Iceland much? Not nearly enough!


Alas there is only so much coolness you can cram into an oval weekend in Iceland. I am very happy with what we did see:

Iceland much? (brief history)

Iceland much? Church of Hallgrímur (Hallgrímskirkja)

Iceland much? Þingvellir (or a stroll between the tectonic plates)

Iceland much? Gullfoss (“Golden falls”)

Iceland much? Geyser

Iceland much? Lava land

Iceland much? Fire Giants and Hellmouths

Iceland much? Blue Lagoon


But what haven’t I covered in this series? Quite a bit actually, and here are some awesome Icelanders I feel is worth a mention:

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir

  • served as the fourth President of Iceland from 1980 to 1996.
  • was both Iceland’s and Europe’s first female president
  • the world’s first democratically elected female president
  • remains the longest-serving, elected female head of state of any country to date (16 years)

Jón Páll Sigmarsson

  • Icelandic strongman, powerlifter and bodybuilder
  • the first man to win World’s Strongest Man contest 4 times

Magnús Ver Magnússon

  • Icelandic former powerlifter and strongman competitor
  • has also won the title of World’s Strongest Man four times

Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson

  • Icelandic businessman and entrepreneur
  • the first Icelander to join Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s richest people in 2005
  • «Iceland’s first billionaire»

Halldór Kiljan Laxness (born Halldór Guðjónsson)

  • writer (poetry, newspaper articles, plays, travelogues, short stories, and novels)
  •  Nobel Prize in Literature in 1955
  • the only Icelandic Nobel laureate

Magnús Örn Eyjólfsson Scheving

  • writer, actor, producer, entrepreneur, and athlete
  • creator and co-star of the children’s television show LazyTown (Sportacus)
  • received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Icelandic 2006 Edda Award ceremonies for his work as founder and creator of the LazyTown franchise.
  • starred in the 2010 film The Spy Next Door in which he portrayed a Russian villain

Mezzoforte

  • instrumental jazz-funk fusion band, formed in 1977
  • biggest hit single «Garden Party» (1983)

Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson

  • musician, art director, and allsherjargoði (chief goði) of Ásatrúarfélagið («the Ásatrú Association»)
  • pioneer in the use of computers when composing music and cleared the path for new ideas in recording and arrangements

Björk Guðmundsdóttir

  • singer-songwriter (experimental, electronic, trip-hop, art pop, underground dance, classical, and avant-garde)
  • 30 singles on Top 40 on pop charts around the world
  • five BRIT Awards, four MTV Video Music Awards, one MOJO Award, three UK Music Video Awards, 21 Icelandic Music Awards and, in 2010, the Polar Music Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in recognition of her «deeply personal music and lyrics
  • This quote shows why I love Björk: «Come on, I’m from Iceland; I don’t do hip-hop.»

Hafþór Júlíus «Thor» Björnsson

  • professional strongman, actor, and former professional basketball player
  • also known for his role as Gregor «The Mountain» Clegane in the HBO series Game of Thrones

Food and drink:

Reykjavik is the home of several fantastic restaurants, and I especially recommend lamb and seafood. There is, however, one Icelandic specialty that you might want to avoid, unless you are feeling particularly adventurous: Kæstur hákarl. This is fermented Greenland Shark. You cannot eat the shark fresh, as it is poisonous. Allowing the shark to fully decay and cure, removes the toxins from the flesh, making it edible. Well, edible might be a tad strong. It won’t kill you in the fermented state – but whether or not you can get it past your uvula is a different discussion. 

Perhaps if you chase it with Brennivín, Iceland’s signature distilled beverage. It is an aquavit, made from fermented grain or potato mash and flavored with caraway. After the prohibition ended in 1935 this product was introduced. In order to warn against consumption, the label was black picturing a skull in white, and it was therefore nicknamed «svarti dauði» (Black Death).


And with that, this series from Iceland is done. I hope I get to make another one someday.

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I’ve been nominated for “The Quote Challenge” by the lovely AutumnChocolateBooks over on isawithoughtiwrote: Thank you for this challenge, which I am happy to bring forward. And who doesn’t like a good quote anyways?

