The Iceland History, Sagas and Archaeological Excavations Tour.

Like most people who are interested in the history of Iceland are aware of, this land was christianized in the year 1000 which, as a result, made the year 2000 a very special year of celebrations for the 1000th Anniversary of Christianity in Iceland (along with Hungary which was christianized in the same year). On this occasion, the Government of Iceland decided to establish a special and important fund, to be devoted to the study of Christianity in Iceland, and especially to archeological investigations of the most important early bishopric-, church- and monastery sites in Iceland. Grants from this important fund, which amounts to 500 million Icelandic kronas, will be awarded over the next five years, and, with the first of them having been granted and some very tangible results having already been obtained, a virtual revolution in the field of archeological investigations has taken place in the country, and a sort of Golden Age is now reigning in this highly interesting field which had been starved for funds for so many years and decades. Development in this field was also hampered for many years by the lack of trained local archeologists in the country, with no formal archeological training or studies being available within the country itself, and the few students who were keen on studying it having to go abroad for their diplomas. Starting in 2003 , the first archeological seminars were conducted at the University of Iceland and with these new recruits in addition to the dozen or so graduates who have returned recently from studies abroad, it's a pretty safe bet that we can look forward to a bright future in this field.

In addition, a number of foreign archaeologists, universities and colleges have now suddenly shown a new (or more to the point renewed) interest in undertaking archaeological excavations in Iceland, with about half a dozen such independent excavations having been carried out during the summer of 2003 and with those added to the number of Icelandic excavations, the total came to almost 30 digs for that summer, a number which nobody could even have dreamt of achieving only a few years ago.

The main purpose of the Tour on offer here is to render it possible for the general public interested in Icelandic History in general and in Archaeology in particular to observe and take part in this new adventure, to become familiar with the historic places in question, and to observe the scientists at work and (with their kind permission which is usually easily obtained) ask questions and even see and be present when a "new" artifact comes to light for the first time after hundreds of years in the ground, an artifact which may even shed a new and unexpected light on the past history of Iceland.

Day 1.

We start this day around 8:30 a.m. by a city tour of ReykjavÝk, whose main focus will be the old city centre, where a recent archaeological dig in the oldest street in town, the A­alstrŠti (Main Street) has unearthed what is probably the remains of the settlement farm of the first settler in ReykjavÝk, the Viking Ingˇlfur Arnarson, who arrived in Iceland from Norway around the year 874 AD. Thereafter, the tour will take us to the Ůjˇ­minjasafn ═slands (National Museum of Iceland), which will presumably have reopened (fingers crossed) after a period of 4 years renovation with brand new displays on show. We will also pay a visit to the Ůjˇ­menningarh˙s (National Culture House) at Hverfisgata, where a brand new show also of the old vellum (veal skin) manuscripts of the Icelandic Sagas opened in October 2002.
After lunch in a cozy old restaurant in downtown ReykjavÝk, we will head out of town by way of the valley of Mosfellsdalur and head directly for the farm of HrÝsbr˙, following in the footsteps of Egill SkallagrÝmsson, the hero of Egils-Saga, who spent his last days there, and where American archaeologist Jesse Byock, of UCLA, has been carrying out successful excavations for the last 2 - 3 years. Next, our route takes us across the moor of Mosfellshei­i, and soon the great lake of Ůingvallavatn comes into view. We will head straight for the best vantage point at the edge of Almannagjß fissure, where we will admire the view, and afterwards, we'll walk down the fissure towards L÷gberg, the old Speaker's Rock of the old Icelandic Parliament, the Al■ingi (General Assembly) whose sessions took place here for almost 900 years. We will study some of the numerous camps of the parliamentarians nearby, and finish our walk near the old church and farm at Ůingvellir where an archaeological investigation started last summer, the first one in decades in this extremely important location, i.e. the founding place of the world's first parliamentary institution.

Dinner and overnight at Ůingvellir or nearby.

Day 2.

