Saturday, September 22, 2012

Places to visit in Iceland: The Old Cemetery in Reykjavík - Kirkjugarðurinn við Suðurgötu

The old cemetery in Reykjavík is an interesting place if you have an hour or so free for wandering around. Apart from graves with a variety of headstones and crosses, you can find trees and plants there that are rare or non-existent elsewhere in Iceland. A good place to start is in the centre of the yard, where there are several information signs in three or four languages, covering various aspects of the yard, along with an exhibition of different styles of headstones.

The cemetery is no longer in use for burials, except in plots that were reserved long ago. Urns containing cremation ashes can also be buried in existent graves.

The graveyard has its own micro-climate, or so it seems when you enter it and the weather feels different from what it is outside, but perhaps it's just the atmosphere that changes. The graveyard is situated near the centre of downtown Reykjavík and if you are not the type who fears graveyards or finds them creepy it is a perfect place for taking some time off from shopping or sightseeing to just enjoy the peace and quiet in there. It is also interesting to see how it changes from season to season. These photos were taken last autumn.

A typical unkempt autumn view. 
The grass hasn't been mown for some weeks and only the berries remain on the rowan trees.

A bit of frivolity among the graves: a shoe-tree.
Ferns thrive in the shady graveyard:

In close-up:

There are several of these private family plots within the graveyard, 
although not all of them have an actual wall around them:
This is what I call attention to detail: the back of this headstone is also decorated. 
This is a fairly modern design.

One of the old-style monument-type headstones:

Below you can see a fairly unusual headstone for this graveyard.
The verse on it comes from a famous poem by one of Iceland's famous romantic poets,
Jónas Hallgrímsson, and reads, loosely translated: 
The heavens part
the far planets in space
the blade parts the back and edge
but two spirits who love one another
can never be parted
through eternity.


This is a very popular type of plaque that can be seen on many headstones. 
It is by sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen and I think it is called Day or Dawn.

Another popular headstone decoration:

According to the information sign in the graveyard, it is the only place in Iceland where this fungus, Phallus impudicus (common stinkhorn), is found. It looked rather obscene growing out of one of the graves, but may also be seen as a firm, if vulgar, declaration that life goes on.

Monday, September 03, 2012


Laufás is one of Iceland's few remaining old sod houses. Other notable ones include Burstarfell, Glaumbær, Núpsstaður, Árbær, Grenjaðarstaður, Víðimýrarkirkja and Grafarkirkja

 The current house was built over several decades, starting around 1840, but people have lived on the site since settlement times. The church is still in use, but the sod house is a museum. This is an unusually grand and large example of an Icelandic sod building.

This old horse-drawn hay rake was standing abandoned in a corner of the garden. 

Here is a list of Icelandic sod houses that have been nominated as UNESCO World Heritage sites.