djúpavík offers accommodation, breakfast and is famous for its delicious food.
Finnbogastaðir School Hostel has sleeping bag accommodation with cooking and sanitary facilities, open from June until the end of August.
Urðartindur Tourist Services offers excellent summer house rental rooms with privat facilites and a campsite.
The Iceland Touring Association, another great option, owns a hut in Valgeirsstaðir, with a dining room and a kitchen and accommodation for 20 people.
Bergistangi Guesthouse has two bedrooms available, each with comfortable beds for three people.
The old Meat Freezing Plant (now renovated as a hostel) serves up to 28 people and has cooking facilities.
Finally, Ófeigsfjörður Tourist Services offer a campsite and even luggage transportation, from June until the end of August.
Any traveller interested in the diversity of Icelandic nature and nation should not miss the opportunity to visit this phenomenal area of the north. -SP
Norðurfjörður - 524 Árneshreppur +354 451 4001 firstname.lastname@example.org
The arctic fox is an enchanting creature.
At some point in the distant past, it travelled across the frozen sea and, in spite of the inhospitable climate, found a home on this small, isolated island. The arctic fox is Iceland’s only native terrestrial land mammal and has been the subject of curiosity by scholars and lay people alike. For this reason, The Arctic Fox Centre was established in the village of Súðavík in 2010, since the fox is commonly found in the area.
Exhibition of the first native The Centre is located in the oldest house in Súðavík, a 120 year-old farm that was renovated by the local authorities and is situated between what locals call the ‘old village’, destroyed in a devastating avalanche in 1995, and the ‘new village’, built in its stead at a safe distance from the mountain.
The Centre serves as an educational and cultural hub and offers an extensive exhibition on the arctic fox as well as regularly exhibiting local arts and crafts. Its main aim however, is to collect and preserve everything of importance regarding the arctic fox and its long-lasting relationship with man as, surprisingly, fox hunting is the oldest paid occupation in Iceland.
The exhibition is divided into three sections: the biology of the fox, the hunting
of the fox and the hunters themselves, this last containing, for example, objects and personal accounts from fox hunters. Other material is presented through written text or video and, of course, there are quite a few stuffed animals. Visitors are guided through the exhibition, which is one of a kind in Iceland and open all year round.
The Centre is a non-profit business, involved in research and studies on the population of the fox. They also offer guidance on arctic fox tours in collaboration with tourist offices as well as believing in and supporting ecotourism in Iceland.
A nice little café at the Centre sells home-baked pastries, light courses and wonderful coffee, which guests can enjoy out on the patio overlooking the beautiful mountains and the sea. The café has open Internet access. On Friday nights, live music is performed in the loft, where it’s nice to sit down for a drink in the cosy atmosphere. The Centre also has a small boutique selling specially made souvenirs and craftwork. - HP
Eyrardalur • 420 Súðavík +354 456 4922 email@example.com www.melrakki.is
Artic Fox Centre
Reykhólahreppur: Overlooking Breiðafjörður from the Westfjords
The Westfjords’ south coast holds one of Iceland’s rare finds. It’s a small, peaceful community with both natural phenomena and a grand landscape. Over a dozen fjords surround the island-dotted mystical Breiðafjörður Bay with its beautiful scenery, historical and poetic references and exceptional birdlife.
A Service Centre with a History
A two and a half hour drive on paved roads from Reykjavík takes you to Reykhólar village, the county’s centre. It provides a full range of services, including a campsite, stores, museums, Sjávarsmiðjan, a unique seaweed spa and a geothermal swimming pool. Quality accommodation, dining and
picturesque views are provided at Hotel Bjarkalundur, Iceland’s oldest summer hotel. Throughout history Reykhólar has been home to many of Iceland’s most prominent chieftains and is frequently mentioned in the Icelandic sagas.
Flatey Island is an important cultural site. A visit takes you back to the year 1900. Reminders of past times include a monastery built in 1172 and Iceland’s first library built in 1864.
A wide variety of species nest around both the coastline of Reykhólahreppur and on the islands of Breidafjorður Bay. One of the most impressive are the majestic and
elusive white-tailed eagles (haliaeetus albicilla), that both nest in the area and can be seen flying over Reykhólar.
Some say Breiðafjörður Bay’s islands are uncountable though cartographers estimate there are around 3,000. There is a 6 metre difference between high and low tides at the time of a spring tide, whereas neap tides reveal far fewer islands. –ASF
Reykhólar • 380 Reykhólahreppur +354 4303200 firstname.lastname@example.org www.reykholar.is
Hrafnseyri Birthplace of Jón Sigurðsson
As mall, very remote farm, on a mountainside almost at the end of the world; the home of two men who served their country, separated by 6 centuries. A Viking chieftain in the late 12th century and a young scholar who was later to become known as the ‘Father of the Nation’.
Hrafn Sveinbjarnarson was a Viking leader who travelled to England, France and to Italy, where he studied to become a physician in Salerno. He returned to become a popular leader in the West Fjords, only to be assassinated by one he had helped. He lived on the farm in Eyri, to which he gave his name.
Six centuries later, from this same little farm, came a young man, the son of a pastor, who was to change the destiny of Iceland. Hrafnseyri has become synonymous with Jón Sigurðsson, the man who, without a shot being fired or a man being killed, brought Iceland from servitude to the Danish crown to internal self-rule with a rekindled self-respect.
Today, the farm is a museum, a testament to the man who brought freedom to his nation. However, this is no dead memorial but rather a living extension of the lives of both these great men, each a hero in his time, taking their work forward in new ways whilst enshrining the values and achievements they made.
In 1944, Jón’s birthday had been chosen as the birthday of Iceland as a nation, in recognition of the key role he played in bringing its freedom and independence from foreign rule, becoming a nation in its own right. It is celebrated each year as Iceland’s National Day. On the 17th June, 2011, Iceland celebrated the 200th birthday of their most famous freedom fighter, who fought with words and wisdom, as opposed to the guns and bullets favoured by most governments and revolutionaries alike. The President of Iceland visited Hrafnseyri to open the celebrations marking, not only Jón Sigurðsson’s birth but the rebirth and reopening of the museum dedicated to his memory on the same spot where he was born.
This year, 2018, marks another anniversary. It is the centenary of Iceland’s sovereignty, received from Denmark in 1918, thanks to Jón and his supporters whom he led in their struggle for the country’s freedom.
Why would anyone want to live in such an inhospitable spot? The road linking it with the rest of the West Fjord towns in the north is often impassable in winter. The rest of the year offers an
answer. It is located on the north slopes of Arnarfjörður, surrounded by scenes of great natural beauty, including Iceland’s most beautiful waterfall, the 100m high Dynjandi (Thunderer) waterfall, often also called ‘The Bride’s Veil’. Hiking trails abound in the almost-untouched landscape of mountains, fjords, valleys and cliffs where wildlife is plentiful. Both the remoteness and peace of the fjord provide a good opportunity for anyone to wishing contemplate their role in life.
In 1829, when Jón Sigurðsson was 18 years old, he left the farm, first moving to Reykjavík before moving to Copenhagen to become a student in 1833. An upright and forthright man, he had the calm authority of a leader. He was able to converse with king and commoner alike – a trait that won him much respect and support as he argued, using his knowledge of the historical archives as his platform, to justify his claim for Icelandic independence. This was a time when revolutionary fervour was sweeping the western world. Independence movements in Germany, France and the USA provided inspiration to the students in Copenhagen.
Jón sought self-rule for Iceland under the Danish crown. Through his annual writings, he kept his supporters in Iceland informed. In 1851, a new Danish government sought to annex Iceland, making it merely another district of Denmark. The Alþing (the Icelandic parliament), which had become an advisory body on Icelandic matters, under Jón’s leadership boldly resisted these
He laid the foundation of Iceland´s independence and sovereignty
attempts. Despite Danish warships and military presence in the harbour, force was not used and a stalemate existed for a decade, during which Jón continued to argue so successfully that it became an accepted fact that Iceland should rule itself.
A committee was set up in Denmark, on which Jón served. He delivered his own report, in which he said, that the Danish constitutional government had no right to rule over Iceland, because there never had existed any contract between it and the Icelandic people. There had been a contract between the Icelanders and the Danish king, but when the king abdicated his power in 1848 and the monarchy became constitutional, the king had also abdicated his power over Iceland, which was entitled to become a fully sovereign state like Denmark. This was then enshrined in the Danish-Icelandic Act of Union, signed on 1st December, 1918. In addition, Jón also demanded five times as much as the Danish committee was considering, claiming reparations for damage done in the past. His motive was apparently to buy time, as Iceland was not ready to stand on its own either economically or politically and he wanted it be understood that the money was given as a right, not a gift.
Through his wisdom, diplomacy, eloquent argument and Godly conviction, Jón was able to bring a peaceful transition to self-rule at a time when most other European countries were suffering violently turbulent revolutions, in which many were tortured, killed or maimed in the battle for change.
Although Iceland received its sovereignty in 1918, it wasn’t until 1944 that it became totally independent, the foundation for that independence and national identity having been laid by Jón Sigurðsson. The museum at Hrafnseyri is a testament to his life and legacy, giving a clear insight into his early years, through the chapel and the replicas of the farm buildings. The museum was renovated in 2011, with a dramatic new presentation designed by Basalt architects, who designed the Blue Lagoon’s new structures. The museum uses its facilities to continue to educate and provide a unique setting for conferences and courses run in cooperation with Jón Sigurðsson’s Professor’s seat at the University of Iceland, as well as other Icelandic and foreign universities.
Visiting lecturers from Denmark, USA, Canada and the UK have taught innovative courses, such as the 2009 Conference on National Identity in a Globalised World. Provocative questions are asked with a view to stimulating debate and argument in order to provide a platform for change, based on discussion rather than violence, whilst addressing questions that have no easy answers. For example, “What place do national heroes have in a cosmopolitan world?” “What is the place of National Identity in a Multi-Cultural Society?” Jón Sigurðsson’s legacy is very relevant in a modern world.
The Viking chieftain, Hrafn Sveinbjarnarson, was willing to brave many perils to travel through different countries, listening to new ideas, experiencing different cultures and then bringing the best to help his countrymen. If one remote farm can produce two such leaders, there must be something very valuable to learn from it! Visitors today can stay in a variety of accommodations in the nearby town of Þingeyri. The road over the mountain is fine to travel from Spring to Autumn. Refreshments are provided in the replica turf house – delicious home-made cakes, waffles and jam, with coffee that make it the most popular café in the area!
This special experience is augmented by other locally produced items, along with souvenirs that will provide a constant reminder of this farm for heroes! A unique feature of the farm is its old chapel, which is fast becoming a hot favourite for couples wanting to get married in a very special location! It is also the venue for the conferences and courses held there during summer months, turning the museum into a forward-thinking university, building on the educational foundation that led to both its former famous inhabitants leaving such a mark on the country’s history.
Interested couples, students and course providers should contact the museum’s curator, Valdimar J. Halldórsson.
The museum is open in 2018 from 1st June – 8th September daily from 11:00 – 18.00 or by appointment with Valdimar.
Hrafnseyri 471 Þingeyri +354 456 8260 email@example.com www.hrafnseyri.is
Breathtaking Landscapes & Museums of Fun
The Virtually Untouched Nature of Vesturbyggð is a
Vesturbyggð, the southern part of the Westfjords is, without doubt, one of the most spectacular areas in Iceland. With breathtaking, tranquil fjords and a mountain road along Barðaströnd, the south coast, the area provides a view over Breiðafjörður and its countless islands.
The journey starts at Reykhólar where the Icelandic eagle resides, a lovely village with a number of galleries, museums and tours around the Breiðafjörður islands. A real treat is the wholesome seaweed bathing pool, an excellent way to relax and nourish your skin before driving west along Barðaströnd.
Beach On Fire
Be sure to stop by at Hótel Flókalundur and take a walk up to the most beautiful camping site in Iceland with a view over Vatnsfjörður, where the ferry crossing Breiðafjörður docks. On your way to Patreksfjörður is Rauðisandur (Red Beach), where the sand is indeed red, giving the illusion of being on fire.
Treat for Every Visitor
Patreksfjörður is an old fishing town with quite an history—and a Pirates Museum. A brand new three star hotel with a restaurant opens in May 2013, adding to various accommodation possibilities available, both hotels and hostels. Patreksfjörður is a wonderful town to observe fishermen working and have guided tours of the fish factories and buy the freshest fish available.
The Largest Coastal Cliffs
Látrabjarg is the westernmost point in Iceland—and indeed Europe. It is 441 metres high and spans 14 kilometres, making it the island’s largest coastal cliff with fabulously rich bird-life and a hiking trail along most of the steep clifftop. Created by eruptions and sculpted by the raging sea, Látrabjarg has been used for farming since the arrival of the first settlers in the area.
There are several places to stay nearby. Nice and quiet and just a short distance away is Hótel Látrabjarg. Hotel Breiðavík is a great place for watching the sunset
and strolling along the vast beach. Further north from Breiðavík, across the moors is Hænuvík, where the seabird life can be viewed close up.
On the way back towards Patreksfjörður is an excellent museum at Hnjótur, specialising in the life of seafarers and fishermen, telling stories of disasters and rescues and their affect on both families and communities. The film, ‘Rescue at Látrabjarg’ is shown in English and German.
Of Monsters and Music
Bíldudalur by Arnarfjörður is another village full of surprises with a Monster Museum and a Music Museum. Nowhere in Iceland have there been as many sea monster sightings as in Arnarfjörður. The Music Museum is privately owned. Just knock on the door and the owner will gladly show his collection. A short distance from Bíldudalur, in Selárdalur, is an exceptional outdoor museum created by the builder and sculptor, Samúel Jónsson. Travelling north, visit the Dynjandi waterfall, considered one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland. It is actually six waterfalls in one and is called, ‘The Diamond’. -SS
Aðalstræti 63 - 450 Patreksfjörður +354 450 2300 firstname.lastname@example.org www.vesturbyggd.is
Enjoy the Culture of the Westfjords
Explore the region’s history at the Westfjords Heritage Museum while visiting the town.
The Westfjords are simply beautiful, with endless coastlines, jaw-dropping bird cliffs and gorgeous mountainous landscapes and fjords. Ísafjörður, the unofficial capital of the Westfjords, is a quaint town, at the foot of picturesque mountains, built on a curving spit of land extending out into the fjord, with shops and restaurants in its small downtown area and a bustling harbour. A short drive outside town, you’ll find more towering mountains, interesting rock formations and more sheep than people. It is a good base for exploring the Westfjords and is also the cultural hub of the region, with a thriving music and art scene and interesting museums.
Fascinating Heritage Museum
An ideal introduction to the region’s history is the Westfjords Heritage Museum, which pays homage to the past culture, society, and the traditional methods of fishing. Equipment and examples of fishing boats used in the old days are on display. The museum is housed in an 18th century building, one of the oldest buildings in Iceland, that sets the tone for the exhibits. There are also displays of ship models, informative documentaries to view and a special exhibition on the processing of
sun-dried salted fish and its significance to the town. Guests are encouraged to view the newest exhibition about Karítas Skarphéðinsdóttir, a worker’s rights pioneer who suffered from the unfortunate circumstances that were common in Iceland in those days, being sold by her family at the age of 16. After years of a life in slavery, Karítas fought for better working conditions and to improve the lives of the working class. This exhibition provides an interesting insight into this strong leader who overcame so much and worked to create great change in Iceland.
Ideal place to spend time
There’s so much to see and do in Ísafjörður, including visiting eclectic shops, exploring the harbour area and museum grounds. For dinner, consider a visit to Tjöruhúsið, a family-run restaurant that serves delicious fresh fish in inventive ways. The rustic wood interior is cosy, the service top-notch, and the menu consists of the catch of the day—haddock, cod, salmon, or other fish, served with great care and presented in a variety of delicious dishes with fresh veggies and sauces. The restaurant is conveniently located next to the museum and a great way to end your day in Ísafjörður. -JG
Vestfjarða Neðstikaupstaður - 400 Ísafjörður
www.nedsti.is Westfjords Iceland
354 456 3291
Culture and nature in theWestfjords
Þingeyri is an ideal base in the Westfjords, with museums in town and nature nearby.
Þ ingeyri is a tiny village in the scenic Westfjords that is home to fewer than 300 residents. The village is a must-visit for those interested in the history of the blacksmithing trade in Iceland, and for those curious about the Sagas. Þingeyri is also close to one of the most photographed waterfalls in Iceland, the tiered Dynjandi waterfall, and has spectacular seaside views of the Dýrafjörður fjord. There’s much to see and do in and around the village.
Visit a century old blacksmith workshop
The Westfjords is a region rich in culture, along with breathtaking beauty. For a window into Þingeyri’s past, travellers can visit the old Blacksmith's Workshop, which was founded by Gudmundur J Sigurdsson in 1913 and is now part of the Westfjords Heritage Museum. The machine shop was one of the first of its kind in Iceland and was leading in the development of the blacksmithing trade. Today, the museum includes all the original machines and blacksmith equipment, which are still in their almost original state. This is a living museum, where visitors can experience the old machine shop as if time had stood still.
From the Sagas to the modern day History enthusiasts love Þingeyri for its place in the Sagas. The Saga of Gísli takes place mostly in the Westfjords and tells the story of Gísli Súrsson, a famous warrior, who lived at Hóll in Haukadalur, a short distance from Þingeyri in Dýrafjörður. A group of Icelanders founded The West Vikings association in Þingeyri in 2003, with the aim of making the places where the Saga of Gísli took place more accessible to visitors. The association has established a festival site in the old Icelandic style at Þingeyri: a circle has been constructed of sea-washed stones and turf, with seating for over 300 people, with a long hearth in the centre.
