Greinasafni: Icelandic Times einnig undir: Söfn
Reykjavik Maritime Museum: The tradition of Iceland´s most important industry

Visiting a new country provides the opportunity to become acquainted with new cultures, learning about new ways of thinking, even about new ways of survival. Fishing includes for Iceland all those three points. It is a strong motif in both art work and literature, it is always in the minds of Icelanders and has been a significant factor in the survival of the Icelandic nation for centuries. Nowadays it is more important than ever as Iceland’s biggest export industry. If you want to learn more about this essential part of Iceland, visit Reykjavik Maritime Museum, which will shed some light on Icelandic fishing life.
See video here


The museum is fairly new, was opened in the summer of 2005, in a historic house for the fishing industry as it used to serve as freezing plant for   Reykjavik Trawler Company. It is located in the west side of Reykjavik, by the harbor, right at the downtown area. There are always five different exhibitions simultaneously going on, one of them being the Coast Guard Vessel Óðinn, which lies at the museum’s separate pier. Óðinn used to be one of Iceland’s main guard vessel and served as such for nearly half a century, until the year 2006. Its appearance and interior is nearly exactly the same as when it first came into service in 1960. It had a huge role in the so-called “Cod Wars” against the United Kingdom in the 20th century. The main dispute in the Cod Wars was governance over territorial waters regarding fishing rights. It was also an important rescue vessel. It helped over 200 ships that had  malfunctioned, saved the crews ofsinking sips two times and three times those of aground ships. Óðinn was also significant when other transportations were not possible because of impassability, especially in the more isolated areas.

The museum has one permanent exhibition called From Poverty to Abundance. Its main emphasis is on showing the development of Icelandic fishing, from a small rowboat industry to a huge trawler industry. It starts with showing the guest how the fishing life revolved for 1000 years around the rowboat. What is possibly most striking about those 1000 years using the rowboat is how poorly the fishermen’s conditions were until in the late 19th century. The old oilskin coats were not as efficient a protection  against the weather at sea as the onesthey have now, in fact they hardly covered the cold fishermen at all. Those bad conditions have without a doubt toughened up the unfortunate fishermen, in fact the same can be said of the general conditions in Iceland centuries ago.

Poverty to Abundance also presents to the guest the rapid development of the trawler fishing in the 20th century but those new techniques played a huge part in making the Icelandic economy prosperous and living standards one of  the highest in the world. In the so-called “Pier Hall” one can find the exhibition Arterial for Country and City, which was set up in the occasion of Reykjavik Harbor’s 90th anniversary. This exhibition is quite an experience, as the whole hall is more or less made like a pier which one approaches through a historic Icelandic ship called Gullfoss. The idea is to re-create the atmosphere of the pier and the changes that occurred in the advent of the harbor’s construction. The harbor was influential in making Reykjavik the head of everything concerning fishing in Iceland.

Additionally there are two temporary exhibitions in The Reykjavik Maritime Museum. One called A Tale told through Relics, but the museum owns about 4000 relics and nearly all of the items have been presented as a gift from many different individuals, companies or institutions. The motive behind this exhibition is to introduce the collection to the visitors but the collection is considerably large for a young museum. The fifth exhibition is The Story of the Sails, which covers the development of sails in Iceland but they were used from the settlement of Iceland until the late 19th century and therefore played a huge role both for fishing and also all sorts of transportation. 

Many Icelanders nowadays seem to live a life that has become really different from that in the fishing village of former times. Still, fish seems to have integrated deeply into the public mind. Ways to catch it, ways to eat it, why to eat it, eating fish oil, strengthening the immune system; all of this seems to be constantly floating around in everyone’s mind. Buried deep down  in the mentality of Icelanders, which has strong effect on every child’s upbringing. Therefore, if one wants to really understand the functions and the way of thinking in Iceland, it would be wise to visit the Reykjavik Maritime Museum.
See video here

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