The Presidential residence at Bessastaðir.
I had added this tip on the Presidential residence on my Reykjavík page as it belongs to the category of official buildings. It is located in Álftanes town (population ca 2.000) and the closest town is Hafnarfjörður, so I think it belongs here, seeing that I am not adding a special page on Álftanes town.
The church at Bessastaðir is right in front of the Presidential residence. The church is open to visitors but take care not to cross into the private area of the presidential residence.
A church was first built there in the year 1000, but the current church dates back to 1796. In 1805-1846 the Latin School/Learned School (which had been in Skálholt since 1056) moved to Bessastaðir with a short stop in Reykjavík. The Latin School MR is now located in the very center of Reykjavík. Bessastaðir was the property of Snorri Sturluson and after he was murdered in 1241 Bessastaðir became the first property of the Norwegian kings which reigned in Iceland and remained under their reign for 500 years. So Bessastaðir is quite a historical place.
The first president to reside at Bessastaðir after we got our independence from the Danish monarchy was Sveinn Björnsson 1944-1952, our second president was Ásgeir Ásgeirsson 1952-1968, our third was Kristján Eldjárn 1968-1980, our fourth and first female president was our beloved Vigdís Finnbogadóttir 1980-1996 and our fifth and current president is Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson since 1996.
My photos from inside the presidential residency were taken in February 2012 during the Winter festival, when the President of Iceland opened up Bessastaðir to public for one afternoon.
The Viking Village!
The Viking village is located in Hafnarfjörður and has a really interesting Viking restaurant and bar and the Hotel Viking. The decor is Viking style and the atmosphere is pure "Viking". The waitresses are dressed up as Valkyries and the menu consists mainly of "Viking food". I have added a tip on the Viking restaurant.
It is well worth a visit to experience a "different" evening.
The oldest building in the Viking village is Fjaran which dates back to 1841 making it the second oldest house in Hafnarfjörður (the Sívertsen house is the oldest house in Hafnarfjörður).
In 1985 these houses were to be demolishes, imagine that :( But the National Committee on Architectural Heritage protested and the houses were reconstructed. Now the Viking village is the main landmark in Hafnarfjörður.
Since 1991 there have been Viking festivals in the Viking village. The festival is held on the second weekend of June every year.
The church at Bessastaðir is right in front of the Presidential residence in Álftanes area. The church is open for visitors. A church was first built there in the year 1000, but the current church dates back to 1796.
The church at Bessastaðir has 8 beautiful stained windowpanes, see my picture is of the stained windowpane of Reverend Hallgrímur Pétursson, who wrote our beloved Passíusálmar. Notice on my picture of the altar that on both sides of the altar are tables with the names of the presidents and their spouses, who have passed away.
I believe that Iceland is one of few countries in the world where one can visit a church in front of the presidential residence, where the residence is not fenched off.
I have taken several VT-members to the church.
The International Viking Festival in Hafnarfjörður
Hafnarfjörður hosts the Annual International Viking Festival which will be held for the 18th time this year (2014) in June. The festival is held in the second weekend of June and lasts for 5 days. Thousands of "Vikings" from all over the world (mostly Scandinavia, England and Germany plus Icelanders of course) gather here and the fun goes on for several days.
The Vikings sell hand-made stuff, fur, roast a lamb, fight, dance, tell stories and show us the ways of living of the old Vikings. They teach you how to throw spears, shoot with bows and arrows, there is a fortune teller, wood-carving etc. Iceland is the Mekka of Vikings and this is a must if you are visiting Iceland at this time of the year.
The Vikings put on quite a realistic battle, so don't stand too close as it can get scary. At the end of the battle the Vikings run screaming towards the crowd. Take a look at my next tip for pictures of the Viking battle. There are also pictures in my travelogue.
There is now an entrance fee for a day´s pass to the Viking festival.
The Viking Village - Hotel Viking.
Opposite the Viking restaurant and bar there is the Hotel Viking. I have never stayed there but I took pictures from the outside and in the lobby just to give you the general idea of what it looks like.