Spectacular nature nearby
Dynjandi Falls are located at the base of the Arnarfjörður fjord and they are likened to a bridal veil. The waterfall is 30 metres wide at the highest point and 60 metres wide at its lowest. Dynjandi is the largest waterfall in the Westfjords and visiting the chute makes for an enjoyable little hike. Also, close to the village are the Westfjords Alps, which are the tall and pointy mountain range between Dýrafjörður and Arnarfjörður. The range is striking since most mountains in the Westfjords are flat topped as a result of glaciers. Kaldbakur is the tallest of them and, at 998 metres tall, it’s the tallest mountain in the Westfjords region.
Consider a stop at Þingeyri during your next visit to the picture-perfect Westfjords.
Visit the Great North
Explore the culture, beauty and history of North Iceland
North Iceland is a beautiful part of the country, encompassing breathtaking nature, unique history and some of the best bathing spots in all of Iceland.
Navigating the Diamond Circle
The Diamond Circle is a popular tourist route that covers five key destinations in the north, starting with the picturesque Goðafoss waterfall. In a country full of spectacular waterfalls, what sets Goðafoss apart is the sheer width of these powerful falls. White water surges over the rim, thundering down and crashing into rocks and the water below. Next are the striking blue and green landscapes of Lake Mývatn, followed by the stunning Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in all of Europe. Continuing on the route takes you to Ásbyrgi, an enormous canyon full of fascinating rock formations, lush grass, well-maintained walking paths, thriving birdlife, and several bodies of water. The final destination is Húsavík, the whalewatching capital of Iceland, with deep blue seas and several boat departures every day.
Arctic Coast Way
For travellers who have a bit more time to allocate to the north, North Iceland’s newest tourist route spans 900 km and has been dubbed the Arctic Coast Way. This route leads travellers on a journey across 21 towns and villages close to the Arctic Circle. The route, which debuted in 2019, is recommended to take 9 days. Along the way, you will see spectacular landscapes of mountains, steep cliffs, charming fishing villages, glacial river deltas and even crossings to islands like Grímsey and Hrísey. For more information on the route, visit www.arcticcoastway.is/en.
Rich bathing culture
Bathing opportunities are plentiful in the north and it is worth visiting as many as time allows. These swimming pools are heated by natural geothermal energy, at the perfect temperature in which to relax and enjoy some conversations with the locals. Icelanders love their pools! There are also fantastic bathing centres for a more extensive experience like the Mývatn Nature Baths and the GeoSea Sea Baths in
Húsavík. For something truly unique, visit the Beer Spa in Árskógssandur. Here you soak in a bathtub filed with beer, water, hops and yeast, an unforgettable soothing experience for your skin.
Don’t forget about the wildlife
Getting on a whale-watching boat and viewing the gentle giants up close is an extraordinary experience and there are several harbours in the north that offer trips. You can board whale watching vessels in Akureyri, Dalvík, Hauganes, Hjalteyri and Húsavík to get a glimpse of these spectacular creatures. For seal watching opportunities, be sure to visit Hvammstangi and for puffins, taking a ferry to the island of Grímsey, straddling the Arctic Circle, is highly recommended to spot these iconic birds.
Experience North Iceland’s culture
The locals of North Iceland are proud of their history and eager to introduce travellers to their art and culture, which stretches back to the Viking Age. Some museums to put on your radar include the Húsavík Whale Museum, which presents not just 11 real whale skeletons, including a 25-metre-long blue whale but an educational overview of these fantastic beasts. Another museum of note is the Icelandic Herring Era Museum in Siglufjörður, which examines the region’s rich maritime history. For those after an interactive experience, the newly opened exhibition, 1238: The Battle of Iceland, uses technology to bring history to life. The exhibition tells the tale of Iceland’s dramatic clash of family clans which led to a fatal civil war.
There’s something for everyone in the north, whether it’s charming towns and villages, well-maintained hiking paths, spectacular bathing centres, soaking in the culture at museums or getting up close to Iceland’s wildlife. The North awaits! -JG
The Arctic Coast Way
Explore this scenic North Iceland route
North Iceland’s newest tourist route spans 900km and has been dubbed the Arctic Coast Way. This route leads travellers on a journey across 21 towns and villages close to the Arctic Circle. Along the way you will see spectacular landscapes of mountains, steep cliffs, charming fishing villages, glacial river deltas and even crossings to islands like Grímsey and Hrísey. The route is best started from the west in the town of Hvammstangi, ending in Þórshöfn in the northeast. Following are some of the highlights of the Arctic Coast Way.
The Vatnsnes Peninsula is home to some of the best seal-watching opportunities in the north and there’s a museum with lovely exhibitions at the Icelandic Seal Center. Hvammstangi is the largest town on the peninsula and the site of many tourist attractions.
Hvítserkur is one of the most photo graphed sights in northwest Iceland. The stone structure, which is a basalt rock stack that juts out of Húnaflói bay, is said to resem ble a rhinoceros.
With sloping mountains, a beautiful coastline and chunks of glacial ice dotting the fjord, Skagafjörður’s landscape is spectacular. Skagafjörður is often described as horse country as horse farms and horse tour operators abound in the region.
Secluded Siglufjörður is the northernmost town in all of Iceland. It’s easy to fall in love with this beautiful harbour town. Siglufjörður’s marina is home to much of the activity in the village, with bustling restaurants and a few town-specific museums focusing on the herring industry and the local music scene.
Grímsey is a windswept and secluded island, about five square kilometres in area, that is as striking in beauty as it is difficult to reach. Tourists come to explore the tiny island, bird-watch and experience 24 hours of daylight in the height of the summer. Night does not reach Grímsey until late July, when the sun sets around midnight, only to rise a short time later.
Akureyri is commonly referred to as Iceland’s ‘second city’, a moniker many of
the town’s 18,000 residents find amusing given its size. Some might say Akureyri feels more low-key and more relaxed than Reykjavík. There are gorgeous gardens to explore, charming museums, paddleboats dotting the fjord in the summer months, and an eccentric art scene.
Húsavík has transformed itself from a placid small town to a must-see destination for tourists interested in some of the best whale-watching opportunities on the island.
Ásbyrgi is an enormous horseshoe-shaped canyon full of interesting rock formations, lush grass, well-maintained walking paths, thriving birdlife, and several bodies of water, including rivers and waterfalls.
Langanes is a narrow, 40-kilometrelong peninsula situated between two bays (Þistilfjörður and Bakkaflói). The sloping coastal landscape is ideal for bird-watching and photographing steep sea cliffs.
The Arctic Coast Way is truly a spec tacular route, encompassing sights that are uniquely memorable. - JG
The Pearl that is ÁSBYRGI
“Ásbyrgi IS the most beautiful place in Iceland!”, I heard an Icelandic woman say to her friend in the Ásbyrgi store. “I agree 100%”, said the friend, “as it’s very warm outside, quite unique summer warmth and the light last night at Botnstjörn, was quite unique”.
Ásbyrgi is a sheer mountain enclosure in Vatnajökull National Park, in the north of Norður Þingeyjar County, and one of Iceland’s greatest natural wonders. It’s a massive flat rock table mountain that was formed, according to Norse tradition, when the eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, belonging to Odin, the supreme god in Norse mythology, touched the ground for a moment, and left a 3.5 km long hoofprint where Ásbyrgi is now.
Some scientists claim that Ásbyrgi was formed following a catastrophic eruption and subsequent glacial flood of the Jökulsá á Fjöllum River, which flows just east of Ásbyrgi down to the sea in Öxarfjörður. Ásbyrgi is just 4 km from Skinnastaður, 30 km from Kópasker, 60 km from Húsavík, and 560 km from Reykjavík.
The table mountain in Ásbyrgi. There are two people standing at the very top of the edge if you look carefully
Amazing silence, Botnstjörn
Evening light at Botnstjörn pond
An old sheep barn, converted into a Service Centre of Vatnajökull National Park, at the entrance to Ásbyrgi
in paradise Birdwatching
Birding sites around Lake Mývatn
Mývatn is a shallow and highly fertile lake with powerful fresh water springs and extensive areas of geothermal heat. Invertebrates thrive in the lake and they provide the food for the huge number of birds living in the area.
Mývatn is one of the best known birdwatching sites in Iceland and is also a Ramsar site. Fifteen species of ducks breed regularly at Mývatn and the River Laxá, and there are few places in the world with such a diversity of breeding wildfowl. Barrow’s Goldeneye is the area’s flagship species and the greatest density of breeding Harlequin Duck in the world is found in the upper reaches of the River Laxá; these species breed nowhere else in Europe but Iceland.
The same is true of the Great Northern Diver, which also breeds at Mývatn. Other species which breed at Mývatn include Whooper Swan, Greylag Goose, Pink-footed Goose, Red-throated Diver, Horned Grebe, Gyr Falcon, Merlin, Rock Ptarmigan, various waders, including large a population of Red-necked Phalarope, Blackheaded Gull, Arctic Tern, Short-eared Owl and Eurasian Wren. Almost 120 species have been recorded at Mývatn.
Take a Tour from Reykjahlíð
Let’s take a tour clockwise around Mývatn, approximately 35 km by road, and visit a few of the best birdwatching sites. Just below the old hotel at Reykjahlíð is a pretty stretch of the lakeshore with a number of small islets. Horned Grebes breed commonly here and various dabbling ducks can be seen here too—sometimes Northern Shovelers are present. It is a very pleasant place to go birdwatching.
Just south of the village of Reykjahlíð, there is a bay called Helgavogur. The bay is ice-free in the winter and often attracts large numbers of birds at that time of year. In
winter the water often gives off a lot of steam owing to the presence of geothermal heat and it sometimes makes for an impressive sight. In winter it is one of the main sites for dabbling ducks at Mývatn; in summer all species of dabbling duck which breed in Iceland can be found here, including the rarest, the Northern Shoveler. Other species breed here, including several pairs of Horned Grebe, and waders and gulls can often be seen on spits of land jutting out into the bay.
The Dry Rocks of Dimmuborgir
Dimmuborgir is a special place. Apart from the lava formations and bizarre landscape, the bird life here differs from elsewhere around the lake. It is a very dry place and cliff-nesting birds such as the Common Raven, Merlin and Gyr Falcon all breed here. Redwing and Eurasian Wren are conspicuous in the scrubland.
At Höfði, there are native birch woodlands with patches of rowan, and numerous introduced species have been planted. There are a variety of birds, with a range of passerines, including Eurasian
Great Northern Diver calling
Wren, Redwing, and Common Redpoll. In the bay to the north of Höfði there are large numbers of ducks and Barrow’s Goldeneye breeds in the lava formations; there is often a great commotion in the spring when the females are fighting over the best nesting sites and chase each other around and are then joined by the males.
Around the Klasar Rock Pillars
Along the shore at Ytrivogar there is a path leading to the Klasar rock pillars, which must feature on every second postcard of Mývatn. There are various birds along this path, including Horned Grebe which breeds in the reeds right by the path, and a range
of breeding ducks. There are often a lot of birds at Birtingatjörn, on the other (eastern) side of the road but unfortunately there is nowhere to stop the car to watch them.
Lake Stakhólstjörn forms part of the protected area around the pseudocraters at Skútustaðir. The islet in the lake is home to nesting Great Northern Divers. You can often hear the haunting call of the divers on beautiful spring and summer evenings.
Kritartjörn is separated from the lake by a long, narrow spit of land. To the south and west there are large expanses of sedge, which are home to Horned Grebes and numerous dabbling ducks. There are often lots of Whooper Swans here and at Álftagerði, near Skútustaðir, the bay is often teeming with birds.
A Parade of Harlequins
The River Laxá in the Mývatn area is one of the best known breeding sites for Harlequin Duck in the world. Food is plentiful and the birds dive to the bottom of the river to catch black fly larvae. It is also one of the best sites for brown trout fishing in Iceland. In years when there is little food in the lake itself
but there are still plenty of black flies, lots of other birds come to the river. Barrow’s Goldeneye raise their young here and the river hosts plenty of other ducks.
On the western side of the lake from Vagnbrekka to Neslandavík there are numerous good sites for birdwatching. The road closely follows the lakeshore. As this is a protected breeding area from May to July, it is not recommended that you leave your car or walk around here—it is much better to watch the birds from your car. There are often flocks of dabbling ducks, diving ducks, Great Northern Divers, geese, Horned Grebes, waders, gulls and Arctic Terns here. The western shore is the best place to find Common Scoters at Mývatn. It is less common on the eastern shore but can be found there too.
The bird museum at bay Neslandavík is one of the best birdwatching sites at Mývatn. A flock of several dozen Whooper Swans moult there and in late summer you can find hundreds, if not thousands, of ducks on the bay. Horned Grebe, geese, ducks and various other birds breed around the bay. - JÓH
Images by © jóhann Óli Hilmarsson
Drakes Barrow‘s Goldeneye fighting for territory
A male Tufted Duck taking off
A pair of Horned Grebes feeding young
A male Harlequin Duck in current
An aggressive Long-tailed Duck drake
A pair of Horned Grebe in courtship dance
Siglufjörður is a small fishing town on the north coast of Iceland, about an hour’s drive from Akureyri (sometimes referred to as the Capital of North Iceland). The town, which is a part of the Fjallabyggð municipality, is flanked by rugged mountains and blessed with a history that is quite literally rich. The town was once nicknamed the Klondike of the Atlantic—a reference to the famous gold producing region in Alaska. The gold, in this case, was an abundance of ‘the silver of the sea’: herring, which gave the town its second nickname: The Herring Town. Today Siglufjörður is a haven for hiking, sailing, fishing, skiing and other activities. You will also find a nice swimming pool there and a 9 hole golf course.
Golden Age of Herring
The golden age of herring lasted just over 100 years, from 1867 to 1968. Icelanders generally refer to this era as the ‘herring fairy tale’. The country was still impoverished and essentially an undeveloped Danish colony at the time, but the resulting economic boom helped to turn Iceland into a developed country— that ultimately led to its independence.
Initially, the boom was mostly confined to several towns in the north of the country, but later it also moved to towns in the eastern fjords. At times, the export of herring accounted for up to half of the country’s total export income.
Siglufjörður was at the forefront of this economic boom, and often the herring exports from this one town alone provided more than 20% of the country’s total export income.
As one would expect, given any kind of gold rush, the town blossomed and grew rapidly, fostering a colourful culture that is still remembered and honoured today.
The Herring Era Museum Siglufjörður’s ambitious Herring Era Museum is the largest industrial and marine museum in Iceland. It has five exhibition buildings, totalling 2,500 square metres, and it is most likely the only one of its kind in the world.
The town itself is a piece of history and the museum has essentially endeavoured to rebuild a part of the old town as it was during its heyday, complete with herring boats, a herring port, boatyard, and a herring factory. In addition, it puts on live
re-enactments. It won Iceland’s Museum Award in 2000, and the Micheletti Award in 2004 as the best new industrial museum in Europe.
The museum is open daily from June to September. Annually the Herring Era Museum welcomes about 26.000 visitors who travel to Siglufjörður by car, bus or as passengers on a cruise ship.
Saturday admissions in July include a ‘Salting Show’ at 3pm, where ‘Herring girls’ re-enact the gutting and packing of herring into barrels, in the way it was done in the old days. Traditional songs and dances are also performed and guests are invited to join in.
Síldarminjasafn Íslands Snorragata 10 • 580 Siglufjörður +354 467 1604 email@example.com www.sild.is
THE PSALMIST HALLGRÍMUR
Hallgrímur Pétursson (16141674) was a priest and Iceland’s greatest hymn poet. He is best known for the Passion Psalms, which were first published in print in 1666. The Passion Psalms are world renowned work, and they have probably been translated into more languages than any other work written in the Icelandic language. The hymns are 50, which he wrote in the years 1656-1659 when he was in Saurbær at Hvalfjarðarströnd. Hallgrímur’s life was very unusual, he was brought up at the episcopal seat at Hólar in Hjaltadalur and he went to Denmark / Germany to study at a young age. When he was in the senior class at Frúarskóli in Copenhagen in 1636, some Icelanders came to the city who had been abducted in the Turkish invasion of 1627, rusty in the Icelandic language and their Christian faith. The student Hallgrímur was hired to refresh their studies and he fell in love with Guðríður Símonardóttir (1598-1682) and he stopped his studies and went with the group to Iceland in the spring of 1637, with Guðríður pregnant with their first child. Guðríður was a married woman in Vestmannaeyjar, but her husband Eyjólfur Sólmundarson escaped being kidnapped. The first few years they lived in Njarðvík, where Hallgrímur worked in a Danish store in Keflavík. He was then ordained as a priest in Hvalsnes in the western part of Reykjanes by Bishop Brynjólfur Sveinssson in 1644 and in 1651 he moved to Saurbær at Hvalfjarðarströnd, and served that church for many years. He died of tuberculosis in the town of Ferstikla at Hvalfjarðarströnd in 1674. Two churches in Iceland are named after Hallgrímur, Hallgrímskirkja in Saurbær on Hvalfjarðarrströnd, and of course the country’s largest church, Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík.
Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614-1674)
Hvalsneskirkja in Reykjanes, in the autumn rain today. Hallgrímur Pétursson sat there as priest from 1644 to 1651
Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík bathed in the rays of the midnight sun, June 5 this summer
Photo and text: Páll Stefánsson
It’s a Bird’s Life
One year in the life of the birds in the Lake Mývatn area
Mývatn is known to birders throughout the world for its rich birdlife, particularly its abundance of breeding wildfowl. No other site in Europe can boast such a diverse range of breeding ducks as the Mývatn area. Fourteen of the sixteen species of duck which breed in Iceland can be found here; the Common Eider and Common Shelduck are coastal species and are therefore rarely seen at Mývatn. Three other species of wildfowl, Whooper Swan, Greylag Goose and Pink-footed Goose, also breed in the area. Two species of divers and one grebe breed: Great Northern Diver, Red-throated Diver and Horned Grebe. Their habits resemble those of ducks in many ways, at least during the summer.
The Mývatn area offers you a wide range of excellent bird watching sites. Bird life and bird habitats are extremely diverse, typified in this region by highland oases, lakes of global importance for birds, rich birch woods and scrubland. Wetlands and small lakes are frequently encountered and moorlands are found widely.
In April, as spring arrives and the ice on the lake melts, migratory birds flock to Iceland. Fields, ponds, lakes and rivers are swamped with birds arriving from Europe and Africa. The first breeders, like Raven and Gyr
Falcon, have already laid their eggs and at the end of April the Horned Grebe starts its magnificent courtship display.
In May, the elaborate display of numerous species of ducks reaches its climax. May and June are the best months for birdwatching. Nature is recovering from the long, hard winter and the birds are extremely active and conspicuous. The countryside is filled with the sound of bird song, courtship and lively displays, the sun barely dips below the horizon and the symphony of nature seems endless. Drakes are particularly impressive at this time of year, with Long-tailed Duck and Barrow’s Goldeneye fighting vigorously for mates and territory. Harlequin Ducks hurtle along the River Laxá and the Great Northern Diver can be heard wailing out on the lake.
The Remaining Months
In July, everything seems to calm down and the adult birds get on with quietly feeding and raising their young. The drakes moult and group. Drake Harlequin Ducks and Common Scoters head for the sea. In August, the birds gather for migration
A pair of Horned Grebes feeding young
A pair of Red-necked Phalaropes
and those that travel the longest distances, like the Whimbrel and the Arctic Tern, leave for their wintering grounds. Mývatn is by now swarming with ducks if the breeding season has been successful.
September is the main migration month in north-east Iceland but geese and some ducks and passerines do not leave until October. However, numerous birds remain in the area during the winter. At Mývatn and River Laxá some areas remain open all winter and attract resident Whooper Swans, Barrow´s Goldeneyes, Goosanders and Mallards. Even a few Harlequins can sometimes be found on the river in winter.
Waders often nest in or close to rich, vegetated marshland, which is a common habitat in the Mývatn area. They take advantage of the abundance of midges and can often be seen on the shores of the lake, picking up insects which have drifted ashore. One of the most characteristic birds of the Mývatn area is the Red-necked Phalarope. Eight species
of waders breed in the area, including Black-tailed Godwit, and several more species are seen regularly.
Black-headed Gull is the most common gull in the Mývatn area and the only species which breeds in any
abundance of insects provides rich pickings for them and other birds in the area. Birch scrubland and woodlands are home to Iceland’s typical forest birds, like the Redwing, Common Redpoll and Eurasian Wren, for example. Snow Bunting and Northern Wheatear nest in lava fields, stone walls and craters.
Other land birds are the resident Gyr Falcon and Rock Ptarmigan, and the migrant Merlin and Short-eared Owl.
number. Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls are summer visitors to the lake. The Arctic Tern is a common breeder but it does not breed in large colonies at Mývatn. Arctic Skuas breed on the surrounding moorlands.
The varied habitats around Mývatn attract a range of passerines and the
The midges at Mývatn (which means Midge Lake in Icelandic) and the River Laxá are the mainstay of the local birds’ existence. If the midges were absent, there would be far fewer birds. The larvae of non-biting chironomid midges live in the lake itself; they develop in the mud on the lake bed and live on diatoms and decaying organic matter. Black fly larvae, on the other hand, attach themselves to rocks in the River Laxá and feed on passing debris. Only the black fly bites; chironomids simply irritate people, livestock and birds by flying into their noses, eyes and ears. - JÓH
Images by © jóhann Óli Hilmarsson
Pair of Harlequins on the fast flowing water of River Laxá
A drake Harlequin Duck
Akureyri Heart of the North
The dozen inhabitants in 1786, clinging to the side of Eyjafjörður, Iceland’s longest fjord, probably never imagined their brave struggle would ultimately result in a town of almost 20,000 people with all the services of a major city.
Akureyri is not as big as any of the world’s cities but it provides all the features and services expected of a big city in a very compact form, so that everything is available within a short distance.
Take, for instance, winter activities like skiing. The family-friendly slopes are under 10 minutes from the airport and the hotels. Likewise, the horse riding tours, boat trips, bird watching—to name a few—are all so close, you can almost touch them. You name it, it’s closeby. The weather, with its combination of crisp, dry snow and Northern Lights, makes a holiday here memorable.
Centre of the North
When it comes to culture, Akureyri has it all: museums, art galleries, international exhibitions, conference facilities, music venues, music of all genres, theatre and cinemas showing the latest films.
It has well over 20 restaurants, covering both Icelandic and international cuisine, with top chefs who create their own innovative cuisine. There is an abundance of cafés, each with their individual speciality.
For groups and individuals, Akureyri offers such a wide range of activities, events and opportunities, it maximises the time available. There are a multitude of tours covering every interest from flying to caving, from fishing to the Hidden People, walking to whale watching.
Sports of all kinds
Sport activities are very popular in the North and many sports are represented in this dynamic community. We have already mentioned the ski slopes, but other popular
facilities are the big skating rink, football fields and recreational areas ideal for running, hiking and downhill biking.
The geothermally–heated swimming pools, with their hot pots, jacuzzi and awesome water slides are open—and very popular—all year round.
The Arctic Open Golf championship is played on the most northerly 18-hole course in the world, just outside the city under both snow–covered mountains and the midnight sun. You can hire clubs if you need them and relax in the club house afterwards.
See the Sights
Akureyri is also a service base for many of the most important tourist destinations in North Iceland. From here, you can visit Mývatn, Dettifoss—the most powerful waterfall in Europe, the islands of Hrísey, and Grímsey, straddling the Arctic Circle; see craters and boiling mud pools and, in fact, reach all the
pearls of the North in under 2 hours. If you are planning your visit, then it’s recommended you check out the Arctic Coast Way with all its wonders. www. arcticcoastway.is.
Flights from Reykjavík airport take just 35 min. Scheduled buses drive twice a day between Reykjavík and Akureyri. The trip from Reykjavík to Akureyri takes about 6 hours, although in the summer time you can choose a longer route over the highlands if you wish to turn your trip into a journey rich with sights and natural beauty.
The city bus service is free in town. Every type of accommodation is on hand, from 4-star hotels to camp sites.
+354 450 1050 firstname.lastname@example.org www.visitakureyri.is
A Charming Farm in Marvellous Mývatn
Vogafjós emphasises a farm-to-table approach amidst stunning surroundings
Vogafjós is situated on a spectacular slice of land in the Mývatn region. The farm, owned by the same family for roughly 120 years, is an ideal base to explore a bit of Mývatn while enjoying comfortable accommodation and delicious food at this friendly farm resort.
From farm to table
The restaurant focuses on using the farm’s products for a delicious farm-to-table concept. The meat is sourced from the farm and is used in burgers, carpaccio and soup, while the farm’s milk is used to make
mozzarella and salad cheese and for coffee drinks and cooking. While enjoying your meal, you can watch their dairy cows being milked on the other side of a glass partition (milkings are at 7:30 and 17:30). Guests are also welcome to go inside the cowshed and pet the cows.
Traditional Icelandic methods
In addition to their farm-to-table concept, Vogafjós embraces some traditional Icelandic cooking methods, a lovely authentic experience for guests. As Vogafjós is situated close to a geothermal area near Lake Mývatn,
they prepare Geysir bread, a sweet rye bread, for guests. The bread is placed in a hole in the ground in the geothermal area, and then a lid is placed over it to harness the heat and bake the bread. The bread is kept underground for 24 hours while it slowly bakes. Vogafjós also prepares smoked Arctic char and raw lamb meat in the traditional method, adding a unique, classically Icelandic flavour. This method has been used in the Mývatn area for generations.
Comfortable accommodation Vogafjós’ guesthouse consists of two log houses with ten rooms each and one log house with four superior king-size rooms and double rooms, all with private bathrooms – a total of 26 rooms. The rooms are well furnished, comfortable and are designed to let guests feel relaxed while enjoying the unique natural environment Mývatn offers.
The Mývatn region is a can’t-miss part of North Iceland. Visitors are lured by gorgeous hiking trails, rich birdlife, activities along Lake Mývatn, and the soothing Mývatn Nature Baths. There’s so much to do and see in Mývatn, and Vogafjós is the perfect place to base yourself from when travelling the great North. -JG
660 Mývatnssveit +354/464-3800 www.vogafjosfarmresort.is
FJALLABYGGÐ Spend Time in Fantastic
but in the summer, it comes alive with exhibitions, concerts, packed coffeehouses and restaurants.
Siglufjörður and Ólafsfjörður are two small fishing villages on the very northern tip of the breathtaking Tröllaskagi Peninsula, which has a gorgeous mountainous landscape, with some peaks reaching more than 1,400 metres above sea level. The two incredibly scenic villages are part of the Fjallabyggð Municipality, just 76km north of Akureyri. Glaciers and rivers created several deep valleys throughout the peninsula while Tröllaskagi offers opportunities for outdoor activities, including hiking and whale-watching.
Just a one-hour drive from Akureyri, secluded Siglufjörður is the northernmost town in all of Iceland. It’s easy to fall in love with this beautiful harbour town. Siglufjörður’s marina is home to much of the activity in the village, with bustling restaurants and a few town-specific museums focusing on the herring industry and the local music scene. For much of the year, the town of less than 2,000 is quiet,
Culture, museums and summer festivals galore
Siglufjörður and Ólafsfjörður are known for their lively annual summer events that attract visitors from around the world. Here are just a few of the more popular ones:
Siglufjörður is a hot spot and the proud host of many well-known annual events. Their flagship event is, without a doubt, ‘Boating Days’, a family festival held over the last weekend in July with a full schedule of fishing, boating, and herring-related (or not) events. Musical entertainment is mainly provided by renowned Icelandic musicians and artists who perform throughout the weekend.
Herring Era Museum and Festival
One of the best museums of its kind in Iceland, Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum has a creative and entertaining way of bringing the fishing industry to life. Lively
theatrical performances depicting life and times from the Herring Era of the 1950s are scheduled every Saturday in July.
Music is in the air
Historically, music has always played an important role in the lives of Icelanders and continues to do so to this day. Icelanders’ love of music is reflected in Siglufjörður’s Folk Music Centre, located in the former home of the 19th century Reverend Bjarni Thorsteinsson, an avid collector of written folk music and talented composer. Every year in July, the Folk Music Centre holds a Folk Music Festival with participants from around the world giving concerts, lectures and workshops.
The Poetry Centre is open during the summer, and here you can read poems by major Icelandic poets and foreign poets, past and present.
Natural History Museum in Ólafsfjörður
Although Icelandic birdlife is the museum’s primary focus, mounted animals are on display, such as the goat, polar bear and arctic fox, along with fish and crabs. With so much to see and do in Tröllaskagi Peninsula this summer, the detour north promises to be very worthwhile and should not be missed.
Fjallabyggð is the home of a gorgeous slice of North Iceland, with activities and events for the whole family.
HÓLAR IN HJALTADALUR
Hólar in Hjaltadalur in Skagafjörður, is an episcopal seat, a church and a university village. A bishop’s chair was placed there in 1106 when the people of the north demanded an episcopal seat, and a bishop as a counterweight to Skálholt in Biskupstungur in the south. The bishops in Hólar were 23 Catholic, and 13 Lutheran, the last one was Sigurður Stefánsson, bishop from 1789 until his death in 1798, but after his death the two dioceses were united, and the school was moved south to Reykjavík. Hólar was actually the capital and the main cultural center of northern parts of Iceland from the beginning of the 12th century to the beginning of the 19th century. Since 2003, there has been educational programs at university level taught at the University of Hólar, in tourism, aquaculture, fish biology department and an equine science department. A consecration bishop has been at Hólar since 1986, the current consecration bishop is Reverend Gísli Gunnarsson.
Hólar in Hjaltadalur
The stone church at Hólar, built during the bishopric of Gísli Magnússon 1755-1779, the seventh church standing at Hólar, and the fifth cathedra
A statue of bishop Guðmundur Arason the kind (1161-1237), a bishop at Hólar from 1202 by election and ordained at Niðarós in 1203, until his death.
Nýibær at Hólar, built by provost Benedikt Vigfússon in 1854
Photo and text: Páll Stefánsson
Around Rauðanes, there is a wellmarked 7 km-long hiking trail that runs in a circle, and the trail is both easy and very beautiful to hike. The land is fortified by tall, vertical cliffs, and what makes the hike so special are the unique rock structures just offshore, such as Lundastapar and Gatastakk and the sheer cliffs along it.
In the Spring, the precipitous rock faces are covered with seabirds, while most of the puffins are on Stakkatorfa, the arched rock structure offshore. The Vellir summer farm is nestled under Vidarfjall mountain. There is a beautiful view of Rauðanes in the north, in Kollavík, and over Þistifjölfjörður to Langanes in the southeast.
A photographer from Icelandic Times walked around the headland in the mild summer night. It is 30 km from Þórshöfn to Rauðanes, and 120 km from Húsavík.
Rauðanes Point on Melrakkaslétta in Þistilfjörður is a unique natural pearl.
The midnight sun glitters on the surface of the sea, with Gatastakkur in the foreground
Kollavík in the foreground, then Rauðanes, and Gunnólfsvíkurfjall in Langanes Vellir Farm in the shelter of Vidarfjall mountain
Rauðanes, with Langanes in the distance
Photo and text: Páll Stefánsson
Iceland’s whale population is changing
Researchers find significant change in whale numbers in Iceland’s waters
The whale populations around Iceland are changing in both location and size, and some researchers attribute the changes to rising sea temperatures. Whales are a familiar presence and cetaceans are important predators in Icelandic waters with a total of 23 species recorded of which 12–14 species are considered regular inhabitants.
The different species that have been seen off the coasts of the island include blue, fin, minke, pilot, humpback, sei, orca, sperm, bottlenose, beluga, and narwhal whales as well as white-beaked dolphins, white-sided dolphins and harbour porpoises.
Researchers have monitored the distribution and abundance of cetaceans in the Central and Eastern North Atlantic regularly for nearly 30 years. They have been studying the changes in their distribution and abundance around Iceland—and the changes are significant.
There have been some changes among baleen whale numbers. Over the past 30 years, some stocks have grown, others have decreased, and others have moved to different waters. In fact, significant changes in the distribution and abundance of several whale species have occurred in the North Atlantic
during this time period. The abundance of humpback and fin whales has increased from just 1,800 to 11,600 and 15,200 to 20,600, respectively, in the period 1987–2007. Fin whales and humpbacks have increased in number since 1987, when more exact counting of their numbers began. At the same time, blue whales have moved into more northern waters, which is attributable to warming sea temperatures further south. In contrast, the abundance of minke whales along Iceland’s coasts has decreased rather dramatically from around 44,000 in 2001 to 20,000 in 2007 and just 10,000 in 2009.
Physical variables affecting numbers
The physical variables impacting cetacean numbers include ocean temperature, depth and salinity. The increase in fin whale abundance was accompanied by the expansion of their distribution into the deep, vast waters of the Irminger Sea. The distribution of the endangered blue whale has shifted north during this period. The habitat selection of fin whales was analysed with respect to physical variables, and the results suggest that their abundance was influenced by an interaction between the physical
variables of depth and distance, but also by the sea surface temperature and height. However, the changes in cetacean distribution and abundance may also be a response to their food supplies, as capelin populations move further north and the sand eel population has collapsed.
The estimates of minke whales from 1987–2009 around Iceland varied widely. Their numbers increased appreciably between 1987 and 2001. However, the survey in 2007 revealed a reduction in
minke whale abundance to less than half that of 2001 and an extra aerial survey conducted in 2009 showed even further decline in numbers. Thus, the decrease in common minke whale abundance in the Icelandic continental shelf area seems to be related to the decrease in the abundance of their preferred prey species, sand eel in the southern part and capelin in the northern part. The trend is concerning.
Reasons for change
Significant oceanographic changes have occurred in Icelandic waters since the mid-1990s, including a rise in ocean water temperature. Although the exact causes remain unclear, these changes appear to have caused a northward shift in the distribution of several fish species, a decrease in krill numbers and a total collapse in the sand eel population off the coasts of Iceland. Considerable changes in distribution and abundance of several whale species are apparent from the series of cetacean surveys dating back to 1986.
The Highlands in North East Iceland
During the past few decades, highland excursions have become increasingly popular. Walking enthusiasts quaff the fresh mountain air, while others prefer drives along unmade trails in jeeps and other rough terrain vehicles. A third group likes to combine highland jeep tours with hiking.
The highland scenery in Þingeyjarsýsla district is stark and diverse and offers visitors countless options.