The rules:

  1. For three consecutive days, you have to post a quote.
  2. Acknowledge the blogger who has nominated you.
  3. Each day you have to nominate three different bloggers.
  4. Let the bloggers know you have nominated them.

I will now nominate three of my fav bloggers, hope you are up for it! (And if you are not, then that is perfectly fine, I still love you guys!)

Whippet Wisdom

NJ

The Gad About Town

The Poetry of List-Making

Iceland much? Blue Lagoon


20-455_SVEIN_Blå_Lagune_310504In 1976, a pool formed in a lava field at Grindavik (20 km from Keflavik International Airport) from the waste water of a geothermal power plant. In 1981 people started bathing in the pool, after its purported healing powers were popularized. In 1992 the bathing facility was opened for the public by the Blue Lagoon Company.

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Blue Lagoon at Grindavik has nothing to do with Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins being marooned as young kids on a tropical island. It is instead a geothermal spa and one of the most visited attractions in Iceland.

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The Blue Lagoon (Bláa lónið) is, as mentioned above, a man-made lagoon which is fed by the water output of the nearby geothermal power plant Svartsengi and is renewed every two days. The warm waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulfur and bathing in the Blue Lagoon is reputed to help some people suffering from skin diseases such as psoriasis. The water temperature in the lagoon averages 37–39 °C (99–102 °F).

 

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Have a wee look-see at Blue Lagoons own website, and take special notice of conditioning your hear before you go in the water! I did not do that, and it was a real struggle – if not impossible – to comb my hair for two weeks after. It was like felt. And stunk of rotten eggs. In fact, my hear should have been kept way above that mineral water, as it was chemically treated.

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Despite the smelly and totally uncontrollable hair, Blue Lagoon is sooo worth a visit! It feels super nice to swim around in, put a mud mask on my face and just relax and enjoy!

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I did not get to take one single picture from Blue Lagoon – as I was in the water the whole time! Again, my friend Svein Nordahl comes to my aide with his magnificent photos.

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H2O

Iceland much? Fire Giants and Hellmouths


One way to get a really good overview of Icelandic landscape is by chartering a small plane to show us more of Iceland from the sky. Most photos by me, and two photos by my good friend Svein Nordahl – as stated on the pictures.

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I have in several previous posts covered a lot of the special geological conditions that Iceland offers, but I don’t see how I can write a series from Iceland and not mention volcanic eruptions. We were lucky to get a really good view of some volcanos from the plane.

Let’s (once again) turn to my beloved Wikipedia:

“A volcano is a rupture in the crust of a planetary-mass object, such as Earth, that allows hot lava, volcanic ash, and gases to escape from a magma chamber below the surface.

Earth’s volcanoes occur because its crust is broken into 17 major, rigid tectonic plates that float on a hotter, softer layer in its mantle. Therefore, on Earth, volcanoes are generally found where tectonic plates are diverging or converging. For example, a mid-oceanic ridge, such as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, has volcanoes caused by divergent tectonic plates pulling apart; the Pacific Ring of Fire has volcanoes caused by convergent tectonic plates coming together. Volcanoes can also form where there is stretching and thinning of the crust’s interior plates, e.g., in the East African Rift and the Wells Gray-Clearwater volcanic field and Rio Grande Rift in North America. This type of volcanism falls under the umbrella of «plate hypothesis» volcanism. Volcanism away from plate boundaries has also been explained as mantle plumes. These so-called «hotspots», for example Hawaii, are postulated to arise from upwelling diapirs with magma from the core–mantle boundary, 3,000 km deep in the Earth. Volcanoes are usually not created where two tectonic plates slide past one another.

Erupting volcanoes can pose many hazards, not only in the immediate vicinity of the eruption. One such hazard is that volcanic ash can be a threat to aircraft, in particular those with jet engines where ash particles can be melted by the high operating temperature; the melted particles then adhere to the turbine blades and alter their shape, disrupting the operation of the turbine. Large eruptions can affect temperature as ash and droplets of sulfuric acid obscure the sun and cool the Earth’s lower atmosphere (or troposphere); however, they also absorb heat radiated up from the Earth, thereby warming the upper atmosphere (or stratosphere). Historically, so-called volcanic winters have caused catastrophic famines.”