I would say this were an awesome place to stay and if I weren't living here I would definitely try staying there for one night. It must be awesome staying here during the Viking Festival - but maybe a bit too loud as these Vikings know how to party ;)
There are 42 rooms at the hotel and in the year 2012 14 smaller huts were added to the Viking Village.
The Viking battle.
The Vikings put on quite a realistic battle through out the days during the Viking festival. Visitors are advices on not standing too close as it can get scary, especially for kids. At the end of the battle a lot of Vikings lie "dead" in the field, probably on their way to Valhalla, where they can continue fighting.
But be aware that they then get up and run screaming towards the crowd. Hold on to your kids and don't let them go too close during the battle. It is all just for fun, but when I brought my nieces, which are 11, 9 and 4 year old, to watch the Viking battle, I held on to them when the Vikings ran screaming towards the crowd.
Most of us Icelanders are descendants of the Vikings, I am one of them :)
Here is my Viking and Irish ancestry:
Ingólfur Arnarson (844) Hallveig Fróðadóttir (850)
Þorsteinn Ingólfsson 890
Þórhildur Þorsteinsdóttir 920
Þorkell Þórhildarson 945
Ketill Þorkelsson 965
Haukur Ketilsson 1020
Yngveldur Hauksdóttir 1060
Snorri Húnbogason 1100 - 1170
Narfi Snorrason 1135 - 1202
Snorri Narfason 1175 - 1260
Narfi Snorrason 1210 - 1284
Snorri Narfason 1260 - 1332
Ormur Snorrason 1320 - 1401
Guttormur Ormsson 1345 - 1381
Loftur "ríki" Guttormsson 1375 - 1432
Ólöf Loftsdóttir 1410 - 1479
Þorleifur Björnsson 1430 - 1486
Björn Þorleifsson 1480 - 1548
Jón Björnsson 1520 - 1600
Árni Jónsson 1560 - 1655
Sveinbjörn Árnason 1610 - 1681
Gísli Sveinbjörnsson 1650 - 1703
Sveinbjörn Gíslason 1694 - 1762
Einar "yngri" Sveinbjarnarson 1727 - 1814
Ragnheiður Einarsdóttir 1789 - 1855
Soffía Vernharðsdóttir 1829 - 1869
Ragnheiður Helgadóttir 1855 - 1946
Þórdís Ásgeirsdóttir 1889 - 1965
My grandmother 1920 - 1995
My father 1942 - 2008
Bjarni Sívertsen - The Father of Hafnarfjörður.
Bjarni Sívertsen 1763-1833 (my ancestor) was a pioneer in Icelandic shipping and trade and a great entrepreneur in Hafnarfjörður from 1794-1830 and owned a fishing business and a shipyard there. He was one of the best known traders in Iceland. He received The Knight's cross from the Danish king and was always called Bjarni riddari Sívertsen from then on (Sir Bjarni).
Bjarni has been named The Father of Hafnarfjörður for his part in saving the town from ruins and for making it into a blossoming town. Part of his former home hosts the Hafnarfjörður District Museum. His home, The Sívertsenhús House in, is the oldest house in Hafnarfjörður, built in 1803-1805 by Bjarni Sívertsen himself. It has been restored to its original state and shows how the "upper-class" lived in the early 19th century.
In 1783 Bjarni married Rannveig Filippusdóttir, a widow for whom he was working. Bjarni was by then only 20 years old or so, but Rannveig was 39 years old, so there was quite an age difference. Rannveig was well educated and she taught Bjarni reading, writing and arithmetic and he later became a member of the legislative court as well.
Rannveig died in 1825 and in 1831 Bjarni Sívertsen closed down his business in Hafnarfjörður and moved to Copenhagen where he married for the second time a Danish woman. He died in Denmark in 1833 and he, who had received the Knight's cross from the Danish king, lies in an unmarked grave somewhere in Denmark.
I met VT-member Kirsten from Australia through VT, she was googling Bjarni Sívertsen, as he is her ancestor. She found my tips here on VT and we stayed in touch for a couple of years. She came to Iceland from Australia to attend the 250th anniversary of Bjarni Sívertsen and we spent a week together here. A very lovely lady.
In 1950 a statue of Bjarni Sívertsen was erected in Hellisgerði park.