Near and Far Highlands
The highlands may in fact be separated into two categories: the near highlands and the far highlands. The former term refers to the highland areas closest to populated districts. In this category, we find a large number of mountains that offer interesting trekking challenges. For example, the highland terrain west of Skjálfandi bay, jeep excursions to Flateyjardalur valley and walking tours from there into the Fjörður area, hiking terrain in Kinnarfjöll mountains, the
Þeistareykir area, the mountains in the Mývatn area and the highland tract in the eastern part of Langanes point.
All these areas offer diverse landscapes and panoramic views of the surrounding scenery, an invigorating experience that inspires the traveller with a ‘joie de vivre’.
The far highlands signify the high land terrain north of Vatnajökull glacier. Some would call this ‘the real Ice landic high lands’ contain ing a large number of locations to enthral those who love the wilderness and its adventures.
in their stark beauty
These barren expanses offer countless routes of adventure. Some of these possibilities are described in more detail below.
Gæsavötn are two shallow lakes to the east of Tungnafellsjökull glacier. There is some vegetative cover around the lakes. The ruins of a stone and turf hut were found here in 1932; perhaps a testimony to outlaws or an ancient shelter for mountain travellers.
In olden times, a common route between north and south Iceland lay across the rocky desert of Sprengisandur where Kiðagil was a popular place of rest, a kind of mountain oasis. The memory of this resting place has been rendered immortal by the following lines from a well-known Icelandic ballad by poet Grímur Thomsen:
If Kiðagil I could descend I’d give my best steed to that end.
Dyngjufjöll mountains are located to the north of the Dyngjujökull glacier, which extends n orth from Vatnajökull. This is a barren mountain cluster encircling the 50 km 2 Askja caldera. Subsidence in Askja’s south-east corner has formed a smaller caldera now filled by Öskjuvatn, one of Iceland’s deepest lakes, with a maximum depth of 220 metres. The Víti crater next to Öskjuvatn was formed in a huge explosive volcanic eruption in 1875. The warm water in
Askja caldera and the Víti explosion crater Víti (Hell) was formed in an eruption in 1875.
An enchanting wilderness awaits those willing to take the challenge
the crater is suitable for bathing and is popular with visitors.
Queen of the Mountains Ódáðahraun is Iceland’s most extensive lava field, a practically continuous desert from the Vatnajökull glacier northwards to the mountains in the Mývatn region. The most renowned of those is Herðubreið, a table mountain 1682 metres in height, long referred to as ‘the Queen of Icelandic mountains’ and recently elected Iceland’s National Mountain by popular vote.
Approximately 5 km north of the mountain are Herðubreiðarlindir springs, a green oasis in stark contrast to the bleak surrounding desert. Conspicuous among the lush Herðubreiðarlindir flora are clusters of garden angelica, several willow varieties and colourful aggregations of arctic river beauty. Herðubreið and its surrounding areas were declared a nature reserve in 1974.
Kverkfjöll mountains are a huge mountain range at the northern extremity of Vatnajökull glacier. The region is characterised by alternations of ice sheets and clusters of natural hot springs, with the most prominent, Hveradalur, being the among the greatest high temperature geothermal areas in Iceland. In summer, regular tours are operated to the Kverkfjöll region from Akureyri, Húsavík and the Mývatn District.
Herðubreið mountain has been called the queen of Icelandic mountains.
Kverkfjöll area – The opposing forces of fire and ice are very evident in the Kverkfjöll area.
Summer evening by Lúdentsborgir. Lúdentsborgir are part of a crater row in the Mývatn area.
The Plumber who became the Award -Winning
Photographer, Steinipíp started travelling the Highlands with the legendary Guðmundur Jónasson at the age of eleven
A ward-winning photographer, Þorsteinn Ásgeirsson [b. 1952], at the age of eleven, started travelling Iceland’s majestic Highlands, the largest undeveloped area in all of Europe, covering some 40,000 square kilometres of Arctic desert, glaciers, rivers, waterfalls, geothermals and mountains. They are a point of pride for many Icelanders. It was during the early sixties. Þorsteinn had the best possible teacher in Iceland’s legendary bus-driver and highland-explorer, Guðmundur Jónasson [1909-1985] from Múla in Húnavatnssýsla – Bearcub Water County – in the North. The youth listened intently to his teacher telling stories of the land and its people. He bought his first camera and started photographing at early age.
In one of his first travels with the grand old man, they went to the amazing Landmannalaugar – Land-Men Warm Pools. The young man would listen intently to how the first generations of Settlers would herd sheep into the mountains for the summer and that Landmannalaugar was then already a meeting place. He learnt of Hattver at Jökulgil – Hat Place at Glacier Ravine –deep in Landmannalaugar, where Torfi (the rich) Jónsson from Klofi in Landsveit sought shelter from the Plague in the late 15th century. Close by is Frostastaðavatn – Freezing Place Lake. Late into the 19th century or even 20th century, people would be wary of the útilegumenn – Outlaws, who were claimed to live in the Highlands.
Neil Armstrong & Sir Edmund Hillary
When NASA chose Iceland as their training ground for the first moon landing in July 1969, due to its lunar style landscape, Guðmundur was chosen to take them into the Highlands. It was 1965 when he met with Captain Neil Armstrong [1930-2012] and his fellow astronauts. The young teen followed the news intently since, for obvious reasons, he was not allowed to accompany them. Armstrong’s words on the Moon would travel the world: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” When Sir Edmund Hillary [1919-2008] had visited Iceland back in 1954, Guðmundur had guided Sir Edmund, who had climbed Mount Everest the year before. Such was Guðmundur’s status as a true legend, the world’s trailblazers would meet him when visiting Iceland.
Punched the great man in the nose “I learnt a lot from that great man. I’ve often wondered why we became such good friends; I, a teenager and Guðmundur, a seasoned legend. I remember him picking me up by my ears. It was quite common at the time that grown-ups would do such things. I was twelve and it hurt so I punched him in the nose. I believe that was when our friendship got stronger”, Þorsteinn Ásgeirsson says, smiling in the interview with the Icelandic Times. “The majesty and the freedoms of the Highlands would draw me again and again to the bounteous and serene wild. I became a pípulagningamaður – pipe laying man or plumber – known as Steinipíp, but my passion was exploring the Highlands with my camera in hand”, he continues. Steinipíp – Stone pipe – has become his artist’s name. Steinipíp feels that there are dark skies on the horizon, as the Highlands are in danger of being run by all-controlling autocrats, using sweet-talk to hide their true intentions.
National Highland Park
The government of 2017-2021 wanted to make the Highlands a national park, with the stated goal of improving and strengthening Iceland’s image as a nation supporting the preservation of pristine land and wildlife for the benefit of those who visit Iceland; a sanctuary for those who wish to enjoy the natural environment of the central highland, take pleasure in outdoor activities and relish experience of nature. Many feel that this is meaningless sweettalk hiding a takeover. Establishment of national park is being advocated by the far Left-Green party, formerly the Communists. Those who oppose it have been called “a
whining minority” by former Parliamentary President, Steingrímur J. Sigfússon, the founder of Vinstri-græn, or Vg as the LeftGreen party is referred to.
However, Icelanders who have travelled and enjoyed the freedoms of the Highlands for decades are sceptical and have put up concerted criticism of the plan. They are putting up a fight against the State taking over the Highlands and, many feel, basically everything in the country. They feel that the signs are there already, controlling bureaucrats, overreaching their powers. The establishment of the national park was met with heavy resistance in Parliament and the plans did not go through before the Parliamentary Elections in September.
Municipalities, not a paralyzing State Steinipíp is highly critical of plans for a Highland National Park. He says that he has met with landverði – land-guards –overreaching and abusing their powers. Steinipíp has written on the issue and warned against the State taking over the Highlands. “It is absurd that people can’t travel the Highlands without having controlling guards policing all over the place. It goes against the very nature and freedoms of the Highlands. The all-controlling Left wants to take over the country and the Highlands included. People have to be wary of their intentions. It is a much better solution that the Highlands are administrated by the many municipalities involved and have an interest in promoting their local treasures such as Landmannalaugar, instead of an all-engulfing, paralyzing State, the municipalities with invested interest would ensure respect for our national treasures, promote competition and divide power”, Steinipíp claims. -HH
"The majesty and the freedoms of the Highlands would draw me again and again to the bounteous and serene wild. I became a pípulagningamaður – pipe laying man or plumber – known as Steinipíp, but my passion was exploring the Highlands with my camera in hand".
t is fun to travel in the Highlands, explore them and get to know their history a little better. All roads should be preserved and used; they have become monuments and have significant cultural value.
Folktales from the turn of the 20th century say that the Landmenn and Skaftfellingar quarrelled. They considered each other to be outlaws if they were seen in Veiðivötn, and it happened that the two groups fought, even with guns. I suspect, however, that they were only fetching trout in Lake Veiðivötn.
There was a strong belief in outlaws at the time. If someone was seen in the Highlands, it was generally thought that the person in question was either a sheep thief or an outlaw. Today they are called ‘off-road good-for-nothings’.
F Örom the source of Blákvísl Stream, we continue on Öldufellsleið road. There we come to Blákvíslarfoss Waterfall, where we cross the waterfall’s edge. If you are driving towards Mýrdalur, go down a small road that turns below the stream. You really can't skip this slight detour because the waterfall is magnificent, and the water is cold and tasty. When travellers have enjoyed the beauty of the waterfall, they continue along the cliff’s edge.
Not far away, you can see Hafursey and even drive around it. Nearby Þakgil should not be missed.
ldudadlsleið is real eye candy and a unique experience, and you can only find a similar experience in the Highlands. Botnjökull Glacier is on the right in the picture. Öldufell is in the middle of the photo and the source of Bláfjallakvísl Stream, Mt. Bláfjöll is to its left.
Torfajökull Glacier is a bit to the north. This place is connected to Torfi í Klofa (a figure in Icelandic history). It is said that he travelled the area with an abducted girl. Her cousin gave chase and followed them, and it is said that Torfi had no choice but to
jump over the narrowest part of the gorge to escape, which he did. However, the girl’s cousin did not make the jump and hung on a small tree on the gorge’s edge. The girl asked Torfi to cut down the small tree, but he decided to save the man. They then reconciled wholeheartedly and Torfi got his girl. Place names that are said to be named after Torfi are: Torfajökull, Torfatindur, Torfamýri, Torfafit and Torfavatn. Blesamýri and Faxi are said to be named after his horses.
Photo: Steinipíp North Iceland
Mt. Mælifell in Mælifellssandur Desert is in the middle of the picture. Mælifell is a good landmark and can be seen from far away. Right next to the mountain is a stream called Brennivínskvísl Stream. Its name is considered a good reason to have a shot or two of Brennivín while resting tired bones before a continued journey. It is said that Brennvínskvísl got its name when Bishop Þorlákur went there with an entourage. When they arrived at the stream, the men dismounted, and Þorlákur picked up a small flask of Brennivín and said: “You see, boys, that the wine does not kill us on the mountain”. Then they all drank from the flask.
It’s hard to travel across the Mælifellssandur Desert in the first half of the summer due to flooding. It is hardly passable until the middle of July. I was there on a trip with my friends in perfect weather and the state of the roads was optimal. However, we decided to drink coffee and have a fun chat instead of Brennivín when we arrived at Brennivínskvíls Stream.
kælingar’s environment is unique, like nature’s amusement park. To get there, drive to Nyrðri-Ófæra just east of Eldgjá and up the eastern edge of Eldgjá along the road to Gjátindur. Soon after reaching the edge, there is an intersection to drive down a slope towards Skaftá. Follow the path that leads to the hut.
If you continue from Skælingar up to Langasjór, you drive about one kilometre in the water at Blautulón lake. Drivers must take care because the lake is deep, so keep as close to the bank as possible. This route is more difficult and needs to be travelled on well-equipped jeeps. You should not drive the Blautulón route on unmodified jeeps. This route is well worth taking, though.
When I first visited Skælingar, I was fascinated by the place. You can find these unique lava formations in other areas, and it is always worth stopping and taking pictures. The lava formations formed when lava flowed from Eldgjá. Blockages formed in the lava flow, and a large amount of lava then accumulated in ponds. Usually, the blockages break away reasonably quickly. In Skælingar, the clogs have cooled quicker than the lava in the pond, probably due to accumulations with a different coagulation process. These lava plugs remained, but the lava from the pond continued to flow.
This photo was taken with a drone over Langisjór, with the permission of Vatnajökull National Park. Up along the middle of the picture by Langasjór are Fögrufjöll mountains which end in the Vatnajökull Glacier. You can also see the Skaftá River flowing past Fögrufjöll. Farthest to the right on Vatnajökull Glacier, you can see Grímsfjall. To the left of the picture, there is a mountain range by the water. Breiðbakur towers the highest there, but it is possible to drive there. Next, Niðri- and SyðriHágöngur can be seen, which are prominent in many parts of the Highlands. Bárðarbunga can be seen in the picture. A plane named ‘Geysir’ was forced to had to make an emergency landing on the sloping top of the Vatnajökull Glacier. The story goes that the landing was so soft that the passengers did not feel anything and had no idea they had landed.
My father was one of the rescued people, and he said that he lost 7 kilos during that trip. He also told me that there was gold in the plane he picked up. Later I got a pod camera found in Geysir; from then on, I started taking pictures.
Few places compare to Tungnaá River in beauty. The photo was taken with a drone in a southwesterly direction. The picture shows Hekla towering in the far right. To the west, smoke (like snow) can be seen in the mountains, the Landmannalaugar pools are located there. The mountain ridge called Barmur stretches from there, and then to the far left is the Torfajökull Glacier area. Then there is Ljótipollur Lake (Ugly Pond), correctly named, and Frostastaðavatn Lake, a little further to the right. Frostastaðavatn is probably the most photographed lake in the highlands. It is unsurprising since the area is breathtakingly beautiful.
The picture is taken above a series of craters called Lakagígar and ends in a tuff mountain called Laki. It is not known if the craters in the crater series have separate names. But I have been told that locals know what many craters are called. One is called Tjarnargígur, for instance.
Lakagígar is a series of craters on a 25 km long eruption fissure west of Vatnajökull Glacier. The series of craters is named after an old tuff mountain called Laki and is close to the middle of the picture. Lakagígar was protected in 1971, but the area was created in Skaftáreldur in 1783-1784, one of the largest eruptions in Icelandic history. Previously, the series of craters was called Eldborgir.
The eruption of Lakagígar began on Whit Sunday, June 8, 1783, following a series of earthquakes. Lakagígar lies on ten parallel cracks, each 2-5 km long. At the southern end of the crater series
by the Hnúta mountain, the first crack opened. Then started a wave of eruptions that all began with earthquakes. The eruption formed about 135 craters and a 2-500-metre-wide rift valley from the roots of Laki and reached two kilometres southwest of it. Ash and volcanic fumes caused a thick fog and mist over Iceland, spreading over Europe, Asia and America. Heavy pollution accompanied the mist that caused poisoning to the vegetation, so almost half of all livestock perished in Iceland, leading to famine among the people. The mist and eruptions also caused cold weather because they reduced the sun’s radiation and dimmed the sunshine. These were the so-called Mist-hardships, the greatest hardships that have befallen Icelanders. The eruption is one of the most devastating eruptions in human history.
The lava from Lakagígar covers about 600 km².
Photo: Steinipíp North Iceland
One of the most amazing places in the Fjallabak area is the Rauðibotn crater: a red and green emerald surrounded by volcanic deserts between Torfajökull and Mýrdalsjökull glaciers. Rauðibotn is more spectacular, seen from the Hólmsá river and its waterfalls.
Rauðibotn is part of a chain of volcanic craters that stretches through the central highlands from Mýrdalsjökull to Vatnajökull glaciers. The volcano is connected to the Katla volcano, where both are part of the same volcanic system. The volcano has only erupted once since the Settlement. In the 10th century or more precisely in 934, Eldgjá erupted. It is the largest eruption in Iceland in recent millennia.
The eruption of 934 was about 18 kilometres in volume and covered about 800 square kilometres. The tephra
from the eruption is about 5-7 square kilometres. The lava is so large that it would cover the entire city of New York. The impact of the eruption on the world’s meteorological system was catastrophic. It caused crop failures and famine in Europe, and temperatures dropped throughout the northern hemisphere.
The easiest way to reach Rauðibotn is from Syðri Fjallabaksleið in the Highlands. It is possible to park at Mælifellssandur Desert or on the road closer to the crater to better protect the area from walking. There are magnificent views over the crater from the mountain ridge south of the crater. Those who have become tired from walking can view the crater with good drones and take pictures as I did. By doing so, more people can enjoy this magnificent nature.
The Pearls of
Explore the vast beauty of the East
East Iceland is home to some of the most remote, spectacular nature on the island, with breathtaking attractions and numerous hiking opportunities. The region offers sweeping landscapes with backdrops of looming mountains, narrow fjords, and rugged coastlines. If you’re looking for unspoiled beauty, it’s here.
There are several itineraries to help you determine the best way to explore East Iceland on www.east.is. Below are some of the highlights of the eclectic east.
Djúpivogur, a town of fewer than 500 people that has a history of fishing and trading dating to 1589, is a recommended place to visit. The picturesque landscape is the backdrop to countless hiking trails, which are free to roam and explore.