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OK, that was a (not so short) explanation of volcanoes from the scientific angle. But say you were a Viking fleeing the terror and killings of Harald Hårfagre (Fair hair) in Norway some thousand years ago, and when arriving in Iceland you see volcanoes for the first time. You have never seen them before. Never heard of them. How will you explain this to yourself and others? You can’t just pitch an idea about tectonic plates, because that is nonexistent in your knowledge base. There are lots of mythological and legend based explanations around the world for the phenomena of volcanoes, and if you were a Viking, chances are you’d connect it with Norse Mythology.

The Norse god Loki was tied up underneath the earth and a poisonous snake would drip venom in his face. When Loki shuddered from the pain, he would create earthquakes (earthquakes are common before eruptions)

The eruption itself is the fire giant Surtr emerging from the ground. Now, you do not want to cross paths with this badboy! Surtr will be a major figure in the events of Ragnarök where his flames will engulf the Earth (basically the end of the world, from which the world will resurface anew and fertile, to be repopulated and rebuildt.)

There are also local legends connected with some of the volcanoes in Iceland, often involving witchcraft – and magic underwear!

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Christians has a tendency to view volcanoes as portals to hell, and that the souls of the condemned travels through volcanoes to reach their final destination.

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There are scientific technologies in place today to foresee volcanic eruptions, and measures are being taken to protect lives when they erupt. So don’t let fear stop you from visiting this fantastic island.

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One more post in this series coming up – from Blue Lagoon. You do not want to miss that post, so check back tomorrow 🙂

Iceland much? Lava land


I am so lucky that my buddy Svein Nordahl has given me permission to publish some of his photos from Iceland on my blog. Which ones are his is stated on the photos. You can find more of his photos on: Svein Nordahl – Home in the Arctic

Lava land

As already established in this post from Þingvellir, Iceland has extensive volcanic and geothermal activity. Half of this land area consists of a mountainous lava desert and other wasteland. The highest elevation is 2,110 m (6,923 ft.) above sea level.

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Only 1 per cent of the land is cultivated, and 20 per cent is used for grazing. The forest that I mentioned in Þingvellir post, has been lost along with most all of the woodland that previously covered between 30 and 40 per cent of the island.

Around 10 per cent of the total land area is covered by glaciers, the four largest being:

  • Vatnajökull (7764 km²)
  • Langjökull (868 km²)
  • Hofsjökull (827 km²)
  • Mýrdalsjökull (542 km²)

We visited from way further north, from the real Arctic, and seeing the glaciers were not a priority at all. However, if you travel to Iceland from glacier-less parts of the world – then experiencing said glaciers comes highly recommended.

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Climate

Iceland’s climate is rather “blah”. Due to the Gulf Stream passing by, the climate is characterized by damp, cool summers – and relatively mild, but windy winters. Just… “blah”! Reykjavik, the capital, averages of 12 °C (53.6 °F) in July and 1 °C (34 °F) in January. The weather is notoriously variable – all year around.

In the wintertime, the aurora borealis is often visible at night, but midnight sun can only be seen on the island Grimsey off the north coast – as it is the only part of Iceland that is north of the Polar Circle. You do get very light summer nights in the rest of the country though, even though the sun does set briefly.

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Folklore

Now, this landscape and rapidly changing weather conditions are not without dangers, and I believe that some of the folklore has its origin from busy parents trying to scare their kids from getting themselves into harm’s way. Other legends are explanatory – they give a reason why, for instance, the Golden Falls are – well – golden. Sometimes legends are pure incentives, as you do this – the elves will reward you, and so forth.

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The Icelanders call the elves, fairies and gnomes Huldufólk, which translates to “hidden people”. The belief in the Huldufólk is so strong that building projects are sometimes altered to prevent damaging the rocks where the Huldufólk is believed to live. Also, please refrain from throwing stones in Iceland, to eliminate the possibility of accidentally hitting the Huldufólk in the head. That would piss them off to no end!

