Monday, August 15: After lunch, we continue our walk around Reykjavík, heading toward The Old Harbour and the glittering Harpa Reykjavík Concert Hall and Conference Centre, designed by Olafur Eliasson, Henning Larsen Architects and Batteríið Architects.
Harpa has won multiple awards for architecture including Mies van der Rohe in 2013, Best Public Space – Arkitekturmassan Awards 2012, and the World Architecture Award 2010. (About Harpa)
According to the Harpa website, the name Harpa has more than one meaning. It is an old Icelandic word that refers to a time of year and is in fact a month in the old Nordic calendar. The first day of that month is celebrated as the first day of summer and marks the beginning of a brighter time where nature comes to live and the colours of the environment sharpen. Harpa also refers to the instrument that refers to the activities and operations within. To some people, Harpa looks likes a drawn harp from a certain angle.
A statue of Danish cellist Erling Blöndal Bengtsson (March 8, 1932 – June 6, 2013), by sculptor Ólöf Pálsdóttir, sits atop the reflecting pool in front of Harpa.
We walk along the Old Harbour, built from 1913 to 1917. Previous to its construction, which was the largest project to date in Icelandic history, most ships dropped anchor well offshore and transported goods in by rowboat. Today, most boat traffic has moved east to Sundahöfn port (Frommer’s: Old Harbor (Hafn)).
We spot the Óðinn, a grey Coast Guard vessel with a blue, white and red diagonal stripe. The Coast Guard ships “defend the country’s territorial fishing waters. They were sent out to slice British fishing nets in the so-called ‘Cod Wars,’ which date back to 1432 but culminated in the 1970s, when Britain broke off diplomatic relations” (Frommer’s: Old Harbor (Hafn)).
After walking around the Harbor, we walk back up hill into Old Reykjavík, where we pass more colorful street art and buildings with funky rooftops.
We stumble upon Dómkirkja Krists konungs, or the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Christ the King. Though Iceland is primarily a Lutheran country, the number of Catholics during the 20th century grew slowly. In 1960 the members of the catholic congregation constituted about a half percent of the population (897). In 1994 the number reached 1% (2535) but is now about 3% of the population (about 11.500). These are mainly immigrants from Catholic countries, especially from Poland (Brief History of the Catholic Church in Iceland).
Mike wants to see Reykjavík 871±2: The Settlement Exhibition. We find the building and go inside. Though I try to take pictures, none turn out because it’s too dark.
This exhibit about life in Viking times showcases archaeological remains excavated in 2001 in Aðalstræti. These have turned out to be the oldest relics of human habitation in Reykjavík, with some of the fragments dating to before 871 AD. A longhouse from the tenth century was also discovered. The hall and a wall fragment are now both carefully preserved at their original location at this museum (Visit Reykjavik: REYKJAVIK 871 +/-2 THE SETTLEMENT EXHIBITION).
The name of the exhibition is such because a layer of tephra was deposited all over Iceland around 871 AD from an eruption in the Torfajökull area, about 400 km to the east; this layer has made it possible to determine the exact dates of many archeological finds in Iceland. The tephra layer has a possible two-year, + or -, range of error (Wikipedia: Reykjavík 871±2).
Across from the museum, we see the attractive Salvation Army building as well as an interesting statue surrounded by flowers.
We continue our walk through Old Reykjavík, up the main shopping street Laugavegur. Our destination: a very strange, and risqué, museum.