Fáskrúðsfjörður is a small village, also with fewer than 500 people, nestled on a long fjord of the same name. It’s the most ‘French’ part of Iceland, as the village was originally a base for more than 5,000 French fishermen, who came every year to fish the rich Icelandic waters. Some settled here in the late 19th century. The village had a hospital, chapel, and cemetery that were built by the French, and both the buildings and the history
remain, as the streets of Fáskrúðsfjörður are marked in both Icelandic and French.
Egilsstaðir is considered the unofficial capital of East Iceland, but don’t let that fool you; it’s a ‘capital’ with fewer than 3,000 residents. The quaint town earned its name based on a reference to the nearby Egil’s farm, which appears in the stories of the Sagas.
If you’re interested in exploring a bit more of the interior, consider a drive through the highlands. There are the hot natural pools at Laugarfell, the towering Snæfell mountain, and the vast beauty of the Vatnajökull National Park.
While surveying the landscape, you will have certainly noticed that trees are a rare sight in Iceland. Hallormsstaður has the distinction of being the largest forest in the country, though it would be considered small by other standards. It stretches along banks of the 35-kilometre-long Lagarfljót glacial lake. It’s beautiful to roam among native birch trees that have survived inclement weather and found a way to thrive.
Seyðisfjörður is well-known for its variety of cultural events, its diverse community and the town centre that is adorned with beautiful wooden houses that are quite rare in this
country, as well as the ferry port that brings visitors from Europe with the cars, motorbikes or bikes. Opportunities for outdoor activities are varied in Seyðisfjörður and for those who are interested in hiking, you can find both short and longer hiking trails.
To help you discover and navigate the magic of East Iceland, an app called Austurland, is a valuable resource to get the most out of your trip. Austurland includes information about attractions, hiking trails, swimming pools, as well as discounts, special offers, local secrets,
services and announcements. The Austurland app, which is available for both Apple and Android products, is a great guide to help you find inspiration for places to eat, activities or ways to unwind in the east of Iceland.
East Iceland is often overlooked by first-time visitors to the country, but it has some of the most pristine, untouched nature in Iceland. On your next trip to Iceland, be sure to spend some time visiting, hiking and photographing the east coast and Eastfjords. Even during the high season, there’s a good chance you won’t bump into many other tourists. The East can be your own private treasure. -JG
Where the Sun comes up
Fjarðabyggð is the tenth most populous municipality in Iceland, with over five thousand residents in the middle of East Iceland, from Mjóafjörður in the north to Breiðdalsvík in the south. Fjarðabyggð was formed in 1998, about a quarter of a century ago, when Neskaupstaður, Eskifjörður and Reydarfjörður merged, followed by Mjóifjörður, Fáskrúðsfjörður, Stöðvarfjörður and Breiðdalsvík.
The fishing industry, aquaculture and the processing of marine products are the basic pillars of value creation in the municipality, as three of the larger fishery companies in the country are located in Fjarðabyggð. Then there is Alcoa-Fjarðaál, with its large aluminium smelter, in Reydarfjörður. The third pillar in the municipality is, of course, the tourism industry that has grown and grown rapidly in a short time, as the area is great for seeing and experiencing the uniqueness of Iceland year-round. Even in the winter, there is skiing in Oddsskarð, the sight of reindeer in the middle of the
It is possible to debate whether Klifbrekfossar in Mjóafjörður is the most beautiful waterfall in the country, that nowhere is the fog more awesome than in Stöðvarfjörður, or that the stillness on Eskifjörður is so complete, the silent and majestic mountains are reflected inverted on its mirror-like surface. But one thing is certain that the sun rises in Iceland first in Fjardabyggð, always.
track, and enjoying the Northern Lights dancing above Skrúð, the island east of Vattarnes, between Reydarfjordur and Fáskrúðsfjörður.
The first protected nature conservancy of the country was established in Fjarðabyggð, in Neskaupstaður. The area around the foot of the Nipan mountain was protected in 1972. Since then, Hólmanes, between Eskifjörður and Reydarfjörður has also been designated a nature reserve. The Gerpis area, the easternmost part of Iceland, between Norðfjörður and Reydarfjörður is becoming one of the most popular hiking
areas in Iceland, both because the area is deserted and because it is laid out with great, well-marked hiking trails, which makes it accessible to tourists and hikers alike. The nature and bird life in the area are exceptional.
What makes Fjarðabyggð especially exciting for tourists is its diversity. The tranquillity and beauty of Mjóafjörður is unforgettable, whether you take the sea route from Neskaupstaður or drive over the Mjófjarðarheiði pass. In contrast, Neskaupstaður bustles with energy. There is always life in the town, whether at the
museum at the harbour, or around the harbour itself. In Eskifjörður, old meets new charmingly in the fjord, creating a picturesque town. Reydarfjörður is the centre of the action, while at the bottom of the fjord between Vattarnes and Hafnarnes lies the town of Fáskrúðsfjörður, where you have to speak French! In the last century, the town was a centre for French fishing boats, fishing the wild Icelandic waters, as there are very good fishing grounds off the East coast. To the south is Stöðvarfjörður, where most travellers touring the country visit the unique and famous Petra’s Stone Collection. Continuing south, in Breiðdalsvík is Meleyri, one of the most beautiful coastlines in Iceland, a three kilometre-long beach with the Sæhvammstind mountains on one side and Sátur mountain with its distinctive peak, on the other. To see the sun kissing the land at dawn is stunning while, because Fjarðabyggð is Iceland’s most eastern municipality, naturally, most other people still only see a morning glow in the sky.
FÁSKRÚÐSFJÖRÐUR FÁSKRÚÐSFJÖRÐUR STÖÐVARFJÖRÐUR ESKIFJÖRÐUR REYÐARFJÖRÐUR REYÐARFJÖRÐUR
In the tiny town of Stöðvarfjörður in East Iceland, a young girl named Petra began collecting stones in the mountains surrounding her home—and continued to do so until she passed away at the age of 89. During her lifetime, her home became a museum and is now a popular tourist attraction: Petra’s Stone & Mineral Collection.
In the story of Burnt Njal (BrennuNjálssaga), it is said that a quarter of your personality comes from your name, the other three-quarters come from your mother, father and your upbringing. ‘Petra’ means stone, which is oddly fitting.
The collection is remarkable, as every stone is beautiful. While it is very interesting for geologists to see so many rocks from the same area, the stones have not been arranged according to their scientific value but rather in a way that pleases the eye, a tribute to the wonderful colours that can be found in nature.
At first, this was only her personal collection as, for the first two decades, Petra would only collect stones that were within walking distance of her house. As she arranged them in the garden, strangers would pull over in their cars to better see what was going on. Sometimes the children would be sent out to ask the drivers if they would like to come inside to see more stones and have a cup of coffee.
Petra spent her entire life collecting rocks, and would sometimes bring her young children along to search for new additions
to the collection in the surrounding mountains. She arranged her stones in a garden that would be right at home in a fairy-tale. Petra believed in elves and hidden people and her colourful garden would be the perfect place to meet them. As her children moved out of the house, her stones moved in and the remarkable collection continued to grow.
Petra loved people as well as stones and her passion project became a museum that is open to the public. Her husband, Nenni, passed away in 1974 and on the day of his funeral she decided to open up their home so that those who wished to see the mineral collection could do so.
The stones and minerals have been chosen for their beauty and their colours, without regard to their scientific value or monetary worth. However, there are many semi-precious stones in the collection, such as amethyst.
Today, her children run the museum together and continue to add to the collection. Her youngest daughter, Þórkatla, says that she, herself, would prefer not to believe in elves—but maybe her mother had a helping hand when she went around searching for rocks, as she was incredibly lucky.
Petra’s Stone Museum
Fjarðarbraut • 755 Stöðvarfjörður +354 475 8834 email@example.com www.steinapetra.is
In the mouth of the Fáskrúðfjörður fjord lies Skrúður island. The island is one big rock made of basalt and acid volcanic rock that rises 160 metres out of the sea. The island belongs to the Vattarnes land and was protected in 1995; it is 530 metres wide and 590 metres long. Over the centuries, there has been a lot of egg harvesting on Skrúður, as 18 bird species nest on the island. The birds number in the hundreds of thousands. There are, for example, 300,000 puffins in Skrúður alone. It is the most common nesting bird along with the gannet, which started nesting on the island in 1943. Fulmar and blacklegged kittiwake are also common nesting birds on Skrúður. There is a remarkable cave on the island coast named Skrúðhellir. It is estimated at around 4,000 m², 125 metres long, and 80 metres wide at its widest point. Many puffins nest in the cave. Decades ago, fishermen sailed from Skrúður and between rowing tours, they stayed in the cave.
The gannet settlement on the east side of Skrúður
Skrúður Island in all its glory
Looking at Skrúðhellir
Gannets in flight
Nesting gannets on Skrúður
Explore the Beauty of
Picturesque towns, hiking trails, and breathtaking nature awaits
East Iceland is home to some of the most pristine, untouched nature on the island and charming towns with cultural attractions to boot.
Múlaþing municipality consists of four villages, Borgarfjörður eystri, Seyðisfjörður, Djúpivogur, and Egilsstaðir, which are can’t-miss destinations in the east of Iceland.
Beautiful Borgarfjörður eystri Borgarfjörður eystri is a gem hidden between spectacular mountains in the east. It is the home of the Atlantic puffin, which can be visited during the summer season. These adorable birds are delightful to see
in their natural habitat. In Hafnarhólmi, guests can get close to the birds, observe them, and get magnificent photos.
Borgarfjörður offers a variety of fantastic well-maintained hiking trails where you can feel connected to nature. As the fjord is the home of hundreds of elves, who knows what one might spot while roaming the beautiful landscape. For those who want to experience the fjord filled with music and people, it is worth visiting during the Bræðslan music festival, which takes place in July every year. Check out borgarfjordureystri.is for more information about the village.
Serene and scenic Seyðisfjörður
Both culture and vibrant atmosphere symbolise the unique fjord Seyðisfjörður. The village buzzes with life during LungA, its annual art festival boasting local and international artists. In addition to the unique festival, it also hosts the LungA School. Exploring the sound sculpture, Tvísöngur combines hiking in beautiful surroundings and engaging art; it is a place where one might be tempted to sing a song or two.
Walking in the fascinating village, down the rainbow street with its cute little coffee houses, market, shops, and restaurants
and into the blue church makes a visit worthwhile. Everywhere is an opportunity to catch breathtaking photos of people, nature, and quirky old houses. Information about nature, attractions, and hiking can be found at visitseydisfjordur.com.
Djúpivogur is a charming fishing village where heritage is celebrated by beautiful old houses, fascinating museums and the idyllic island Papey. For birdwatching enthusiasts, a visit to Djúpivogur is an excellent opportunity to explore various birds; one can even set up in a birdwatching
hut and wait for the perfect photo moment.
Along the coastline towards the harbour, one can see a stunning art piece which consists of 34 granite eggs; it is a replica of the eggs of the birds which lay eggs around the village. In and around Djúpivogur, one can go hiking or enjoy strolls along the black sand beach or the white sand beach. During a walk, one might lay eyes on reindeers and seals. The village and its surroundings are incredibly picturesque.
A gorgeous landscape is the backdrop to countless hiking trails, free to roam and explore. The 1,069-metre (3,507-
ft) Mount Búlandstindur looms over the town, dominating the terrain. Visit visitdjupivogur.is for more information about the village.
Egilsstaðir is considered the unofficial capital and the hub of services and shops in the east of Iceland. With its wide range of options for dining, everyone should find what they desire. It is the home to the domestic airport and a connection to the fjords and other interesting places in the area. In Egilsstaðir, one can relax with a drink in hand at Vök Baths or take the family to the local swimming pool, which prides itself on a slide, two hot tubs, a cold tub and a sauna.
Stuðlagil is an extraordinary place, one of the most stunning sights in the east. The canyon has one of the largest numbers of basalt rock columns in Iceland. Stuðlagil emerged from under the river Jökulsá just a few years ago when the river levels fell, revealing this natural wonder. There is a viewpoint where you can marvel at the darkcoloured columns, which contrast perfectly with the clear blue colour of the river.
Meanwhile, Selskógur is a cute little forest within walking distance on the outskirts of the village. It is a tranquil spot where one can walk along the river and listen to its sound blending in with the lovely tunes of the birds living in the area. Also, Egilsstaðir is situated along a beautiful lake called Lagarfljót that stretches 35 kilometres (21.7 mi) long and offers numerous opportunities for hiking and outdoor recreation. These attractions and more can be found at visitegilsstadir.is.
The east is a paradise for hikers, as there are numerous places to roam and experience the breathtaking nature of the region with few fellow travellers nearby. Be sure to check out the beauty and rich culture of the east during your trip to Iceland.
A Unique Bathing Experience in the Idyllic East
Vök Baths offers guests the only floating geothermal pools in all of Iceland
There are private showers and lockers to store your belongings while bathing. You can rent swimsuits and towels at the baths if you did not bring your own.
Enjoy an onsite café, restaurant and bar Housed inside the facility, the caférestaurant offers a delicious array of small courses. The Infusion bar also serves an impressive selection of complimentary teas made from local herbs, brewed with the natural hot spring water.
Using the hot water from Lake Urriðavatn, Austri, the local brewery, produces a 4% Blond Kellerbier and a 4% Session IPA especially for Vök Baths from this special hot water. If you would like to enjoy a drink or two while bathing, there is a pool bar so you can relax with your drink while soaking in the pure waters surrounded by the unique Icelandic nature.
Strong commitment to the environment
Vök Baths is an exciting new geothermal bathing facility where guests can enjoy two heated floating pools among the beautiful scenery of Lake Urriðavatn.
Situated just a few minutes away from Egilsstaðir, Vök Baths is an ideal place to relax while sightseeing in East Iceland. The brand new baths, completed in the summer of 2019, take their shape from the ice-free patches on the lake, created by the bubbling hot springs in the lake.
Harnessing the power of geothermal energy
There are many advantages to the Land of Fire and Ice, and one is the abundance of natural, renewable geothermal energy. The
baths are gloriously warm, soothing your skin and muscles while you’re enjoying the pristine nature of the region. The pools, whose water is so clean and pure it has been certified as drinkable, are especially welcome to the area, as East Iceland is home to few hot springs, compared to other parts of Iceland.
Bathing facilities and changing rooms
In addition to the floating pools there are two on-shore hot pools, and an outdoor pool bar. A steam bath and cold tunnel equipped with a cool mist shower inside is just about completed. The indoor shower facilities and changing rooms are comfortable with nature-inspired designs.
The creators of Vök Baths have a deep respect for the environment and are committed to upholding excellent standards of sustainability in every aspect of their business. When it comes to maintaining the pools, the bar and restaurant facilities, employees make a determined effort to avoid all use and disposal of plastic, where possible, and packaging is organic and recyclable. Additionally, all the wood furniture and features at Vök are made from ethically sourced trees raised in East Iceland. -JG
Vök við Urriðavatn, 701 Egilstaðir +354 470 9500
A Birdwatcher’s paradise
Djúpivogur to Lón, a top site for birds in South East Iceland
The municipality of Djúpivogur (Berufjörður, Álftafjörður, Hamarsfjörður and Papey island), together with Lón and the Þvottárskriður and Hvalsnesskriður scree slopes, is one of the top five birding sites in Iceland. The largest and most diverse concentrations of birds occur on eutrophic coastal lakes, mudflats, and the shallow waters, some of which hold internationally important numbers of birds, as well as the bird cliffs on the deserted island Papey, six km offshore from Djúpivogur. The coastal lowlands are sparsely populated by sheep farmers, and most of the inhabitants live in a small fishing village, Djúpivogur.
The area around Djúpivogur is unique and in the recent years, the municipality has developed facilities for birdwatchers. Information boards, birdwatching hides and a website are some of things being done to help visiting birdwatchers get the most out of their visit. The Common Shelduck, a recent colonist in Iceland, has become established here in recent years. Other breeders
include Horned Grebe, Red-throated Diver, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Long-tailed Duck and Rock Dove. During the migration season birds like Red Knot, Sanderling and Ruddy Turnstone are common on the mudflats around Búlandsnes.
In Berufjörður, west of Djúpivogur, Harlequin Duck can be found at the outlet of River Fossá in the bottom of the fjord and on other rivers in the area.
Papey is easy to visit and there are regular boat trips out to the island in summer. The island is 2 km 2 and marshy, and is surrounded by a few smaller islands. The birdlife is dominated by seabirds. Large numbers of Atlantic Puffin (estimated 200,000 pairs), Brünnich’s Guillemot, Common Guillemot, Razorbill and Black-legged Kittiwake breed here. The island also has wetlands which support a range of birds. A recent colonist is the European Shag and the European Storm-petrel has bred there.
To the south of Djúpivogur there are two shallow fjords which support a wide range of birds, Hamarsfjörður and Álftafjörður.
Sanderling in summer plumage
Northern Shoveler, pair
Red-throated Divers displaying
Common Shelduck, drake
They are important stopovers for birds like geese, Whooper Swans and waders. Up to 3,600 Black-tailed Godwits have been recorded in Álftafjörður in a single count and it is one of the main stopover sites for this species in Iceland. The fjords are important moulting sites for the Greylag Goose, and the Common Shelduck has started breeding here, as it has done in Djúpivogur.
To the south of Álftafjörður, the road traverses a series of scree slopes which drop steeply to the sea, known as Þvottárskriður and Hvalsnesskriður. During the summer, flocks of Common Scoter can be found on the sea here and Velvet Scoter, White-winged Scoter and Surf Scoter are regularly found in these flocks. Huge flocks of moulting Common Eider are also found here in late summer and species like Long-tailed Duck, Harlequin Duck and Black Guillemot feed in this nutrient-rich sea.