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According to the folklore, the Huldufólk is everywhere, so tread carefully as they are easily offended, and can retaliate with all kinds of mischief. They also dislike crosses, churches and electricity. (A thoughtfully placed candle on New Year’s Eve to help them find their way when they move, is highly appreciated, though.)

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On Midsummer Night, folklore states that if you sit at a crossroads, elves will attempt to seduce you with food and gifts; there are grave consequences for being seduced by their offers, but great rewards for resisting.

Like in Norway, it is customary in Iceland to clean the house before Christmas, and to leave food for the Huldufólk on Christmas Eve.

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There is great likeness between Icelandic and Norwegian folklore, which does not surprise me at all; we are from the same origin. I was, however, surprised to learn that many Icelanders actually believe in the existence of Huldufólk. It is very much so a part of their culture and every Icelander has a grandmother who used to dance and play with the Huldufólk as a child.

Come to think of it, isn’t it better to believe in the Huldufólk then an invisible and judgmental god who demands a tithe of everything you own? The Huldufólk just wants to be left in peace, and to be treated to a nice meal once a year!

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Sun Voyager (Solfar in Icelandic) is a sculpture in Reykjavik that makes me think of the Vikings sailing into this Lava Land for the first time. Oh the questions they must have had when seeing this unfamiliar lanscape. I am convinced that that is how legends start!

We are not done with Iceland yet, so check back for my next post – from the sky!

Iceland much? Geyser


Geyser is a part of the Golden Circle (a popular day excursion from Reykjavik), along with Þingvellir and Gullfoss. What in the world is a Geyser? It is a spring characterized by intermittent discharge of water ejected turbulently and accompanied by steam. In other words, a vertical column of boiling water coming straight out from the ground. You need particular hydrogeological conditions to form geysers, which exist only a few places on earth, so you can safely say that it is a fairly rare phenomenon.

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As discussed in this post, Iceland much? Þingvellir (or a stroll between the tectonic plates), Iceland is indeed volcanic, and magma is thus close to the earth surface at this island. Simply put, water makes its way underground and when it gets deep enough (around 2000 meters / 6600 ft.) it gets heated by the rocks that lay atop of the magma. The already pressurized water (pressure alters the boiling point of water) starts to boil and transform into steam, and thus the pressure increases even more. And that is how you get the geyser effect when hot water and steam sprays out of the geysers surface vent in a hydrothermal explosion.

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Here is a bit of trivia for ya. Best remember this – it might come in handy in a pub quiz:

The word “geyser” actually comes from an erupting spring at Haukadalur in Iceland, named “Geysir”, which in turn comes from the Icelandic verb “geysa” (to gush, in English), and the verb itself is derived from Old Norse. Think about that for a second; when you go to visit Old Faithful in Yellowstone, or you have to write a paper for geology class, you are actually speaking Icelandic and Old Norse! I have officially taught you two languages! You are welcome!

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The geyser in my photos is not Geysir, as it is not currently erupting regularly. However, one of the neighboring geysers, Strokkur (Icelandic for “churn”) erupts every 8-10 minutes with a usual height of 15-20 meters (sometimes up to 40 meters). Strokkur was first mentioned in 1789 after an earthquake helped unblock the conduit of the geyser, and it continued to erupt regularly until the turn of the 20th century, when another earthquake blocked the conduit again. Upon the advice of the Geyser Committee, locals cleaned out the blocked conduit in 1963, and it has been erupting regularly ever since.

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The Icelanders, being superstitious people, can of course explain the phenomena with a legend:

Among the people living in the vicinity of Haukadalur there were many wizards. One day hot water flowed between two farms. These particular two farmers were feuding wizards. One of the wizards drove his wizard stick into the ground and started to bite on it to direct the water towards his enemy. The more he gnawed, the more the water attacked his enemy’s house. The enemy, also being a great wizard, in turn drove his wizard stick in the ground and started gnawing on it as well. Quickly the water receded and started to attack the first wizard’s house. After a good while of water wars, the feuding wizards proved to be of equal strength, and the water flowed back to the middle between the farms.