The next day, our route will take us across another desolate moor called Lyngdalshei­i towards the lake Laugarvatn and picturesque village of the same name, and proceed from there to the county of Biskupstungur where we will first visit the "settlement farm" of Ketilbj÷rn Gamli at Mosfell with it's quaint little black church before crossing the Br˙arß river and heading for Skßlholt, where Ketilbj÷rn's son Teitur first settled and where later, his grandson Gissur HvÝti (the White) introduced Christianity into the country and still later, his great-grandson ═sleifur founded the first bishopric in Iceland in 1056. First of all, we will start by visiting the beautiful modern cathedral which was erected here in 1956, before proceeding to the cathedral's crypt, where there is a permanent photographic exhibition of the archeological excavation under the leadership of dr. Kristjßn Eldjßrn, which took place here prior to the construction of the cathedral, and the sensational discovery of the stone sarcophagus, also on show here, of bishop Pßll Jˇnsson who died and was buried here in the year 1211. Outside, we will visit the recently started excavations which have been undertaken in order to determine the size and shape of the village which surrounded the cathedral in medieval times.

After lunch at Skßlholt, our journey will take us northwards, alongside the country's longest river, the Ůjˇrsß, where halfway up the valley, when passing the farm of Minna-N˙pi, birthplace of one of the earliest pioneers in the field of archaeology in Iceland Brynjˇlfur Jˇnsson, our minds will wander back to the early days, when, as in so many other countries around the world, the prime importance was put on discovering spectacular or sensational objects and little or no attention was paid to the lesser objects or details which could reveal how our ancestors really lived.

Arriving in the valley of Ůjˇrsßrdalur, which was devastated by a tremendous volcanic eruption in Iceland's most active volcano, the Hekla, in 1104, and where the remains of roughly 20 ruined farms have been located, we will proceed directly to one of them, the St÷ng, which was excavated by the same dr Kristjßn Eldjßrn in 1939. Thereafter, in the close vicinity of St÷ng, we will visit a present day reconstruction of it, a so-called "hypothesis house", named "Ůjˇ­veldisbŠrinn", the first of it's kind in Iceland, built in 1974 as a commemoration to the 1100th anniversary of the settlement of Iceland. This will give us the first real feeling of what life may have been like in those early Viking Age times in Iceland.

Finally, we will pass to the north and around the mountain of B˙rfell, before heading southwards along the Land county road, and hopefully getting a good view of the infamous volcano Hekla (last eruption in February 2000) along the way, we will seek food and shelter in a good farm accommodation somewhere in the Land region.

Day 3.

Since we now find ourselves in the middle of the zone where there is the highest concentration of the manmade sandstone caves in Iceland, (there is well over a hundred of them, most of them quite small, but others quite big and impressive), caves which some people quite firmly believe that they precede the admitted age of settlement of Iceland (AD 874), we can hardly pass through this area without visiting at least some of them. The most accessible caves are those situated at the farm of ĂgissÝ­a, in the vicinity of the village Hella, but those at Hellrum, Efri-Gegnishˇlum, and others (one cave has a wall which is adorned by an ancient crucifix of the so-called "latin" type which was common in Western Europe from AD 500 - 1000), can also be visited.
After lunch at the Hvolsv÷llur cafeteria, we will head east, passing by Seljalandsfoss waterfall and the region of Eyjafj÷ll, until we turn off the main South Iceland highway, heading towards the coastline until we reach the old farm of Stˇra-Borg, where, during the last two decades, an important archaeological investigation, initiated and directed by museum director ١r­ur Tˇmasson at Skˇgar, has been conducted, mostly near the old cemetery and the site of the Saga-Age farmstead, which the sea was starting to seriously damage or even destroy. After this "in site" visit, we will naturally head for the Folk Museum at Skˇgar, where some of the artifacts recovered at Stˇru M÷rk are on display, and usually the master himself, Mr. ١r­ur is on hand and ready to explain the findings and objects in his museum to the inquisitively minded visitor.
Still we will be heading eastwards, and soon we'll be catching a glimpse of the southernmost cliffs in Iceland, the Cape Dyrhˇlaey and enter the district of Reynishverfi, where again, we'll head towards the sea, both to admire the magnificence of the North Atlantic surf at the beach near Reynisdrangar Rocks, and to to take a walk to the ridge of Reynisholt, near the farm Gar­ar, in order to observe the easternmost manmade caves in south-Iceland, which can be found there. After a short stopover in the village of VÝk Ý Mřrdal, we'll cross over the sandy desert of Mřrdalssandur, and through the impressive Eldhraun lavafield, until we reach the village of KirkjubŠjarklaustur, for dinner and an overnight stay.