Opening hours: June-August: daily from 11-17h. Open by arrangement for groups at other times.
Next to The Sívertsen house is Pakkhúsið house which is also a part of the Hafnarfjörður District Museum. In front of these houses is a lovely square.
Do pay this museum a visit, if only to see a wax-figure of my ancestor and how he lived ;)
Here is how I am related to Bjarni Sívertsen:
Bjarni Sigurðsson Sívertsen (1763-1833) Rannveig Filippusdóttir 25.02.1744-24.08.1825
Sigurður Bjarnason Sívertsen 1787 - 1866
Hans Anton Sigurðsson Sívertsen 1822 - 1872
Regína Magðalena Hansdóttir Sívertsen 1847 - 1884
Bjarni Benediktsson 1877 - 1964
My grandmother 1920 - 1995
My father 1942 - 2008
There are 2 prominent parks in Hafnarfjörður, the small and lovely Hellisgerði, where the statue of Bjarni Sívertsen is situated, and Víðistaðatún park, which is a big park with a pond, play area for children and a popular place where outdoor concerts are held. There are some other small parks, Hafnarfjörður is built on lava so the nature there is fantastic.
The recreational park of Víðistaðatún is surrounded by lava which makes for an interesting walk.
There is an International Sculpture park at Víðistaðatún with 16 works of art by both Icelandic and foreign sculptors.
There is a lovely church by the north end of the park, Víðistaðakirkja church, see the lovely form of the church from my photos.
There is a campsite and a guesthouse at Víðistaðatún by the Sculpture park, I add the website to the campsite here.
Lava and The Hidden People.
As you will see from my photos from Hafnarfjörður waterfront there is a big lava rock by the waterfront which was left untouched and built around it. There are so many similar places like this in Iceland. The reason for this is that some lava rocks are homes to The Hidden People (elves). Mishaps and accidents will happen if one tries to blow up these rocks as The Hidden People defend their homes. So a medium is contacted which will then talk to The Hidden People and ask them to move or, if they are not willing to move, the road or the project in question will have to be built around the rock.
I should have placed this tip under "customs", but as my photos for 3 tips in a row here are taken in the same street in Hafnarfjörður I prefer keeping the tips together :)
Inhabited lava area.
Hafnarfjörður is an amazing place as the houses are literally built on lava. Hafnarfjörður is situated on the tectonic plate boundaries of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the North-Atlantic and Eurasian continents, which makes for a very interesting walk there. While in Hafnarfjörður take a stroll in the old town and you will be amazed, I live in Iceland and I am always amazed when in Hafnarfjörður seeing the proximity of the lava to the houses.
It is said that a whole clan of elves live in the lava here...
The lava fields in Hafnarfjörður is called Búrfellshraun lava and came from Búrfell over 7.300 years ago. Búrfellshraun lava field covers an area of 18 square kilometres.
And as we know The Hidden People live in some of these big lava rocks so they cannot be touched. See my next tip.
The Hafnarfjörður Museum - The Sívertsen´s house.
The Sívertsen´s house is a must see when visiting Hafnarfjörður. It is a part of the Hafnarfjörður District Museum and is the oldest house in Hafnarfjörður, built in 1803-1805 by the father of Hafnarfjörður and my ancestor, Bjarni Sívertsen.
The house has been reconstructed and shows how the elite lived back then. It is on two floors and you encounter several life size wax-dolls, very life-like. For me it is strange visiting Sívertsen´s house seeing the wax-dolls of my ancestors - it is like going for a visit to the past. Extremely well made.
Bjarni Sívertsen, 1763-1833, was a pioneer in Icelandic shipping and trade and a great entrepreneur in his days. He owned a ship-yard and a fishing business in Hafnarfjörður. He had good connections and after the Danish trade monopoly ran its course, Bjarni was the first one to get a trading license in Iceland, which was not a small thing back then.
Opening hours: June 1st - August 31st, every day, from 11:00 - 17:00.
In October 2013 the 250th anniversary of Bjarni Sívertsen was celebrated with a reception at the Sívertsen house. A lot of my relatives showed up so it turned into a kind of mini-reunion.