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I will leave it up to you to decide what version you trust more, the scientific one or the folkloric one. Personally, I think both explanations of the phenomena are pretty cool.

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More of this fantastic island coming up! Please check back!

 

Iceland much? Gullfoss (“Golden falls”)


Gullfoss («Golden Falls») is a popular tourist attraction and together with Þingvellir and the geysers of Haukadalur (which will be featured in my next post in the Iceland much? series), Gullfoss forms part of the «Golden Circle», a popular day excursion for tourists in Iceland.

Gullfoss is a waterfall in the river Hvítá (“white river”), which has its origin from the glacier lake Hvítávatn (“white river lake”) by Lángjökull glacier (second largest glacier in Iceland) about 40km north of Gullfoss. Now why would anyone name a fall in a white river “Golden” anything? Here’s a bit of Trivia for ya: Melting water from glaciers carries with it sediments and minerals from the ground it has been grinding on for years, and on a sunny day the brownish water in the waterfall appears to be truly golden.

They don’t call Iceland “the Saga Island” for nothing, and of course there is a myth connected to Gullfoss, we would expect nothing less:

Gudur, a farmer nearby the Gullfoss, was extremely stingy, and could not bear the thought of anyone getting hands on his money after his death. So he took all his money and valuables, put them in a box, and threw it into the falls. And that is what makes the falls golden.

I will leave it up to you to decide which explanation sounds more accurate.

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Not sunny enough to be golden.

When you approach the falls it appears that the river vanishes underground. In reality the crevice the water falls into runs perpendicular to the falls above, and it is totally awesome! In fact so awesome that I wonder who in their right mind could take one look at this fabulous place and see money?

An Englishman named Howells, that’s who! He leased the waterfalls in the early 20th century with the purpose of harnessing the falls to produce electricity. The owner’s daughter, Sigriður Tómasdóttir, sought to have the lease voided and tried to stop Howells’ plan. She used her own savings to pay for lawyers in a trial that lasted for years. She even walked barefoot on bleeding feet to Reykjavik to follow up on her case. She also threatened to throw herself down the waterfalls if construction were to commence.

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Old Mamasan staying way clear of the Edge.

Sigriður lost the case in court, but before construction began, the contract was disposed due to the lack of payment of the lease. Sigriður’s fight brought people’s attention towards the importance of preserving nature, and she is recognized as Iceland’s first environmentalist. (And there is a much deserved plaque of Sigriður by the falls)

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Next post will also be about water – boiling hot water in the Geysirs. Check back on Thursday!

Iceland much? Þingvellir (or a stroll between the tectonic plates)


This very popular site is a Kinder Egg for tourists, with its historical, cultural and geological importance.

Historical

Alþingi («Althing» in English), the Icelandic Parliament, was established at Þingvellir in 930, and remained there until 1798. A National Park was founded here in 1930, marking the 1000th anniversary of the Alþingi. The park became a World Heritage Site in 2004.

I gave a brief history of Iceland in this post, where you see that Ingólfur Arnarson became the first permanent settler of Iceland. As the population grew, Ingólfur’s descendants dominated the south west regions of Iceland, and soon became the most powerful family on the island. Early on, district assemblies had been formed, but other chieftains felt a need for a general assembly to limit the power of Ingolfur’s descendants.

But why here? Well, as they were looking for a suitable place to host the general assembly, the owner of Bláskógar (the contemporary name for the Þingvellir region) was found guilty of murder, and his land was declared public. The Þingvellir area was then chosen as the spot for the General assembly, as the already existing buildings could be used as temporary dwellings, and the horses could graze in the forest. It was also accessible from the most populous regions in the other parts of the island. The longest journey a goði (chieftain) had to travel was 17 days, from the easternmost part of the island, struggling to get over mountains and glacial rivers.

With this first general assembly in the summer of 930, the Alþingi, the foundation of the Icelandic parliament, it is said the nation of Iceland was founded.