Day 4.

The settlement farm of KirkjubŠjarklaustur,(literally The Church Farm Cloister"), holds a unique position among such places in Iceland since it was never in the hands of heathens: the first settler was the Christian Ketill fÝflski (the Idiot), and there are even persistent rumours that prior to his arrival, the place was inhabited by the so-called "papar" or papists which most people presume to have been hermits of Irish or Celtic origin. Later, a Benedictine convent for nuns was established at KirkjubŠjarklausur which subsisted here until the Reformation when it was abolished along with all other convents or monasteries in Iceland.
The site of the old convent was of course long forgotten and no visible traces of it to be seen anywhere on the surface of the land. Last year, however, an archaeological investigation under the leadership of Chief Archeologist Bjarni Einarsson was started, and he quickly turned the focus of his search towards the old farmstead mound of Klaustur, with the result that quickly some artifacts were unearthed (an altar-stone) which seemed to strongly indicate that the convent site has now been found. Here, we will observe the archaeologists at work at close quarters, familiarize ourselves with the tumultuous history of KirkjubŠjarklaustur, the huge volcanic eruptions which time and again have threatened to lay it to waste, the lava flows surrounding it, the "Fire- Priest" Jˇn SteingrÝmsson, and finally visit the strange "church floor" basaltic pillar rock formation nearby.
After this thorough visit to Klaustur, as it is familiarly known, we will take leave of the historic places in South Iceland, and head inland over the desolate mountain trail of Fjallbakslei­ nyr­ri, with a stopover in the picturesque mountain oasis Landmannalaugar, and then shift over to the main North-south mountain trail called Sprengisandslei­, and spend the night in a mountain cabin at Nřjidalur, near the geological centre of Iceland.

Day 5.

We set off early the next morning from this barren place, pursuing our trip northwards on the Sprengisandslei­, and when the trail finally starts to head downhill, and we pass by the desolate lake ═shˇlsvatn, now surrounded by sand dunes instead of lush greenery a little over a century ago, we will try and remember the numerous farms and settlements in this area which fell victim to the massive erosion and sandstorms which laid it to waste. Paradoxically, however, these forces of destruction have also laid bare a number archaeological remains and artifacts which would probably never have been discovered otherwise. Next, we will admire the beautiful Aldeyjarfoss waterfall, surrounded by basaltic columns, and then head down the valley of Bßr­ardalur, at the mouth of which we will come to the Go­afoss waterfall, and turn our thoughts back to Ůorgeir Ljˇsvetningago­i, who played a key role in bringing about a peaceful conversion to Christianity at the Al■ing in the year 1000.
After lunch, we will turn eastwards in direction of the lake Mřvatn, and head straight for the farm of Hofssta­ir where important archaeological investigations have been pursued for the past few years, and are now coming to an end. Their main purpose, as in all the other places in Iceland where the name "Hof" (The heathen equivalent to a church) appears in the place name, has been to find irrefutable proof that heathen worship of the pagan gods (Odin, Thor, Freyja, Baldur, etc) took place there. But in spite of finding a long, massive Saga-Age building, the researchers were thwarted in their efforts, since no such proof was forthcoming, as it hasn't so far anywhere in Iceland or elsewhere in Scandinavia for that matter.

