Greinasafni: Icelandic Times
A Microcosmos at the Edge of the Arctic

There is talk of an oil venture, whispers of great wealth hidden at the bottom of the sea in the north of Iceland in the so-called ‘Dragon area,’ and Vopnafjörður is ideally located to service this possible upcoming venture. Maybe we will see great oil rigs in the Vopnafjörður fjord in the future, preparing to drill for oil in the cold Arctic Ocean, but nothing has been decided as of yet.

Meanwhile the village and valleys of Vopnafjörður lie as they have done for hundreds of years, open to the polar winds from the north – but also not infrequently warmed by southerly winds, producing some of the best weather in the country in the summer months.

The Valleys of Vopnafjörður
No one knows when the settlement period came to an end, but certainly the area has been the scene of a great fluctuation in population over the ages to an unusual degree. In the 19th century, the number of the farms in the valleys grew from 47 in 1801 to 137 in 1860 with a great rise in population. Before that, in the 17th century, similar growth in the population occurred, so in a sense there have been several periods of re-settlement in Vopnafjörður. Now there are only a few dozen farms left in the valleys, run by determined farmers who refuse to leave. An example of the tenacity of the farmers here is the development of tourism at Síreksstaðir, described below.

The Village
The settlement of the village began in the late 19th century and soon there were several hundred people living there. The main occupation was fishing and fish processing, as it still is. Nowadays there is every kind of modern amenity, run by the state and community. This includes the school and kindergarten, social services, services to the elderly, the fire brigade, community centre, sports facilities, water and sewage, keeping the roads open during winter and so on. These community social services employ about as many people as those who work for the largest firm, the fishing and fish processing firm HB Grandi, each employing about a hundred people.

Kaupvangur
Among the things worth seeing in Vopnafjörður is the cultural centre of Kaupvangur which is located in a large, old wooden house down by the harbour. A museum commemorating the brothers Jón Múli Árnason and Jónas Árnason is also to be found. They were born here, but then moved to Reykjavík. In the fifties and sixties, they wrote several musicals which have become classics of Icelandic popular culture. They were also very active in politics, being opposed to the US military bases then positioned in Iceland and fighting against them at every opportunity. In this house, there is also a museum commemorating the great emigration from the East of Iceland to America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Burstafell Turf Farm
Another sight of interest is the farm of Burstafell which is now a museum. The large turf farmhouse was built in the style of Icelandic farms that were typical until the late 19th century. Few farmhouses of this kind are preserved today but the Burstafell farm is a prime example and a ‘must-see’ in Vopnafjörður. A new tourist attraction is in the works as well: the community is developing a programme based on the Vopnfirðinga saga, the great saga about the area.

To find out more about Vopnafjörður, see www.vopnafjardarhreppur.is


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