Moving further west you come to the shallow fjord or brackish Lón lagoon which attracts the densest population of Whooper Swans in the world. This is one of the greatest wonders in
Icelandic nature. Whooper Swans can be found here all year and at certain times of the year up to half the Icelandic population may be present here, approximately 10,000 birds. The largest concentrations are during spring migration and during the late summer and autumn moult. Greylag Goose, Eurasian Wigeon and Common Eider are also common here.
Reindeer are common in the area and can be seen all year, although most frequently in winter and spring. Common Seal are also widespread and breeds in Þvottáreyjar, but they are difficult to approach.
Papey, Hamarsfjörður–Álftafjörður and Lón are all listed as Important Bird Areas (IBA) by BirdLife International. A useful website on birds and birdwatching in Djúpivogur is www.birds.is
Text and photos Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson.
Survey the Scenic South
Arguably the most popular region of Iceland that never disappoints
The South is home to glaciers, volcanoes and well-known sights like Þingvellir National Park and the Geysir geothermal region (both on the popular Golden Circle tour), lesser-known gems like Þórsmörk (an area with its own micro-climate), colourful mountains, waterfalls, canyons, and lavashaped landscapes.
The classic Golden Circle Encompassing the three most visited sights in South Iceland, the Golden Circle gives you a slice of Icelandic history at Þingvellir, a spectacular view of Iceland’s bubbling geothermal activity at Geysir, and the experience of a roaring, powerful waterfall at Gullfoss. Many travellers visit Þingvellir for its geological significance, offering a rare view of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the meeting point of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. It’s also home to Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake on the island.
The next stop on the Golden Circle route is the Geysir hot spring area. While Geysir itself currently lies dormant, its neighbour, Strokkur, erupts every seven minutes or so. Crowds gather to watch as the churning, gurgling pool of hot water erupts into a fountain of boiling water 15-20 metres high. The final stop is at the mighty Gullfoss waterfall, where the Hvítá, meaning ‘white river’, a perfect name for the turbulent white
water, plunges into the deep canyon below.
The falls consist of three steps, ranging from 11 to 21 metres, ending in the 70-metredeep gorge.
The scenic South Coast
The south coast has a bit of everything: waterfalls, black sand beaches, charming villages and vast canyons. Two of the most popular waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, stand near the coast, and they are unmissable.
Meanwhile, a stop at Reynisdrangar provides a rare experience before heading to the quaint village of Vík. Reynisdrangar is a cluster of striking basalt sea stacks that jut out from a black sand beach. The stacks sit under the Reynisfjall mountain just outside Vík. It’s popular pastime to climb on the stacks and take photos, then roam the black-sand beach picking up stones and admiring the rock formations. Reynisfjara, from which Reynisdrangar is visible, is probably the most famous black-sand beach in Iceland. The juxtaposition of the white waves crashing on the stark black sand and pebbles is beautiful, with towering basalt columns along the shore next to a small cave.
A lesser-known attraction, Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon, is worth a visit. The canyon, which is believed to have been formed during the last ice age, has been hollowed by the Fjaðrá river, creating narrow walls. The canyon is about 2 kilometres long and about 100
metres deep and visitors can walk on a foot path along the canyon’s edge to admire the view and take photos.
The vast, striking beauty of the Vatnajökull region
The South is home to yet another unmissable attraction, Jokulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. Situated in the Vatnajökull region, the lagoon features massive chunks of ice scattered about, walls of ice jut from the sea, and icebergs of various sizes float on the water. Huge blocks of ice constantly break off the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier into the lagoon which, though not very wide, is up to 250 metres deep—the deepest lake in Iceland.
Meanwhile, Svartifoss waterfall is another spectacular site. After a short hike, you can see Svartifoss (Black Falls) waterfall, where thundering white water cascades over striking black basalt rock columns.
A lesser-known gem is Vestrahorn, an area approximately a ten-minute drive away from Höfn. The shore features stunning lava dunes, that are constantly being shaped by the natural forces of water and wind. Down towards the sea, it is possible to get perfect reflections in the wet sand, a favourite for photographers.
South Iceland has something for everyone and is a must-see region. Waterfalls, glaciers, national parks and black sands await! -JG
On Top of the world Glacier Jeeps
The largest glacier in Europe
The weather report was looking good—a full day of sunshine ahead of me and temperatures above 10°C. I was on my way to a face to face encounter with the world’s 3rd largest glacier, the mighty Vatnajökull. This trip would mark a couple of firsts for me— my first time ever to set foot on a glacier, and my first time to travel by snowmobile. Needless to say I was really excited!
I first met Kristján and Bjarney, of Glacier Jeeps, at our pre-arranged meeting place: Vagnsstaðir. This is the official meeting place for all Glacier Jeep summer tours. Glacier Jeeps has years of experience conducting jeep, snowmobile and hiking tours on the glacier since 1994. (Bjarney has been helping run the family business since she was 14 years old.) I parked my car and joined them in their sturdy 4WD, which wound its way slowly every upwards on road F985 after a short drive on Route No. 1. The gravel road twisted and turned around hairpin bends, past waterfalls and deep canyons. My guides fill me in on the details of the landscape, pointing out how the glacier has crawled across the terrain, devastating everything in its path along with other interesting facts.
It is about a forty minute drive from Vagnsstaðir to the roots of Vatnajökull Glacier where we suit up with boots, warm overalls and helmets for the snowmobile excursion.
Now it’s time to test drive the snowmobiles. I am a little hesitant at first and Kristján shows me the ropes. It looks easy enough but I decide that I prefer to let him drive over the glacier with me sitting safely behind him on this ‘skidoo for two’, at least until I get a better feel for it. ‘Off we go over the wild white yonder, climbing high into the sun’ to paraphrase an old song, with cloudless blue skies above us and the wind in our faces. Further along we stop and dismount, to take in the magnificent panoramic views over the glacier, the Atlantic Ocean and the town of Höfn far below in the distance. I felt like I was on top of the world and it was truly a cause for celebration!
Kristján jokes that we cannot go onwards unless I drive. By now I am feeling a little more sure of myself and agree to give it a try. This time we are off to inspect a massive sheer rock face that rises straight up from the glacier at an elevation of 1200 metres. Finally, our one
hour snowmobile adventure comes to an end and it is time to return to base.
Glacier Jeeps also offers a hiking tour of the glacier that comes with all the equipment such as safety helmets, climbing irons and ice axe, instruction and a guide, included in the price.
In case you just don’t think a strenuous hike or a thrilling snowmobile adventure is for you, then Glacier Jeeps offers an alternative to see the glacier in a comfortable, specially equipped 4WD and is available year round, weather permitting. Each tour is only 3 to 4 hours in total, giving you plenty of time to do other things with your day, even though once you are up there you may not want to come down. Although it’s best to book one day in advance, you can also just show up at Vagnsstaðir at either 9.30 am or 2.00 pm and join the tour from there.
Vatnajökull Glacier Jeep tours: a must for your bucket list! -EMV
Vagnsstaðir, 781 Suðursveit +354 478 1000 firstname.lastname@example.org www.glacierjeeps.is
vasT voLcanIc Hot Spots
Renowned volcanologist Haraldur Sigurðsson explains Iceland’s complex volcanic systems.
Iceland’s volcanoes are a growing source of tourism for the country, as tra vellers want the unique experience of scaling their summits or seeing them in action. When there is an eruption, local travel companies offer jeep, coach, helicopter, and plane tours to get the best views.
Most of Iceland’s volcanoes are fissures, such as the 2014 Holuhraun eruption, where lava burst out of cracks in the earth’s crust. Holuhraun produced fountains of lava shooting out of the earth, delighting photographers and keeping volcanologists busy to see if the nearby massive Bárðarbunga volcano would erupt. So far, it hasn’t.
The three most active volcanoes on the island are Katla, Hekla, and Eyjafjallajökull, which erupted in
2010, bringing air travel to a halt, with a large ash cloud restricting travel for days. Icelanders have learned to adapt to eruptions and most of them are situated away from populated areas. In the case of the 2014 Holuhraun eruption, the surrounding region near Vatnajökull was evacuated as locals, tourists and animals were moved from the area. The main threat was airborne toxins and those close to the region who were sensitive to them were advised to stay indoors and turn up their heating.
Ask the Expert
When looking at the science behind Iceland’s many volcanoes, there is no better source than volcanologist Haraldur Sigurðsson, Director of the Volcano Museum, who has been researching the
island’s active and dormant volcanoes for more than 40 years.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Iceland’s volcanoes is that Bárðarbunga is currently sitting on top of one of the earth’s hot spots. “It’s often said that Iceland is on the mid-Atlantic ridge, and that that’s the main reason for volcanic activity, but that’s actually a misconception,” says Haraldur. “The much more important feature is the hot spot.”
This hot spot began under Siberia approximately 250 million years ago, making it the oldest hot spot in the world. “The tectonic plates of the earth are floating on top of the earth’s mantle, like a raft on water, but the hot spot is still in the same place,” says Haraldur. “Now it is simmering below us. Once Siberia
was over it, then Baffin Island, after that Greenland and now Iceland.”
Scientists have identified some 40–50 hotspots around the globe. Of these, Hawaii, Réunion Island, Yellowstone Park in the United States, Galápagos, and Iceland sit over those that are currently most active.
A hot spot is an area in the Earth’s mantle where a column of hot magma rises up to melt through the crust, resulting in volcanic activity. The term ‘hotspot’ is also used when referring to the location on the Earth’s surface where such volcanism has been taking place. In 1963, scientist J. Tuzo Wilson proposed the idea that volcanic chains such as the Hawaiian Islands result from the slow movement of a tectonic plate across a fixed hot spot deep beneath the surface of the planet.
Iceland’s recent eruptions
The size and scale of Iceland’s eruptions unsurprisingly vary. For instance, the largest eruption in Iceland’s recent history was in 1783 when Lakagígar, a volcanic fissure in the south of Iceland, not far from the canyon of Eldgjá and the small village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur, erupted. The system erupted over an eight-month period between 1783 and 1784 from the Laki fissure and the adjoining Grímsvötn volcano, pouring out an estimated 14km3 of basalt lava and clouds of poisonous hydrofluoric acid and sulphur dioxide compounds that killed over 50% of the island’s livestock, leading to a famine which then killed about 25% of Iceland’s population.
The Laki eruption and its aftermath caused a drop in global temperatures,
the sulphur dioxide causing crop failures in Europe and, possibly, droughts in Asia. The eruption has been estimated to have killed more than six million people globally, making it the deadliest eruption in history.
By contrast, the most recent eruption of Holuhraun in 2014-15 was small. The eruption began in three craters, compared to the 130 craters of Laki, with no explosive activity. Hardly any ash was emitted in the Holuhraun eruption, compared to the 0.9km3 ejecta volume of Laki and 0.1km3 ejecta volume of Eyjafjallajökull. While the highest lava fountains Holuhraun only reached approximately 100 metres, in Laki they were estimated to have reached a height of 1,400 metres.
Furthermore, in the first month of the Holuhraun eruption, the average daily SO2 emission was 20,000 tons, or 600,000 tons in one month while, during the eight months of the Laki eruption, an estimated 120 million tons of SO2 were emitted, or an average of 15 million tons per month.
Iceland’s active volcanoes are each quite different, and are consistently monitored to give early warnings of eruptions and researched providing more insight into what triggers them and their aftermath.
History & Skálholt
In Skálholt, the land and history come together. When the Icelandic Times / Land & Saga photographer slipped into the barn at Skálholt earlier today, history became so vivid to him. Here was the bishop’s seat from the early days and, for centuries, Skálholt was the centre for learning and culture in Iceland from 1056 until around 1850 when Reykjavík took over as the country’s educational, cultural, political and financial centre. The largest church in Iceland prior to the 20th century was built at the episcopal seat in Skálholt during the time of Bishop Klængur Þorsteinsson in 1156, using timber that the bishop imported from Norway with two ships that year. This large and magnificent cathedral burned down in 1309. Skálholt still remained the centre of power in Iceland for over 500 years. The large church that is now in Skálholt was consecrated almost 800 years after the fire, as in 1956 it was decided to build a new
church, which was designed by Hörður Bjarnason and consecrated by Bishop Sigurbjörn Einarson in 1963. Sigurbjörn was the bishop of the Icelandic National Church from 1959 to 1981.
Skálholt is a remarkable place for Icelanders. You can feel it immediately when you park in the forecourt. there is the land and the history. Skálholt is just over an hour’s drive south east from Reykjavík.
Skálholt, with the Hekla volcano in the background
Photo and text: Páll
The Crown Jewel among regional museums
This year its former director, Þórður Tómason celebrated his 100th birthday
Skógar Museum can be found by the majestic Skógafoss waterfall in South Iceland, 150 kilometres east of Reykjavík. It is a cultural heritage collection of over 18,000 artefacts exhibited in three museums. The Museum displays a variety of tools used for fishing and farming, as well as some artefacts dating back to the Viking Age. There is also the Open Air Museum, showcasing historic buildings from the area, and the Technical Museum, which exhibits many historic vehicles and features from the transportation history of Iceland. This museum is the Crown Jewel of Icelandic regional museums.
Fisheries and Agriculture
The Maritime section of the Folk Museum contains a large collection of objects related to fisheries along the south shore of Iceland. Fisheries in this region were unusual because Iceland’s sandy south coast has no proper harbours; boats had to be launched from beaches open to the North Atlantic waves. The centrepiece of the section is Pétursey, the eight-oared fishing boat, built in 1855 and used until 1946.
The Agriculture section contains tools and utensils used on farms in past times; riding gear, haymaking tools, woolworking and iron-working equipment. In a subsistence economy, farming households had to be self-sustaining, making and repairing all their own tools and utensils.
The Folk Museum also has an esoteric collection of everything from textiles to natural history to rare books.
Turf houses & Technology
In the original turf houses rebuilt in the Open Air Museum one can catch
the atmosphere of times long gone and experience the living conditions in Iceland throughout the centuries. The Technical Museum tells the story of technology and transportation and its development in Iceland in the 19th and 20th century. Among the many automobiles and two airplanes on exhibit is the world’s best preserved Kégresse P15N track – a must-see for all car enthusiasts!
The Pioneer: Þórður Tómasson Þórður Tómasson was born in 1921 and developed an interest for folk culture from a young age. Growing up in the countryside in South Iceland he started to notice the swift changes taking place in the daily life of what was essentially a farming culture that had not changed for centuries. As working methods modernized and old equipment became redundant, the tendency of the farmers was to get rid of it. Þórður started from a young age to collect old equipment that was being discarded. He also spent a long time listening to the elderly as he was growing up and later started to document this oral history.
In 1944, the residents of the two farms at Ytri-Skógar donated 69% of their land to the counties of Rangárvellir and West Skaftafell, to construct a new boarding school. At the first meeting of the school board in 1945, it was suggested that a folk museum also be established. Skógar Museum was founded in 1949, and the first exhibit was set up in the school basement on December 1st the same year. Initially Þórður Tómasson took responsibility for the museum, and in 1959 he was appointed as director. He was an organist in two churches and, for many years, he was a member of the parish councils of both areas. For ten years he was also a member of the Rangárvellir county council. In 1997 Þórður was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Iceland for
his contribution to research in the public interest. Þórður continued his work for the museum until he retired in 2014.
Þórður has written more than 28 books about the old Icelandic farming culture, folklore and the artefacts that can be found in the museum. This year Þórður Tómasson celebrated his 100th birthday.
Safnavegur 1, Skógum, 861 Hvolsvelli +354 487 8845 email@example.com www.skogasafn.is
Iceland is a programme offering excellent year-round services for birdwatchers. Southern Iceland has a great deal to offer visiting birdwatchers with its wide variety of habitats, including wetlands, seabird colonies, highland oases and unique coastlines. The largest colonies of Puffin, Pink-footed Goose and Great Skua in the world are located within this region, together with the Europe’s largest Leach’s Storm-petrel colony. South Iceland has a wide range of accommodation from camp sites to 4 -star hotels and some within a short driving distance from ReykjavÍk.
Laggons and glacial sands
Hornafjörður and Stakksfjörður are shallow fjords or coastal lagoons on either side of the village of Höfn. The area is home to large numbers of birds all year round. Not only is it an important staging area on migration, but breeding birds are well represented in spring and summer. It is also the region’s main wintering area for birds. A rich mosaic of wetlands stretches from Höfn all the way west to the glacial sands of Breiðamerkursandur.
The bird life of the great glacial sands of the south coast has a character all of its own. It is the kingdom of the Great Skua and is home to the largest colony of this charismatic species on Earth. Wherever
there is sufficient water, vegetation sprouts up and attracts a range of birds. The spectacular Skaftafell National Park contains woodlands and a variety of species.
The areas Landbrot and Meðalland support a wide range of birds. The region’s wetlands are varied and include flood-meadows, lakes, springs, streams and lava fields. Breeding birds include Horned Grebe and various ducks. The freshwater springs attract numerous birds in the winter and form important wintering grounds for Barrow’s Goldeneye, Common Goldeneye and Goosander. White-fronted Geese are common visitors on spring and autumn passage.