After our inspection of Hofssta­ir, we will next head for the farm of Baldursheimur where the best preserved Viking Age tomb of a warrior so far discovered in Iceland was found in 1860. Nearby, we will visit the old farm at GrŠnavatn, which is a sort of transitional building between the old style of construction in Iceland and the modern style buildings. However, this building is both in an urgent need of repairs, in order to prevent it's further decay, and for access to it to be improved (rubbish removed) so that visitors can visit it conveniently both inside and outside.
The rest of the day will be spent admiring the natural wonders and beauty of the lake Mřvatn area, before seeking overnight shelter in that area.

Day 6.

We leave the Mřvatn area the next morning and head northwards, across the Hˇlasandur desert, which also used to be lush green but was devastated by a tremendous erosion in the first half of the 20th century. Of late, however, some serious steps have been undertaken in order to reclaim the lost land. Our journey will soon take us to one of the most prominent places in Northern Iceland for centuries, the manorGrenja­arsta­ur where we will first visit the old turf style farm (one of only 6 preserved in Iceland) as well as the Folk Museum and, in the churchyard, examine a runic tombstone which is also one of only a handful to have been preserved in the country. Afterwards, we will head up the valley of Laxßrdalur, until we reach another turf style farm, at Ůverß, much less opulent but nevertheless very pretty, and very handsomely restored in 1995 by the Icelandic Directorate of Historic Buildings and Antiquities.

Next, we will head west across the beautiful salmon fishing river Laxß Ý A­aldal, and, arriving in the county of Kinn , we will not miss an opportunity to take a look at some modern antiques, by paying a visit to the Classic Cars Museum at Yztafelli, established and run by the local farmer. Therafter, back on the main highway near the lake Ljˇsavatns, we will head for the forest of Vaglaskˇgur, which can be regarded as a sort of Icelandic forest antiques, since it was very nearly lost at about the same time when the turf farms were being demolished. The shapely old bridge across the river Fnjˇskßrbr˙ is also a sort of antique as far as roads and bridges in Iceland are concerned since it is fast reaching the ripe old age of 100 which is the official age for antique constructions in Iceland.

Having crossed the mountain pass of Va­lahei­i, we will shortly arrive in the main town of the North i.e. Akureyri, where during the traditional city tour, we will visit the Botanical Gardens, the Minjasafni­ museum, where there is a good collection of interesting artifacts. But we do not intend to stay long in Akureyri, but head straight for the archeological digs at Gßsar, the most important trading place on the fjord of Eyjafj÷r­ur, and for the whole of Northern Iceland for centuries. Here, at the mouth of the river H÷rgß, was a natural harbour which was used from shortly after the settlement age, until the early 16th century, until the harbour silted up and became unusable. Under the guidance of a Minjasafn employee, we will be taken around the digs, and given a thorough explanation of the range and scope of these investigations, which only started in the summer of 2003, and will last almost certainly for years or even decades to come.

After the visit to Gßsar, we will relax in the jacuzzi of a farm accommodation in nearby ┴rskˇgsstr÷nd district or a nearby small hotel.

Day 7.

We start this day on a light touch, by visiting the Hvoll folk museum at DalvÝk, whose main attraction is it's special section dedicated to the memory of Jˇhann "the Giant" PÚtursson, who stood 7 ft 9 in tall, the tallest Icelander who ever lived. Passing next through a long tunnel to the fishing town of Ëlafsfj÷r­ur, we will cross over the mountain pass of Lßghei­i, and soon the majestic fjord of Skagafj÷r­ur will spring into view. Two islands adorn this fjord, first we'll spot the low lying Mßlmey and shortly afterwards the high cliffs of Drangey appear, and we cannot help letting our minds wander back to almost a thousand years ago, when Grettir hinn Sterki (the Strong) and his brother Illugi were finally captured and assassinated in this almost impregnable fortress probably in the year 1030.
We will first visit the old trading post at Hofsˇs, and examine some of the oldest houses still standing in Iceland, dating from the middle of the 18th century, and should some Americans or Canadians of Icelandic origin be a part of our group, we will visit the so called Western Icelandic Heritage Centre, dedicated to the several thousands Icelanders who just after the middle of the 19th century, left the old country to settle in the New World.
But we'll try to make this a short visit, since we are in a hurry to reach the most important historic place in Northern Iceland, the bishopric Hˇlar, where some newly started archaeological investigations are also taking place, research which is also bound to last for years and even decades, since there is a massive amount of information and artifacts buried in the ground here, and spread over an unusually large area, and spanning virtually the whole history of Iceland. The digs at Hˇlar have been especially well organized in order to accommodate and receive visitors since all of the artifacts unearthed, and not in need of some special treatment for their preservation, are put immediately on display at the Hˇlar schoolhouse. The reconstructed Au­unnarstofa, which also falls into the category of "a Hypothetical House" although we have some old drawings and descriptions of what the original looked like, was funded by the Norwegian Government and is well worth a visit.