Cultural

Every year for the two weeks duration of the Alþingi, people would flock to Þingvellir from all over the country. Merchants, sword sharpeners, and crafters would sell their goods and services. There were entertainment, there were ale-makers, news and gossip was shared, they participated in Playful games– all necessary ingredients in a good ol’ feast! The meet and greet at Alþingi, proved fruitful for farmhands seeking jobs, young people to meet and make their plans, and for stories to live on. Naturally this laid the foundation for the language and literature (remember the Sagas?) that have been a prominent part of the Icelandic people’s lives right up to present day. Also, the beauty of this place attracts many painters, sculptors and photographers.

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Geological

Did you know that on Iceland, at Þingvellir, you can walk between the tectonic plates? It is totally awesome! Not sure what I am talking about? Wikipedia explains it beautifully:

“The lithosphere, which is the rigid outermost shell of a planet (the crust and upper mantle), is broken up into tectonic plates. The Earth’s lithosphere is composed of seven or eight major plates (depending on how they are defined) and many minor plates. Where the plates meet, their relative motion determines the type of boundary: convergent, divergent, or transform. Earthquakes, volcanic activity, mountain-building, and oceanic trench formation occur along these plate boundaries. The relative movement of the plates typically ranges from zero to 100 mm annually.”

Iceland is a product of continental drift, as the North American and Eurasian plates slide apart from each other at an average rate of 2,5 cm per year. As these slide apart, magma from the Earth’s mantle reaches the surface and erupts as lava and builds mountains. I remember very well the eruption at Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 and the effects the ashes had on the air traffick in Europe.

Here at Þingvellir, the continental drift makes clear cracks, faults and canyons – and as I said; you can go for a walk between the tectonic plates. You are, in fact walking between North America and Eurasia. It is so incredibly cool!

I have to say that Þingvellir is one of the most awesome places I have ever set foot; both because of its historic and cultural importance, but also that I got to walk between tectonic plates while pondering about Viking-life and their quests. I do not know if this makes me a nerd, or even insane (I have never been tested), but Þingvellir is on my top 5 list of awesomeness.

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More adventures from Iceland is coming up, so please check back!

 

 

 

Iceland much? Church of Hallgrímur (Hallgrímskirkja)


03-103_Halgrimskirka_280504Old Mamasan is not much of a church goer, but somehow it still feels fitting to present a church on a Sunday.

So, let’s talk religion!

Or – we can just read what Wikipedia has to say on the topic:

Religion in Iceland was initially the Norse paganism that was a common belief among mediaeval Scandinavians who started settling Iceland in the 9th century AD, until Christian conversion around 1000 AD, though paganism did not vanish then. Starting in the 1530s, Iceland, originally Roman Catholic and under the Danish crown, formally became Lutheran, culminating in 1550 with the killing of the last Catholic bishop and the outlawing of Catholicism. Iceland still has a state church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland, though religious freedom has been a legal right since 1874. The state church is supported by the government, but all registered religions received support from a church tax paid by taxpayers over the age of 16 years.

According to government records, the population is at present overwhelmingly Lutheran, although Catholics and other Christian minorities exist as well as several non-Christian minority groups. The largest non-Christian religious grouping was Ásatrú (Germanic folk religion). A poll conducted by WIN/GIA in 2012 found that 57% of Icelanders considered themselves «a religious person», 31% consider themselves «a non religious person», while 10% define themselves as «a convinced atheist», placing Iceland in top 10 atheist populations in the world.

04-104_Halgrimskirka_280504The church of Hallgrímur is a Lutheran parish church in Reykjavik, Iceland, and also the largest church in Iceland (73 meters tall / 244 ft.). It is named after an Icelandic poet and clergyman, Hallgrímur Pétursson, and designed by State Architect Guðjón Samúelsson, whom let the basalt lava flows of Icelandic landscape greatly influence his design.

Construction work began in 1945 and ended in 1986. For those of you who think 41 years to build a church is way too long – let me remind you of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona – the Gaudi church that were started in 1883 – and still not finished!