Dales, highlands and lakes
The valley of Mýrdalur is a rich birding area, with Reynisfjall, Reynisdrangar and Dyrhólaey the chief birding sites. Puffins breed on the cliffs at Víkurhamrar above the village of Vík (the furthest colony from the sea in the world), on Mt Reynisfjall and the headland Dyrhólaey, while Common Guillemot and Razorbill breed at the sea stacks Reynisdrangar and at Dyrhólaey.
There is a huge Arctic Tern colony at Vík and a smaller one at Dyrhólaey.
Þjórsárver to the south of the glacier Hofsjökull is the most expansive oasis in the central highlands. It is an area of spectacular scenery, with rich swathes of vegetation alternating with barren sands and glaciers. The area represents very important breeding and moulting grounds for Pink-footed Geese. Other breeders include Great Northern Diver, Whooper Swan, Long-tailed Duck, Purple Sandpiper, Red-necked Phalarope, Arctic Tern and Snow Bunting. Part of Þjórsárver is protected and a Ramsar site.
Another key birding location in the highlands is the chain of lakes called Veiðivötn. This beautiful and unusual landscape has been shaped by repeated volcanic activity and most of the lakes are located in craters. Great Northern Divers
Images by © Jóhann Óli Hilmarsson
Birds of Southern Iceland
are particularly common, and other breeding birds include Whooper Swan, Pink-footed Goose, Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Harlequin Duck, Ringed Plover, Purple Sandpiper, Arctic Tern and Snow Bunting. Barrow’s Goldeneye winters here and has recently bred.
Lakes, ponds and marshes can be found across the lowland areas of Landeyjar and Rangarárvellir. Some of the best birding sites are the lake Skúmsstaðavatn and surroundings, Oddaflóð (protected) and lake Lambhagavatn. Large numbers of wildfowl and waders breed in the area and pass through in the spring and autumn.
Two of the larger lakes in the area, Apavatn and Laugarvatn, along with adjoining wetlands and rivers, are among the best sites for ducks in southern Iceland.
Barrow’s Goldeneye, Common Goldeneye and Goosander winter here. Harlequin Ducks breed locally and hundreds of Scaup, Tufted Duck and Red-breasted Merganser stop off on passage and are also common breeders.
Lake Þingvallavatn Sogið, the river which flows out of lake Þingvallavatn, is one of Iceland’s best locations for winter ducks. It is home to the largest flock of Barrow’s Goldeneye outside Mývatn and is the main winter site for Common Goldeneye in Iceland. Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser and Tufted Duck are common. Whitetailed Eagles are often seen in winter and Harlequin Ducks move up the river in spring. Lake Þingvallavatn itself is known for its breeding Great Northern Divers.
The coastline between the mouths of the great glacial rivers Ölfusá and Þjórsá is the largest lava shoreline in Iceland and forms the southern end of the vast Þjórsárhraun lava field which flowed 8,000 years ago and is the largest post-ice age lava flow on Earth. Inland there are myriad lakes and ponds. The area hosts an array of birds all year and it is of particular importance for migrants such as Knot,
Dunlin, Sanderling, Turnstone, Brent Goose, Eurasian Wigeon and various other ducks.
A Birdwatcher’s Paradise www.icelandictimes.com 179
On either side of the estuary of the Ölfusá river there are two large wetlands: BirdLife Iceland’s reserve at Flói on the east bank, and Ölfusforir on the west bank. Both are large expanses of pools and lakes which attract numerous birds in the breeding season and on passage alike. The Red-throated Diver is the characteristic bird of the Flói reserve and Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwit are particularly common here. Ölfusforir is an excellent birding location in winter, attracting large flocks of Teal, Mallard and Goosander, as well as Iceland’s largest concentration of Grey Heron. -JÓH
Árnessýsla Heritage Museum
The history of the Árnessýsla Heritage Museum began in 1953, almost 70 years ago. In the beginning, it mainly held objects from the old farming community, with its emphasis on farming, trade and the fishing industry until mechanization. During these 70 years, of course, the emphasis has changed, and now more emphasis is placed on the daily life and households until the middle of the last century. The museum’s first home was in Selfoss, but it was moved to Eyrarbakki in 1995.“Húsið á Eyrarbakki, the oldest house in South Iceland, was built in 1765 and is our main jewel”, says Lýður Pálsson, historian and museum director for 30 years. “These beautiful and unique buildings should be enjoyed, as they are, in fact, the main exhibits. Therefore, special emphasis is placed on the history of Húsið – The House – and its cultural significance in recent centuries.”
When the merchant Jens Lassen built The House in 1765, Eyrarbakki was probably the
largest trading place in Iceland. This was towards the end of the Danish-Icelandic Trade Monopoly, which lasted from 1602 to 1787. During this period, the citizens of the country were not allowed to trade with other merchants or foreign ships. At the time, it seemed that Eyrarbakki would be made the capital of Iceland, as it had a much larger population than Reykjavík.
Two other museums in Eyrarbakki belong to Árnessýsla Heritage Museum. The Maritime Museum, as Eyrarbakki was, through the centuries, one of the largest trading ports in the country, and Kirkjubær, an Icelandic family home built in 1920, where we go back a hundred years and see how ordinary poor people lived. Both museums are within walking distance of The House.
In The House itself, the summer exhibition of the Árnessýsla Heritage Museum is completely modern, as of the Spring of 2022. Artists from nine countries partially transformed the exhibition spaces of The House with works that were created in Eyrarbakki at the Hafsjór - Oceanus Art Festival, which took place this Spring. This was a collaboration between the museum and artist Ásta Vilhelmína Guðmundsdóttir, the festival’s curator.
Does it take time to go back in history and see one of the oldest and most significant houses of Iceland in Eyrarbakki and the other two museums? No, it only takes 45 minutes to drive from Reykjavík, or 15 minutes from the Ring Road from Selfoss. The museums in Eyrarbakki are open every day from 10:59 to 18:02.
Lýður Pálsson, historian and museum director
Iceland the Glacieal Country
Glaciers cover more than a tenth of Iceland. The largest, by far the largest, is Vatnajökull in the southeast corner of the country. It is the largest glacier in the world outside the arctic regions, covering 8000 km2, next in line is Langjökull 950 km 2 , just a few square kilometers larger than Hofsjökull. Number four is Mýrdalsjökull, which is almost 600 km 2 in size. Then comes Drangajökull in the west at Strandir, but it covers 160 km 2 of land. Other glaciers are much smaller. The smallest of the large glaciers and number thirteen in the series is Snæfellsjökull, which is about 3 square kilometers in size. Since 1995, for almost 30 years, Vatnajökull has shrunk by almost one and a half the size of Snæfellsjökull per year.
On top of Mýrdalsjökull
Tourists at Fjallsárlón in Öræfajökull, Vatnajökull
Iceberg at Fellsfjara by Jökulsárlón
Photo and text: Páll Stefánsson
Icecave under Breiðamerkurjökull
Sagnaheimar Folk Museum in the magical Westman Islands
The Folk Museum of Vestmannaeyjar – the Westman Islands – is a museum built on old traditions. In addition to the many artifacts housed there, today’s technology gives the history and culture a new dimension. While the adults are learning about the stories of fishing, cliff hunting, the Eldfell eruption of 1973 and the Algerian pirate raid of 1627, the children can dress themselves in pirate costumes and search for hidden treasures in the Pirate Cave. Displays and exhibits showing the deep connection with the Mormons, the colourful sports history of the Islands, the reconstructed fishing shack from yester-year or the “Festival” tent where islanders entertain during the annual Þjóðhátíð – National Festival can also be investigated.
At the end of the 19th century, when the population was about 600, great changes took place. In 1904, the first motorised boat was purchased, and more followed soon afterwards. By 1930, the population had risen to 3,470. Now the Westman Islands are Iceland’s most productive fishing centre.
The Volcanic Eruption of 1973
The volcanic eruption in Heimaey shook the Islanders and indeed Icelanders almost fifty years ago. In the early hours of 23rd January1973 the volcano, Eldfell,
erupted on Heimaey and the whole population of 5,300 had to immediately be evacuated to the mainland. That fateful night and the following days are chronicled in an array of photos. There are recordings of Islanders telling their personal experiences of the eruption and the rebuilding of their town in the aftermath.
The Turkish Abduction
Another traumatic event befell on the Islanders 16th July 1627, when three Algerian ships sailed north up the Atlantic to the eastern shores of Heimaey. It is known as the Turkish Abduction because Algiers was under the control of the Turkish Ottomans. Three hundred Pirates disembarked and captured 242 islanders whom they brought to Algeria where they were sold into slavery. The story of this fateful day is vividly captured. The pirate cave is a wonderland for children. One of the captives, Lutheran minister Ólafur Egilsson returned in 1628 and wrote a book about the event. In 1636, ransom was paid for 34 of the captives but most spent the rest of their lives in bondage in the Muslim world. After this, a small fort was built at Skansinn – The Bastion– as armed guards kept watch from Helgafell mountain.
The Islands are famed for their annual Þjóðhátíð – National Festival – which attracts thousands of people from the mainland. The festival was first held in 1874, at the commemoration of the millennium of the settlement of Iceland. For the first time, a Danish King was visiting Iceland: Christian IX, who brought the Icelanders their Constitution that paved the way to sovereign statehood. The Westman Islanders were prevented from sailing to the mainland for the festivities by bad weather, so held their own celebration locally and have done so ever since.
The Mormon connection
The Mormons also have their historical story exhibited at the museum. The first Icelandic Mormon missionaries, Þórarinn Hafliðason from Vestmannaeyjar and Guðmundur Guðmundsson from Rangárvellir on the south coast, worked in Vestmannaeyjar. Between 1854 and 1914 about 200 Islanders emigrated from the island to the Western World. The Mormon exhibit is in collaboration with Brigham Young University in Utah, along with a large group of enthusiasts who have researched the history and destiny of these pioneers. -HH
Ráðhúströð Safnahúsi, 900 Vestmannaeyjum +354 488 2050 firstname.lastname@example.org sagnheimar.is South Iceland
Sagnheimar – Folk Museum
The Viking village under the mountains
One of the most beautiful mountains in Iceland and one of the few places in Iceland where you can find gabbro, (a coarse-grained, dark-coloured, intrusive igneous rock), is situated at Almannaskarð between Hornsvík and Papós. At its foot sits, what at first glance might be thought to be a small Viking village, empty houses from the past, facing the sea.
We are talking about the Vestrahorn mountain range, but the village is, if you look closely, a set that was built over twelve years ago. There are about seven houses of various types in a cluster and interested travellers can access to the area for ISK 900. It's great fun to look around among the houses and imagine the old days of the Vikings.
It is worth noting that in this area, the settler (and perhaps Viking!) Hrollaugur Rögnvaldsson built a town. He was
considered a great ruler and a friend of King Harald according to the description in the Landnáma history book of the Settlement.
The Litla Horn property is privately owned by a local family, who are pleasant and down-to-earth people. Refreshments are offered at the Viking Café, a horse rental is available, as well as a guest house with space for about twenty people, perfect for tourists who want to experience the unspoilt, magical nature of the area.
In winter, this south-eastern part of Iceland is no less popular, as there are many opportunities to see and photograph the Northern Lights dancing above. Watching the green and white lights sweep across the sky is a memorable experience on a frosty night.
There are beautiful hiking trails nearby as well as a unique beach,
owned by the family, where you can see the most beautiful stones – carried by the Hornafjarðarfljót river from the Vatnajökull glacier to the sea, where the pounding waves have rounded and smoothed them for thousands of years.
An area of magic and play.
The Vatnajokull glacier is contrasted by the black sand beach. Geothermal heat flares up from icy banks and the beauty is supernatural in places. The area has been visited by travellers of all kinds, from ordinary campers to representatives of the ‘Game of Thrones’ series, to enjoy the surroundings and preferably, capture on film what they experience.
One thing is certain, the country's history can be found there. The history of settlement, the history of nature and how vast and magnificent it truly is. The hosts welcome their guests, and no one leaves Litla Horn untouched.
Researching Iceland’s Puffins
Birdwatchers are delighted when they visit Iceland, as there are more than 300 species of birds that can be seen around the island. Iceland serves as a stopover for birds migrating between North America and Europe. Popular bird species are Gyrfalcons, Great Northern Divers, Harlequins, and Barrows Goldeneyes.
However, the birds that have become synonymous with Iceland are the adorable puffins, with their black and white bodies, bright orange feet and colourful red, blue and orange beaks. Puffins are remarkable swimmers and divers, able to stay underwater for over 2 minutes and surface with many small fish in their beaks. While exceptional in water, puffins are known for their uneven landings on land, which is part of their charm. It’s possible to see puffins during the summer in many areas including the Westman Islands, Grimsey, the Látrabjarg cliffs in the Westfjords, Hafnarhólmi in Borgarfjörður Eystri, and Papey.
About 7.7 million puffins called Iceland home during the summer months in 2002, but their numbers have dwindled over the last 13 years at an alarming rate. Now only 3.2 million are estimated to remain, according to Erpur Snær Hansen, the Director of Ecological Research at Náttúrustofa Suðurlands (South Iceland Nature Research Centre).
Náttúrustofa Suðurlands was founded in 1996 and has a team of scientists
conducting research on environmental and wildlife issues. Erpur has been investigating the puffin population of the Westman Islands since 2007 and has some startling data regarding Iceland’s puffins.
If winter surface sea temperatures remain at current levels or higher, Erpur says, then much of the puffin population of south and west Iceland will disappear in the next 10 to 20 years. “We go around Iceland twice a summer to measure chick production,” says Erpur. “We also study their diet and environment.”
Iceland’s puffin population has been struggling largely due to lack of food. “They predominantly eat two species of fish aound Iceland—capelin and sand eel,” says
Erpur. “The sand eel population collapsed in 2003-2005 and has not recovered yet, and we believe that is a real problem.” The main hypothesis the agency is working on is that warmer winter ocean temperatures are lowering young sand eels’ survival as they exhaust their wintering energy reserves prior to the spring food appearance. The spring bloom has also been greatly delayed over the same time period. Lack of fat fish has caused famine for some colonies of Iceland’s puffins.
The impact is clear. Adult puffins must forage farther and come back with fewer fish for their young. Researchers are seeing puffin chicks starve, nests abandoned, and fewer adult birds breeding.
Náttúrustofa Suðurlands studies Iceland’s puffin population, and reports dire findings
About 7.7 million puffins called Iceland home during the summer months in 2002, but their numbers have dwindled over the last 13 years, at an alarming rate. Now only 3.2 million are estimated to remain. Suðurlands (South Iceland Nature Research Centre).
“This has occurred before,” says Erpur, explaining that the population dynamics are linked to a periodic warming cycle called the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). Indeed, waters surrounding Iceland warmed for about 35 years, and then cooled off for another 35 years, and puffin populations have correspondingly dropped, then recovered. However, it appears to be different now. Ocean temperatures have now climbed as much as two degrees since the last cold period, but similar to the last warm period (1920-1964). Now the spring bloom is very late but it’s timing in the last warm period is unknown. The puffin chicks are feeling the impact. Even when the current warming cycle ends, around 2030, it won’t perhaps be cool enough, depending on the effects of global warming. “The warming is definitely felt in Iceland,” he says. “It makes things happen fast, and the birds are suffering.”
Because of the declining puffin population, the government should consider some changes, says Erpur. “The hunting is unsustainable,” he says. “We need to rethink our management system and base it on scientific measurements and on being sustainable, similar to the fishing industry here. Something needs to be done.”
Puffins impact tourism as well, and that’s something the government need to consider, says Erpur. “Many people come from all over the world to see Iceland’s puffins during the summer months,” he says. “It’s a big part of business when you think of whale and puffin tours. Puffins are worth more money to the tourist industry alive rather than dead.” And that goes for restaurants in Iceland. “Seeing puffin on the menu at some restaurants is both embarrassing and sad,” he says. “These birds are important and we’re losing them. There needs to be a shift in thinking to help preserve puffins.” An easy and responsible solution for the government would be to ban the trade of game. -JG
Between the Glaciers
Breathtaking experiences and stunning hiking treks in Kerlingarfjöll
If hiking is your passion, the challenge of new places is in your blood. This is one reason for the surge in popularity in hiking trips to Iceland. There are just so many varied hikes to take and various levels of difficulty.
Up past the classic tourist sites of Geysir and Gullfoss, the road reverts to gravel as it heads into the highlands of the interior along the Hvítá (White River), up between the Langjökull and Hofsjökull glaciers. This relatively flat territory, forming a large plateau named Kjölur (meaning keel of a vessel). Here, between these glaciers rises a group of mountains, hosting the third largest geothermal area in the interior: Kerlingarfjöll.
Kerlingarfjöll are 80 km from Gullfoss, partly on gravel roads that have been improved for normal vehicles. During the summer months, the Sterna bus company and SBA have regular services there.
This entire trip is one of superlatives as every aspect of the nature cries out for your attention. The different elements play with each other, creating a vista of constantly changing, shimmering colours and forms throughout the day and over the months. The pristine, pure, clean air and the thundering silence of the surrounding mountain peaks draws you into hiking its many trails. Plumes of steam rise from geothermal vents and hot springs over a landscape coloured red, yellow and green by the different minerals and natural chemicals.
Who is the old woman?
The name, ‘Kerlingarfjöll’ translates as ‘Old Woman’s Mountains’ and comes from folk tales telling how an old troll woman stayed out too late and didn’t make it to her home in the mountains before the sun rose and turned her to stone. A 25 metre-high tuff stone pillar, said to be the troll, gives the range its name. Other folk tales describe the area being used as a haven or sanctuary for robbers and outcasts.
