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!!

Harpa, Reykjavík Concert Hall

Posted on Categories Culture, Music, News Feed, ReykjavikTags , , , ,

If you’ve been to Reykjavík, it is rather unlikely that you haven’t noticed the large glass building down by the harbour. The building is called Harpa and is one of Reykjavík’s greatest and most distinguished landmarks. It is also the cultural and social centre of Reykjavík and offers the best facilities for concerts and conferences in Northern Europe.

Harpa’s design was influenced by the Icelandic exceptional and dramatic nature. It even lights up at night with a light show resembling the Northern Lights.  The distinctive glass facade which was designed by visual artist Ólafur Elíasson changes Harpa into a great canvas where all sorts of color can be displayed upon it, giving Reykjavík and the old harbour a certain oomph especially during the dark winter months.

There are various cultural events, concerts and shows almost every day all year round at Harpa ranging from electronic music festival (Sónar), to Reykjavík Jazz Festival, to heavy metal concerts to being the home to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and the Icelandic Opera. Guided tours of the building in English are also available daily.

 

For those who are interested in seeing a show at Harpa and learning about Icelandic culture in one shot, check out the following shows:

The Pearls of Icelandic Song series:  A popular concert series in Harpa with classical Icelandic music consisting some of the most beloved Icelandic songs, fold-songs and hymns.

How to Become Icelandic in 60 minutes:  The entire show is in english and is not only hilariously funny but it’s a great way to get a little insight on Icelanders and the Icelandic culture. You will laugh and learn and at the end of the show leave the theatre feeling 100% Icelandic.

Icelandic Sagas The Greatest Hits:  A funny and interactive theatrical comedy show featuring the old Icelandic Viking Sagas. The entire show is in english and is not only hilarious but also informative about Icelandic history.  A great way to get a glimpse through Iceland’s literary heritage.

 

You can get tickets to all these shows plus many more right at the front desk at your hotel and prior to the show be sure to try the delicious Pre-Show menu available at SKÝ Restaurant & Bar located right across the street from Harpa at CenterHotel Arnarhvoll.