Iceland’s Viking Saga’s

Over 1,000 years of Viking history is ever-present in Iceland. From the Icelandic Horses descended from those once used by Vikings, to museums and monuments, the Viking founders of Iceland are not forgotten (Vikings from other Scandinavian countries settled Iceland between 874 AD and 935 AD).

Icelandic Horses
Icelandic horses – These adorable shaggy little horses have quite the lineage with a direct link to the Vikings!
Viking sword roadside monument in Keflavik Iceland
Viking sword roadside monument in Keflavik (taken through the window of the mini-bus I was aboard)

Vikingaheimar (Viking World)

Now this was something I was keen to see, a replica Viking longship, the Icelander (Íslendingur) at Vikingaheimar (Viking World) in Reykjanesbær (near Keflavik, towards the airport). The Vikings used such longships to explore, trade and raid vast distances from Europe to North America (they were fast and very stable, even in rough seas and carried up to 70 crew members). Fear the mighty Viking mere Saxons!

Viking longship the Icelander (Íslendingur) at Viking World
Viking longship the Icelander (Íslendingur) at Viking World
Viking Longship
Viking Longship

The Icelander (Íslendingur) is a replica of the Gokstad longship which was excavated from a Viking burial mound in Norway in 1882 (it was dated back to 870 AD which was around the time Vikings settled in Iceland). This not just a museum display though, Íslendingur was built almost single-handedly by shipwright Mr Gunnar Marel Eggertsson between 1994 and 1996. In the year 2000 he sailed it with a crew of 9, from Iceland to New York as a commemorative voyage of the famed Leifur Eiríksson’s journey to North America (Vinland) 1,000 years earlier.

The Icelander (Íslendingur) viking longship voyage 2000
The Icelander (Íslendingur)
The Icelander (Íslendingur) voyage in 2000 viking longship
The Icelander (Íslendingur) voyage in 2000

Leifur Eiríksson, “Leif the Lucky” (circa 970 to 1020) an Icelander and the son of Erik the Red who settled Greenland (he named that icy land Greenland to entice settlers!), was the first Norse explorer to successfully reach North America circa 1,000 AD (five centuries before Christopher Columbus). According to the Icelandic Saga’s (13th and 14th century literary works on Icelandic history and legends from the 10th and early 11th centuries) he established a settlement at  L’Anse aux Meadows in the northern tip of modern-day Newfoundland in Canada. Unlike his pagan father, Leifur was of the Christian faith (Iceland initially was pagan worshipping the Norse gods, then circa 1,000 AD they had a system where Christianity was the official religion but it was still OK to be a pagan too).

Reykjavik

Ingólfur Arnarson, his wife Hallveig and his ship’s crew were the first permanent Nordic settlers of Iceland and named the place they settled, Reykjavik (Smoke Cove) from the steam rising from the regions hot springs (one very volcanic country). A statue of Ingólfur Arnarson stands in a park in the centre of Reykjavik displayed with a dragon headed pillar and the god Odin with his ravens Hugin and Munin.

Ingólfur Arnarson the first settler of Iceland
Ingólfur Arnarson the first settler of Iceland
Leifur Eiríksson monument in front of the Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik (the largest church in Iceland)
Leifur Eiríksson monument in front of the Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik (the largest church in Iceland) – the flag of Iceland was at half mast due to the death of a famous poet
Leifur Eiríksson monument in front of the Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik (the largest church in Iceland)
Leifur Eiríksson monument in front of the Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik (the largest church in Iceland)
The Sun Voyager in Reykjavik looks like a Viking longship but it is actually a dream boat and an ode to the sun by sculptor Jon Gunnar Arnason
The Sun Voyager in Reykjavik looks like a Viking longship but it is actually a dream boat and an ode to the sun by sculptor Jon Gunnar Arnason

Saga Museum

The Saga Museum in Reykjavik recreates scenes and important Icelanders from Viking history as told by the Icelandic Saga’s. You can see the transition from pagan worship of the Norse gods and witchcraft of sorts, to the adoption of Christianity in Iceland circa 1,000 AD and the wrath of the Great Plague (Black Death – during the middle of the 14th century). Some of the scenes discuss the Celts that were in Iceland, it seems they were mostly woman captured and enslaved by the Vikings during raids in places like Ireland. They have some very lifelike wax dioramas at the Saga Museum and the witch burning scene portrays a true look of terror!

Saga Museum - Discovery and settlement of Iceland
Saga Museum – Discovery and settlement of Iceland
Saga Museum - Celts in Iceland. the discovery of Vinland (North America) and conversion to Christianity
Saga Museum – Celts in Iceland. the discovery of Vinland (North America) and conversion to Christianity
Saga Museum - Law and Politics Iceland
Saga Museum – Religion, Law and Politics
Saga Museum - The Black Death, Viking battles and heresy! Rekjavik
Saga Museum – The Black Death, Viking battles and heresy!

Akureyri – Northern Iceland

Up on the Hamarkot Rocks near the town centre of Akureyri sits a monument to Helgi the Lean and Thorunn Hyrna who were the first settlers of the area around 890 AD. They overlook the second largest city in Iceland pointing to a bright future in a new land. Helgi got his name as he was put into a kind of foster care for 2 winters and when his parents returned he was so starved they named him Helgi the Lean. He was brought up in Ireland and married Thorunn who was curiously known as Thorunn the Horned! They later moved to Iceland with their children to settle in the north.

Helgi the Lean and Thorunn Hyrna First Settlers Akureyri
Helgi the Lean and Thorunn Hyrna

The Icelandic Saga’s and Viking past make for some interesting lessons in history and legend of this beautiful country. Despite now being a predominately Christian country it is great to see Iceland still embraces its Norse past.

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