A Wintery Week in Iceland: Museums

I have a confession to make. I like museums. Which, let’s be honest, is probably not all that surprising. During my trip to Iceland, I had the opportunity to visit three museums and learn more about the history of Iceland.

Árnessýsla Heritage Museum – The House at Eyrarbakki

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Built in 1765, this is one of the oldest (still standing) houses in Iceland. It now houses a museum focused on the history of the house and the coastal town surrounding it.

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By far the weirdest thing in the museum was this set of clothing knit from the maker’s own hair. I wasn’t sure whether to be disgusted or impressed.

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Skogar Museum

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This was my favorite museum that I visited. I could have spent most of the day here. The collection of approximately 15,000 local artifacts was impressive for many reasons, not the least of which was that the items were all collected by or given to a now 94-year-old man. This is the personal collection of a man passionate about his region’s history.

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Our guide through the museum provided a fascinating history of the hardships faced by the Icelanders as they settled the country. It was a place that was beautiful, but brutal. To survive required hardiness and creativity – bowls made out of whale vertebrae, shoes made out of fish. Survival in this place was hard won.

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The oldest printed Bible in Iceland. Literacy for the average Icelander was common long before it became usual elsewhere in Europe. In fact, the ancient sagas were written by Icelanders for Icelanders, not by or for the elite few who could read. Literacy was the rule, not the exception. 

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Oh, and as a bonus, there was a super cute dog

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An askur is a traditional Icelandic bowl. Typically made of driftwood (because there were not many other options), the bowls were used for a bit of everything, only one of which was eating.

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Fish shoes wore out quickly, but knitted insoles lasted much longer, thus making them a traditional courtship gift from a woman to a man.

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Outside of the main building were other examples of Icelandic buildings, including traditional turf houses.

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If you stop here, and you should, definitely plan on spending more than the brief hour I had to spend.

Viking World

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As the name suggests, the museum is focused on the history of the Vikings and their role in settling Iceland (although the Nordic people came as setters and farmers, not raiders).

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The highlight of the museum is the Íslendingur. The two story exhibit of the Viking ship discusses the ship’s journey in 2000 to recreate the original Viking voyage of Leif Ericsson to Newfoundland.

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This museum is relatively small and does not take long to peruse, but provides a quick history that gives a greater context for understanding the early history of Iceland.

So, there you have it. A small handful of museum to consider visiting while in Iceland. With more time in Reykjavik, I would have also liked to visit the National Gallery, The National Museum, The Settlement Exhibition, and perhaps the Culture House or The Saga Museum. Another time…

 

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