The Christmas Village in Hafnarfjörður.
The Christmas Village in Hafnarfjörður is the first one of its kind in Iceland. The village was raised for the first time in 2003 and it is ever so popular with 20 stalls imported from Germany.
The Christmas Village is not big by international standard, but to us it is very cute, with stalls which create a semi-circle, a Christmas tree in the middle and a stage on the southern side of the square called Thorsplan. On the stage there is various entertainment and the announcer is no other than the feared Grýla, the mother of the Yule-lads/Santa Claus. She eats naughty kids, by the way, that is why she is so feared ;)
There is one stall in the Christmas village in particular which is very popular, that is the stall of the Catholic nuns who live in the convent in Hafnarfjörður. They sell "convent-made" stuff and are very lovely women.
The Christmas village opens on the first weekend of the Advent and is open weekends only from 13-18. On Þorláksmessa, which is on the 23rd of December, the Christmas village is open until very late.
Next to the village The District museum of Hafnarfjörður has opened a small exhibition on old Christmas related toys and stuff :) Authors also read from their books for the guests.
Children from kindergarten in Hafnarfjörður help with the decorations of the Christmas village and school children take part in the entertainment :)
There are guided trips to The Cristmas Village with Mountain Climbing. You will get guidance through the village and the center of Hafnarfjörður and sit down in a café to get refreshments. The cost of the tour is ISK 7.000 and the tour lasts 2 hours.
In Reykjavík there is also a christmas village and we named it that way as well, but Hafnarfjörður protested and got a patent on their name, so we had to rename our village - it is now called Christmas town.
The District museum - The Occupation.
On the first floor (one floor up) at the museum there is an exhibition on the occupation of Iceland during WW2.
The wax-soldiers looks so alive that I was taken aback when I got up the stairs. Unfortunately many of my photos of the soliders were out of focus (no idea why), but they are extremely well made and life-like.
On the 10th of May 1940 the British army occupied Iceland. It was a peaceful occupation as we were rooting for the Allies and although we had declared neutrality we would rather have the British army occupy Iceland than the German army. 2.000 soldiers came ashore, but later the amount rose to 25.000 soldiers - one can only imagine what impact this had on the population of Iceland in 1940. A year later the USA army took over the occupation and stayed here until 2006.
Barracks were mounted all over the place (20.000) as the Icelanders didn´t have enough room to house the soldiers. Some of these barracks can still be seen in Iceland and after the soldiers left Icelanders moved into the barracks. The exhibition at the museum shows life of the soldiers inside the barracks.
Hafnarfjörður was one of the main harbours which the British soldiers wanted to occupy, along with Reykjavík, Akureyri and Hvalfjörður. This was essential in order to guard the North-Atlantic route, which was of great strategic importance.
Visit the place where the sea-ravens hang out.
There is a lovely place by the ocean in Hafnarfjörður which I particularly like and I go there often, stop the car on the parking lot by the ocean and watch the sea-ravens. I have not seen so many of them anywhere else in Reykjavík or the connecting towns as on this particular spot.
The sea-ravens are so majestic, they belong to the pelican family and are black with a long beak. So if you love bird-watching or just like watching beautiful birds, like I do, then do visit this particual spot in Hafnarfjörður.
The Icelandic word for a sea-raven is skarfur.
The District museum St. Jósefsspítali hospital.
On the ground floor of Hafnarfjörður District museum are circulating exhibitions. When I visited in 2012 there was an exhibition on St. Jósefsspítali hospital, which I kind of think should be a permanent exhibition there, seeing how big a role this hospital played in the history of Hafnarfjörður.
This beautiful hospital was raised by the St. Jósef´s nuns in 1926. These nuns also built a school in Hafnarfjörður.
The nuns were thrifty and grew vegetables in Hafnarfjörður - there is a film on the sisters at the exhbition (see m first photo).
The exhibition shows the work of the sisters and the surgeon and Senior Physician Bjarni Snæbjörnsson and later his son Jónas Bjarnason became Senior Physician at the hospital. He was my doctor when I was younger.
Both my grandmother and sister have been operated on here at this hospital.
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