Icelandic Turf houses

Posted on Categories Culture, Design, history, Iceland, Museums, TraditionTags , , , , ,

Have you ever wonder how an isolated community, living in harsh conditions, without an easy access to construction goods build their homes?

 

Turf Houses are an integral part of the Nordic culture of Iceland. Although similar architectural tradition has been seen in other Nordic regions such as Norway, Scotland, Ireland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands and the Great Plains of North America throughout time, Icelanders used this technique for a considerable amount of time – from the 9th to the 20th century! The historic records show that up until the 19th century, 50% of the Icelandic population was still living in turf houses, the last inhabitants left their traditional houses around 1966. Coming from the arrival of the Norse and the British settlers, during the top of the Viking Age, those houses needing a lot of maintenance were then replaced by more modern buildings.

 

Abundant, ecological and renewable, turf became the choice for shelter constructions in Iceland. The choice of this material had more than one benefit and this is due to the climate condition of the country. The wooden layer (mostly timber), the turf grass and the stacks of earth was giving a natural isolation from the strong winds and difficult weather of the beautiful land. The foundation were mostly made of large flat stones and would always feature an impressive fire pit as the center of the building. Humidity, which can be very hard to bare with, was then gently eliminated from the turf houses.

 

During the 1000 years that turf houses were used, their style changed significantly. For example, during the 14th century, the long viking houses were changed into many small interconnected houses.

 

In the 18th century, the burstabær style became more popular with wooden extremities (at the back and at the front) instead of having only the wooden door. This style has been adopted and are the ones that we are still able to see and visit nowadays. With this technique, depending on the region and its climate condition, turf walls could last between 20 and 70 years!

 

With time, the population started to cluster in bigger cities like Reykjavik and let behind the traditional technique of stone masonry and earthen architecture and moved to wood buildings. Only after several earthquakes and fires flattening the city, Icelanders switched to a safer and stronger building material; concrete and steel. Interesting enough, at the beginning of the 20th century when Iceland gained its independence from Denmark, the turf houses were endangered considering that, for some, the traditional technique was too related to the Danish crown and pressure was put to move onto a more modern style of building. However, the Turf House Tradition of Iceland was nominated at the UNESCO World Heritage in 2011 in order to conserve this original, charming and valuable tradition. You could read on the nomination that “The turf house is an exceptional example of a vernacular architectural tradition, which has survive in Iceland. The form and design of the turf house is an expression of the cultural values of the society and has adapted to the social and technological changes that took place through the centuries.”

 

You can visit those Icelandic treasures in several parts of the island. Amongst many worthwhile sites, the fairy-tale looking church, Hofskirkja turf church, should be on the top of your list. Although it is pretty recent, constructed in 1884 and heavily restored in the 1950´s, it is the only turf building still being used for its initial purpose. Hence, it is impossible to see inside of the small turf church, by respect of the practicants, but the graveyard is open to the public and gives an incredible view on the tiny dreamy edifice.

 

Most of the turf houses now belongs to the National Museum of Iceland (Þjóðminjasafn Íslands). The historical Keldur site is believed to be the oldest turf house site that survived through time in Iceland. Located in South Iceland, shortly over an hour and a half driving from Reykjavik, it is believed to be in place since the middle age. Because of its natural components and the harsh weather of the land, turf houses are not known for lasting very long without conservation. Hence, this site was restored after the two earthquakes respectively in 1896 and 1912. Throughout the years, many conservation interventions occurred and some of the element where rebuild and refurbished, mainly in 1985, 1994 and 2000.

 

If you have some spare time, you should definitely visit a turf house; it fits very well in a conversation!!

Winter Lights Festival in Reykjavík

Posted on Categories Culture, Events, Museums, Reykjavik, WinterTags , , , , ,

Winter Lights Festival is an annual event held in Reykjavík that celebrates both the winter world and the growing sunlight after a long period of darkness. The festival this year will be held February 1-4 and with the participation of all the major museums and thermal pools; it consists of light installations, culture and outdoor activities. There will be a Museum Night, Pool Night, Northern Lights Run and over 100 other events in the Greater Reykjavík area.

 

The Museum Night takes place on Friday, February 2nd and is Winter Lights Festival’s most popular event.  Museums across the capital area open their doors and entertain their guests with happenings such as dance, theatre, lectures, live music, film, literature readings and much more free of charge. All  museums are open from 18.00-23.00.

Check out the Glacier and Ice Cave exhibition at Perlan, it gives visitors the opportunity to experience travelling through a real man-made Ice Cave, and for you punks out there, the Icelandic Punk Museum will open their doors for public access and at the Saga Museum you will be able to meet real vikings where they will be entertaining visitors all night like only they know how.

In collaboration with the Winter Lights Festival, GoRed’s for women Heart walk will also take place on Feb 2nd. It starts at hallgrímskirkja church at 19:30 and ends at Harpa Concert Hall where a new interactive light installation dubbed ‘Heart’ will be revealed on Harpa luminous facade.

 

The Pool Night takes place on Saturday February 3rd and invites visitors to try many of the city’s exceptional thermal pools for FREE. Pool Night added attractions include thrilling in-pool activities, music and pool illuminations. And if you are lucky you might get a glimpse of the Northern Lights while relaxing in a hot tub in one of the outdoor pools. Here you can find a list of all swimming pools in Pool night.

 

Northern Lights Run is a part of the Reykjavík Winter Lights Festival and is a run or a walk through downtown Reykjavík where runners will see the city in a new and colourful light. All participants get their very own illuminating merchandise throughout the entire event, making you a part of the entire show from start to finish. The run takes place on Saturday night February 3rd.  More info on the Northern Lights Run here.