An Oasis in the Desert
This would be an austere region were it not for the restaurant and cottages situated at Ásgarður, in the green valley at the north
They transform the hiking experience by providing comfortable accomodation for up to 100 people and good food both before the start and at the end of a long day’s hike.
Not only that, but the natural hot pool is a wonderful place to relax and soothe sore muscles. In the winter months, it gives the added experience of watching the Northern Lights as they sweep across the sky in a dance that can last for hours, with a totally different performance each
eastern end of the canyon leading from the main geothermal area, Hveradalir.
night against a backdrop of glistening mountains and glaciers.
It is one of the driest parts of the country yet, during the winter months, it is covered in snow, transforming the scene once again. This is the time to travel by superjeep as Kerlingarfjöll is a very interesting destination in the winter as well.
See From Sea to Sea
It is little wonder that Kerlingarfjöll is a popular place to stay in summer though, as many people love to enjoy the wonders of nature along with the peace and
tranquility it offers. The area is big enough that its solitude is rarely interrupted by another hiker and yet, amazingly, there is mobile phone access, so you are never far from modern life, should you need to communicate.
From the peak of the 1477 metre-high Snækollur mountain, you can see the seas in both the north and south on a clear day, which makes the summit second to none when comparing the size of area one can see from it.
Formed in Fire
Born in a volcanic eruption, Kerlingarfjöll is a relatively young range of mountains, unusually created from ryolite, liparite and both dark and bright tuff stone about 10,000 years old. This is what gives it its constantly changing colouring, depending on the light, the sun and the time of day. When it was being created, there was a glacier covering the mid highlands. In some places, it seems tuff stone burst through the ice, becoming covered with lava.
Kerlingarfjöll is at the centre of a system of volcanoes, with one of the most powerful hot spring areas in Iceland. It is a very active geothermal area still, with plenty of warm streams and pools flowing out from different parts of the mountain range. Some of the geysirs have melted the
glacial ice and created impressive arches, caves and ice rocks.
Geologists from many parts of the world come to see its treasures - some of which, according to Dr. Simon Carr of the Dept of Geography at Queen Mary College, University of London, could disappear in a matter of a couple of decades, making it all the more imperative to visit and enjoy its wonders while they are still there.
Until 2000, this used to be one of Iceland’s most popular destinations for a summer skiing school but since that time, no lifts have operated as the snows have melted and the glaciers retreated under the effects of the changing climate.
In Spring, the melting snow creates unusual sculptures, swelling the many streams that turn into rivers, flowing in different directions. Amongst them is the mighty Hvítá that gives the Gullfoss waterfall its power and makes it such a magnet for tourists.
Yet, it all begins here, in the area around Kerlingarfjöll. -ASF
Árnessýsla - 801 Selfoss +354 664 7000 email@example.com www.kerlingarfjoll.is
THE THREAT FROM ICELAND
www.best-of-iceland.com 188 South Iceland
It is only a little over two hundred years ago that a volcanic eruption in Iceland, which lasted for eight months, devastated the entire northern hemisphere. We know that about a fifth of all Icelanders, almost ten thousand people, died in the Skaftáreldar eruption but it wasn’t until recently that we realized that this eruption caused terrible consequences in many parts of the world, both in the neighbouring countries and in regions far away.
When examining the sources, it has become clear that Skaftáreldar, the eruption that is often attributed to the Laki volcano, directly and indirectly killed about six million people. Millions of people died in Europe and the Americas, including indigenous people across North America. Almost two million Japanese died and a large number of people in China. It all started on a Sunday in the east in Skaftafellsýsla. The Reverend Jón Steingrímsson describes this in his remarkable diary:
“In the year 1783, on June 8th, which was the feast of Whitsun, in fair and sunny morning weather, a black sand mist and a cloud of soot appeared to the north of the nearest residential mountains on Síðan. In a very short time, it spread over the whole of Síðan.” Jón describes how animals stopped being able to eat, became miserable and died. The people died, either from suffocation or after
Photo and text: Björn Rúriksson
In the following weeks, many fissures opened and, when it was at its peak, it is estimated that 6,000 cubic metres of glowing lava erupted every second, which is about twenty times the average flow of the Ölfusá river. The sheet crack was 27 km long and in it there were at least 135 craters of all shapes and sizes.
At this time in most countries, a lot of diaries and chronicles were written, offering an insight into the lives of the writers and their communities. Newspapers were published in many cities of the world and they reported on the weather and changes in nature. From all this data you can see what consequences the eruption in Iceland had on people’s lives in the most unlikely places and how it spread its dark claws over one country after another. Everywhere, as far south as the border of Mexico, N. Africa, N. India and Central China, it became dark for a long time and the sun became red as blood at sunset. The pyroclastic cloud reached Norway, Scotland and the Faroe Islands on the 10th June, just two days after the
www.best-of-iceland.com 190 South Iceland
eating food poisoned by the eruption.
eruption began. The grey fog of ashes had arrived in England on the 22nd June and, by the 24th, the fog covered all of Europe, as far east as the Adriatic Sea. In the month of July, the lack of sun and the volcanic ash began to have consequences in Russia, Siberia and China. Reports of unusual droughts came from India and the Yangtze region in China, where extreme cold was also experienced throughout the country in the summer of 1783. The Gray Fog (Gráaþokan), as it was often called, had a great effect on the nature in Syria and Egypt that summer and the annual monsoon rains failed. The result was a severe water shortage and famine. In January 1785, a sixth of the then population of Egypt had either fled the country or died.
On the east coast of the United States, the winter of 1784 was five degrees Celsius colder than usual. In the harbour of Charleston, Virginia, you could skate on the ice. Ice floes moved down the Mississippi and there were ice floes in the Gulf of Mexico. At its worst, the volcanic ash, or igneous rock in the
upper atmosphere, covered a quarter of the entire earth, or the entire northern hemisphere down to the 30° latitude. Its impact on the environment and weather conditions was great and devastating for the next two years. Since the grey fog became persistent in Europe and elsewhere, it is estimated that up to a thousand kilograms of sulfuric acid (H2SO4) fell on every square kilometre of land in the first five months of the Skaftár fires.
This scenario affected crops in Europe for many years. The ensuing famine caused great social unrest and riots. About one million French people starved to death during this time. It is also widely accepted that the French Revolution had its roots in the aftermath of the Skaftár fires. It is not considered unlikely that an eruption of this magnitude in Iceland today would have an equally huge impact around the world and possibly halting all flights in the northern hemisphere for a whole year or more!
Many generations have passed since the Skaftáreldar eruption and time heals
all wounds. Conditions at Laki were, at that time, as hostile to all life as can be imagined. Poisonous ash and fumes floated over the land, but now, more than two centuries later, soft beds of moss cover the rough lava, and crater walls and cooled lava flows shelter life. The craters at Laki and the surrounding lava are one of nature’s artistic gardens. There are mosscovered craters of all shapes and sizes, some of them having either clear or bluegreen ponds. In some places, beautiful short vegetation thrives in the shelter of the crater walls.
GLACIER &GEOTHERMAL ENERGY
Hrafntinnusker is a unique place in Iceland. Hrafntinnusker is the first destination when walking the Laugavegur, the country's most popular highland hiking route, from Landmannalaugar over to Þórsmörk. There is a 12 km well-marked footpath, quite steep, as Hrafntinnusker is the highest point of the Laugavegur, it has an altitude of 1,100 meters. At Hrafntinnusker is the Iceland Travel Association's cabin, Höskuldarskáli, built in 1977. To the south of Hrafntinnusker the closest cabin is by Álftavatn. What makes Hrafntinnusker so unique are the colors, hot springs, glaciers and piles of snow, which are still there in the middle of September even after a good summer. In this area, by Torfajökull is one of the biggest high temperature areas in the country. There is a jeep trail to Hrafntinnusker, but it is only accessible to powerful mountain jeeps and only for a few weeks a year.
Photo and text: Páll Stefánsson
The ice cave in Hrafntinnusker
Looking across Reykjadalir by Hrafntinnusker over to Tindfjallajökull in the southwest
Looking down into a hot spring right by the ice cave
Geothermal area below Hrafntinnusker
The House that Disappeared
None of Heimaey’s 5,300 inhabitants had ever expected that a volcanic eruption could make them homeless. But on 23rd January 1973, earthquakes started to shake the small island south of the Icelandic mainland. Only hours later a 2,000 metre-long crevice opened just outside the town and close to the church, pouring fountains of lava and ash over Heimaey’s houses and streets.
In less than one hour all the inhabitants had been evacuated, without any chance of saving their belongings. Some people never returned to the island.
Heroes Saving a Home
Two hundred brave men stayed in the danger zone to fight the devastation, and finally succeeded in slowing down the lava flow by cooling it with seawater and thus saved the port. However, when 5 months later, the eruption came to its end, around 400 houses had been completely destroyed.
This volcanic eruption made headlines worldwide, bringing back memories of the Italian town of Pompeii which, in
73 AD, was buried under thick layers of ash and lava from Mt. Vesuvius. Huge parts of that historic site have since been excavated—so people on the Westman Islands rolled up their sleeves and started doing the same.
‘Pompeii of the North’ deserves its name: 40 years after the disaster some 10 houses have been raised from the ashes, and an impressive museum tops off the excavation site that had been open to visitors since the very first dig.
A Museum as a Mirror Eldheimar’s design is unique, rather ominous, and yet austere. It is an archi tectural masterpiece made of volcanic stone that perfectly mirrors the inexorability and harshness of nature. Its beating heart right in the centre of the building is Gerðisbraut No. 10, the house that had been situated on the slope of the lava-spewing volcano. Having been fully excavated, it displays life on the day of the eruption and now serves as a memorial for a lost homeland.
In Eldheimar’s over 1,000m 2 museum, visitors are presented multimedia shows and exhibitions about the Westman
Island’s Eldfjall volcano that, in 1973 rose up to a height of 220 metres out of the blue, not existing before its eruption.
It was similar to the submarine volcano that erupted in 1963 and lasted four years creating the island of Surtsey, south of Heimaey.
Nature protection laws protect Surtsey and only scientists are allowed to access the island for research reasons. The island is part of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage since 2008.
The Eldheimar museum is quite open in both design and guidance in the exhibition halls as well as in the café and shop. It leaves enough space for walking around and contemplating the natural disaster and its impacts on the economic and cultural life of the Westman Islands, creating respect for the determination of its fearless inhabitants, who still brave the elements today.
Suðurvegur • 900 Vestmannaeyjum +354 488 2000 firstname.lastname@example.org www.eldheimar.is
The Golden Circle
Travel through the Treasures of the North
Visitors come to Iceland for something different, away from the norm. Let others head south to the sun-baked be ache s — t he y wa nt to e xperienc e something unique. In that respect, the whole of Iceland meets that desire. However, for some, they do not have the time to see everything the country off ers and taking the Golden Circle is like seeing a microcosm of the whole.
The Golden Circle generally refers to a trip to see some key sites: the world’s oldest parliament in Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park; the hot springs at Geysir, after which all the rest of the world’s geysers are named; and the power of the waterfall at Gullfoss.
It is possible to take a trip around the Golden Circle in a few hours but the longer you can allow, the more you can see and experience. Th ere are several tour companies who can take you on a Golden Circle Tour and their experience is very valuable, as they can point out a lot of features on the way that you might otherwise miss.
A ll a long the route you will f ind features that are synonymous with—and often unique to—Iceland such as the caldera at Kerið (Kerith, crater lake) or the home of Nobel prize-winning author, Halldór Laxness, which has now been turned into a museum, the quaint little
houses in the rocks reminding the visitor of the Huldufólk or Hidden People or the southern episcopal see at Skálholt, also the site of Iceland’s first school.
However, what makes the Golden Circle so famous—and popular—are the three key sites that tours focus on:
Þingvellir (Th ingvellir) National Park
Þingvellir (‘Parliament Plains’) is the site on which the world’s oldest parliament, the ‘Alþingi’, an open-air assembly, was held in 930. It continued to meet for two weeks a year until 1798. Following Ingólfur Arnarson’s landing in 870 AD, many others followed and the population grew steadily. Th at brought the need for laws and a place to settle disputes and the Alþingi was the result.
However, Þing vellir is not just a fascinating historical site. It possesses a very unusual natural beauty that could have been lost to posterity had it not been for the efforts of two early-20th century men, Matthías Þórðarson and Guðmundur Davíðsson. Citing examples of protection of such special sites in the USA, the two lobbied for a national park to be established. Th is was fi nally set up in 1930. It was then placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2004. The Þingvellir area is part of a fi ssure zone that runs through
Iceland. Th ese faults and fi ssures mark the boundaries of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates of the MidAtlantic Ridge. The effects of the shifting of the plates can be seen dramatically here as they slowly pull apart in the fractured ground and rocks.
Besides history, natural beauty and a rare geological site, Lake Þingvallavatn is the largest natural lake in Iceland. South of Þingvellir is the largest high-temperature area in the country, where water, heated by contact with the rock still hot underground, is forced to the surface, where it much of it is converted into electricity and household heating.
For a country named, ‘Iceland’, there is an amazing amount of heat in evidence and nowhere more dramatic than the famous Geysir. Until a recent earthquake, it had gone quite quiet but when it does erupt, sending boiling water up to 70 metres high, it dwarfs its brother, ‘Strokkur’, which erupts every 5–8 mins. Strokkur is nevertheless a dramatic sight, sending a plume 18–30 metres high. Surrounding these two giants are smaller geysers, bubbling hot mud pools and bright bluecoloured clear pools of hot water.
A beautiful hotel with a restaurant, café and giftshop is at the site to provide refreshment and a place to enjoy the sights in comfort over coff ee or a larger meal.
Just a few kilometres from Geysir stands the spectacularly powerful double waterfall of Gullfoss (Golden Falls) on the Hvítá (White River). Th e Hvítá has its source in the Hvítávatn lake on the Langjökull glacier, 40 km away in the highlands. Th e glacier is clearly visible amidst the mountains of the highlands from Gullfoss.
It’s a wild spot and, as the river fi rst plunges down a three-step staircase and, in two wide steps, plunges into a 32 metredeep crevice, it throws up a terrific spray that displays multiple rainbows in the bright sunshine.
A bust has been erected to a nearby farmer’s daughter, Sigríður Tómasdóttir, who fought to preserve the falls when the government of the time was considering building a large hydroelectric power plant there, destroying one of Iceland’s natural wonders. The nation stood behind her and the government purchased the land for a national park instead.
If you get close to the falls, you will undoubtedly get soaked by the spray but, by climbing the staircase up to the top of the cliff , you will fi nd a café and giftshop where you can both dry off and enjoy their delicious hot soup and snacks.
Named ‘The Gateway to Hell’, the Hekla volcano is one of the most famous and active volcanoes in Europe. It is clearly visible from Gullfoss or Geysir, rising out of the plain in the east, normally covered by a large snow cap. It has erupted about every 10 years since 1970 and its eruptions are usually quite explosive. It is due to erupt once again, though it has not shown any signs of doing so, at the time of writing.
Returning towards Reykjavík, the garden town of Hveragerði is a popular place to stop for refreshments and buy local produce. It lies in a thermal hotspot under the Hellisheiði mountain plateau and has hot springs bubbling up all around it, with plumes of steam visible around the
mountainside. These heat the greenhouses, along with the bright electric lights that make them clearly visible for miles around. A lot of food is grown here and the town has a flower festival every year in June that attracts thousands. With a good hotel, golf course, good trout and char fishing in its rivers, numerous famous artists and authors, it is another example of Iceland’s unique character.
Leaving Hveragerði in the valley, there is a climb up the steep side of Hellisheiði. Once at the top of this mountain, there is an awesome view of the countryside to the south and east. Lava fi elds are punctuated by plumes of steam rising high into the air that turn golden in the evening sun. Coming down off the mountain, the visitor can see an odd snake-like pattern of pipes carrying hot water to the capital from the new power stations that tap into the geothermal waters heated by the rocks beneath the mountain.
The Golden Circle encapsulates the unique flavour of Iceland in all its forms and beauty, its culture and history, past and present. A brief article like this can only hit some highlights but it’s worth taking the time to investigate all the many features that surround the tour. Then, if you have the time available, the rest of the country will only build on what you have seen on this, the most popular tour of Iceland.
BEST OF ICELAND
THE BEST INFORMATION ABOUT ICELAND AT YOUR FINGERTIPS
BY EINAR TH. THORSTEINSSON
Best of Iceland is a collection of quality articles from Icelandic Times that introduces readers to Iceland. Inside, you can find fascinating articles about history, nature, energy sources, natural wonders, the Arctic Circle, wildlife, and culture. You can also learn about museums, galleries, swimming pools, accommodations, restaurants and Icelandic design, as well as the endless exciting possibilities of activities available to travellers.
Read about Iceland’s winter wonders— short days, the northern lights (Aurora Borealis), and the summer season with the midnight sun. Whether fishing, sailing, horseback riding, skiing, snowmobiling, hiking, river-rafting, or just plain relaxation in the tranquil nature, you will find in this book the best that Iceland has to offer.
There is vast information on each of the ten main regions of Iceland, their specialities and interest points; Reykjavík, West Coast, Westfjords, North-West, North-East, East, South-East, South, South-West and, of course, the Highlands.
The tourist industry is ever-growing; thus, we do not claim to give a complete account of the possibilities – but we are close. You can be sure you‘ll find everything you need in this book.