If you go to Reykjavik, there will be no missing out on this landmark, as it is visible throughout the city. Right in front of the main entrance to the church you find a statue of Viking explorer Leif Eriksson by Alexander Stirling Calder, a gift from the United States in honor of the 1930 Alltinget (Parliament) Millennium Festival.

08-107_Halgrimskirka_280504If you venture into the church you will find a large pipe organ by the German organ builder Johannes Klais. It has electronic action, thus the pipes are remote from the console. The whole thing is 15 meters tall and weighs 25 tons.

You can also take the lift up to the viewing deck and get a great view over Reykjavik, as you can see in this post: Iceland (brief history).

The next post in this series will be about Alltinget (Parliament) and a bit of geography, so check back later 🙂

 

 

Graceful

Iceland much? (brief history)


The second largest island in Europe is indeed a fascinating one. It is situated in the North Atlantic Ocean, just south of the polar circle. When we went there in 2004 when the cultural life in Svalbard chartered a plane from Iceland Air, we flew 2.5 hours SOUTH. Most tourists visiting Iceland will be travelling north.

LYR-KEF

As it is 12 years since my visit to the Saga-island, I do not remember all the details of the experience, so I will be reliving it with you trough pictures and facts. I do expect a lot to have changed, especially in Reykjavik (the capital). But let’s start with a quick history update:

  • According to Landnámabók (book of Settlements), Norwegians were the first settlers on the island from year 874 when Ingolf Arnarsson (a lawless Norwegian, shunned) claimed land there (he was not the first to set foot on the island, but the first to permanently settle there). However, other sources claim that one of the Swedish Viking explorer Garðar Svavarsson’s men decided to stay behind with two slaves, and were thus the first permanent settlers. Garðar Svavarsson was the first to circumnavigate Iceland in 870 and thus established that it was an island.
  • However that might be, this was the start of the Landnåmstiden, when Iceland was settled and colonized by Scandinavians and people from the British Isles. Most of them are Norwegians who fled Norway after Harald Hårfagre (Fair hair) gathered the many Viking Kingdoms into one country. Iceland is divided up between the first families.
  • In 930 Alltinget (national parliament) is constituted and marks liberation from Norway. Iceland prospered greatly the first years after Alltinget, before big family feuds break out. Many of which you can read about in the Sagas – fascinating reading!
  • In 1262 the Icelandic farmers accept the Norwegian King as overlord with the right to collect taxes. However Iceland is not a part of Norway, but has a Norwegian Governor.
  • In 1397 Norway enters the Kalmar union, and with it the “four hundred year night” (as Norwegians call the period, I have a feeling the Danes strongly disagree). Iceland, being governed by Norway also joins – despite massive protests. Plague, volcanic eruptions and the small ice age devastates Iceland, and all government is moved to Copenhagen, Denmark, and Danish merchants are given monopoly on all trade.
  • From 1662 the Danish King tightens the grip. Volcanic eruptions and an epidemic of small pox devastates Iceland, and the Danes wishing to give up on Iceland and move the entire population to the Danish mainland (in 1786 there were only 300 inhabitants in Reykjavik), but luckily this didn’t happen.
  • In 1874, Iceland achieves a limited form of self-governance, and from 1918 the Danish powers are reduced to defence and foreign affairs.
  • When the German troops invaded Denmark in April 1940, the Alltinget declared that the Icelandic Government would take responsibility for all Icelandic politics. 17th June 1944 Iceland declared its independence, and the Republic was born.
  • Iceland joins NATO in 1949, and the Americans build a base in Keflavik, and are given the responsibility for Iceland’s defence in 1951. Fishery is modernized and centralized in big companies that greatly influence Icelandic politics. Gaining control of the Icelandic exclusive fishery zone was so important that it resulted in the Cod Wars against United Kingdom in the 1970s.

Reykjavik is Iceland’s capital, and about two thirds of the country’s inhabitants live in there and the surrounding areas. As you can see below, the city is nice and airy, and not a skyscraper in sight.

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More posts from Iceland will be coming, so check back!