East Iceland is rich in history and culture, from early settlement to the present. In every fjord, farm or village, even in the most remote highlands, history reveals itself either in the form of museum, ruins or other historical sites. Indulge yourself with a trip through history as you drive along East Iceland.
Check out our SAGA-Trails for Hrafnkelssaga or Vopnfirðingasaga, The Skriðuklaustur monastery and excavations, the Djúpivogur historical centre where you can learn about the earliest arrivals be they greek, roman or the mysterious Papar, the irish hermit monks.
The Culture reveals itself in the many arts and crafts shops and centres.
East Iceland extends from Bakkafjörður in the north to Álftafjörður in the south. It is meant that history here is older than the settlement of the Nordic people in Iceland.
The first ones could have been the Romans, looking for the legendary island of the Greek Pythias “Ultima Thule”, if not Pythias himself, but roman coins dating back to the 1st century AD were found near Djúpivogur. Then the Irish, but according to the Sagas Irish hermits, called Papar, were already here when the Vikings came late in the 8th century. This is verified by place-names such as the island Papey. A bit further south at Geithellnar the first settlers, Ingólfur Arnarson and his foster brother Hjörleifur spent the winter on their first expedition to Iceland. Many Norwegian chieftains followed their path and claimed land in the east.
During the middle ages Iceland lost its independency. The last Icelander to surrender to the Norwegian King in the 12th century , was the Goði who lived in Valþjófsstaður. Dating from that time is the beautifully carved door of Valþjófsstaður, one of the treasures in the National museum.
The monastery at Skriðuklaustur was established at the end of the 14th century. It became a refuge to the sick and poor in difficult times when famine and epidemics ravaged the country. The monastery was closed after the reformation in 1550.
The East is rich of folk tales and the supernatural lives within them. The wyrm in the lake Lagarfljót and the tales of elves and trolls give this enchanting country a certain spellbinding charm.
In the year 1627 Algerian pirates abducted some 110 people and sold them into slavery in Africa. The trolls and elves were helpless against these villain, but the prophetess buried at Hólmahálsi by Eskifjörður, was able to protect her people in the fjord by thick fog and heavy waves. Thus the our elves live on.
The 19th century was prosperous due to herring fishing and whaling and for a while the world’s largest whaling station was in Mjóifjörður, run by Norwegians. During this period the villages in the Fjords began to form and Seyðisfjörður got its municipality rights in 1895. The first telegraph cable connecting Iceland to Europe was shored in Seyðisfjörður in 1906, making it a hub for international telecommunications. The growth of the fishing villages coincided with the decline of agriculture, as a result of the devastating 1875 eruption of Askja that buried large areas in thick ash. Consequently many east Icelanders emigrated to America, with Vopnafjörður as their point of departure, where the Emigration centre is stationed.
Fishing increased, especially in Neskaupstaður and is still the main source of income in the eastern Fjords, whereas agriculture still runs strong, especially sheep and lately barley and other grains in Hérað and the valleys. A new addition to employment is the large alumina smelter in Reyðarfjörður. Last but not least there is a growing tourism industry, with the Norröna ferry harbour in Seyðisfjörður and the international airport in Egilsstaðir. At present the East has some 10.000 inhabitants.
The farm of Sænautasel, situated up in the highland of Jökuldalsheiði, was inhabited from 1843-1943. In the years 1875-1880, however, it was left abandoned as a result of the lavish ashfall emanating from volcano Askja during a 1875 eruption. Rumour has it that the farm served as a model for "Independent People", the most popular novel of Iceland's only Nobel Prize winner, Halldór Laxness. Now rebuilt, the interior and exterior of the turf buildings are open to visitors during the summer. Guided tours help reveal the conditions of earlier Icelandic generations. Refreshments in traditional style are offered.
Valþjófsstaður in Fljótsdalur valley enjoys a century-long reputation as a farm of prestige, a vicarage and a site of culture and distinction. In times of yore it was the residence of the Þórarinsson brothers, Þorvarður, one of the most powerful men in Iceland in his day (d. 1297), and Oddur, a great warrior slain at farm Geldingaholt in 1255 .
The famous Valþjófsstaður church door, one of the finest items in the National Museum at Reykjavík, derives from Valþjófsstaður. The present door is an exact replica. .
East Iceland has all kinds of museums which tell the rich history that this part of the country has.
Hosting all kinds of cultural events and educational programs for people of all ages. Cultural centers are located in most parts of the country.
All types of craft and design have become popular all over the country. The variety is quite remarkable and it´s safe to say that the local´s creative spirit is very active. Craft and design products are sold at special markets, specialty stores or via the artists’ websites.
While the residents of East Iceland are few, their culture is rich and varied. Born among living legends, tales of elves, trolls and elementary beings and shaped by the magnificent nature around, they are fighters who cherish life and wellbeing.
Art exhibits, concerts and cultural events are a vital part of life, as are the local music festivals such as Eistnaflug, Bræðslan and The Hammond Festival and visitors are always welcome to join in. Artist's workshops and studios are also found in the towns of East Iceland.
Many artists are represented in collective art centers and studios, portraying different individual creativity. One example is Hús handanna in Egilsstaðir, featuring works of different artists and master crafters using different materials; traditional ceramics, jewelry, local birch, leather and even reindeer antlers.
Gallerí Snærós and the grafic centre is loceted in Stöðvarfjörður, run by the initiative of artists Sólrún Friðriksdóttir and Ríkharður Valtingojer. Their atelier ranks among the best grafic workshops in the country. A visit can be arranged to watch the artists at work or even take a private course !
- Laufskógar I
- 700 Egilsstaðir
- Búð I
- 765 Djúpivogur
- 740 Neskaupstaður
- v/ brekkuna
- 755 Stöðvarfjörður
- 701 Egilsstaðir
- 892-8956, 471-1086