After lunch, we'll make our way across the HÚra­sv÷tn estuary and pass through the town of Sau­ßrkrˇkur, and make a short halt at another historic place in this valley, called Reynista­ur where a nunnery was also founded (1295-1552) but no search for it has yet been undertaken and only very limited archaeological research has been carried out here; however, a restored priory and church make it well worth a visit. Continuing our journey up the valley, we'll arrive shortly afterwards at GlaumbŠr, where a team of American archaeologists from the UCLA university in California made some important discoveries recently, and may possibly even have found the farm of Snorri Ůorfinnsson, son of explorer Ůorfinnur Karlsefni and his wife, Gu­rÝ­ur Ůorbjarnardˇttir and was the first European which we know by name to have been born in the New World, and who spent his final years here at GlaumbŠr according to the Saga of the Greenlanders. During the summer of 2003 some probing ditches were dug, revealing the existence of some important buildings in the ground, but the excavations will only start in earnest when the necessary funds become available. Through the use of scanning equipment, the scientists also found evidence of the existence of similar big buildings in the ground at the nearby farm of Stˇraseila, but it will undoubtedly be a while until they can be excavated.

Dinner and overnight in a good hotel in the valley of Skagafj÷r­ur.

Day 8.

We start the day by visiting the quaint little chapel at VÝ­imřri, and therafter passing over the mountain pass of Vatnsskar­ and arriving in the district of Austur H˙navatnssřslu we'll prefer the small county lanes of the picturesque SvÝnavatnshrepp to the main highway passing through the valley of Langidalur. Our first halt today will be at the curious mounds and hills of Vatnsdalshˇlar and at ŮrÝstapi, where the last public execution in Iceland took place in 1830; thereafter, we'll be heading for Ůingeyrar where our first task will be to admire the very beautiful church made out of hewn Icelandic rock, and afterwards, we will try to imagine where the important monastery may have stood, which was founded here in 1133 and lasted until the reformation. But this is an arduous task, since this property is huge and when the time comes, it will undoubtedly need an important geophysical survey to pinpoint the location of the monastery. There is no harm, however, in letting one's mind wander back in time and try to imagine what this place may have looked like roughly eight centuries ago when Abbot Karl Jˇnsson, Monk Oddur Snorrason, and many other men of spirit walked these fields, and contemplated life's secrets in the monastery's cells before heading to the scriptorium in order to put ink to vellum and record such tales for posterity as the Sverris Saga, The Saga of Ëlafur Tryggvason and doubtlessly some of the Icelandic Sagas which cannot be determined any more.

Our next destination, in close proximity to Ůingeyrar, is Borgarvirki, the only ancient fortress still in existence today in Iceland, and as we wander about the thick fortress walls,we will speculate as visitors can only do here, whether the place was built by 15th century squire Loftur "the Rich" Guttormsson, the Saga-Age hero Finnbogi rammi (the Rough), or perhaps that the place may be even older still and constructed prior to the admitted date of settlement , like the man made caves in southern Iceland?

Next we proceed in a southerly direction through the fjord of Hr˙tafj÷r­ur, across the moor of Laxßrdalshei­i and do not let up until we reach the valley of Haukadal in the district of Dalasřslu, where we intend to visit yet another "Hypothetical House", this time at the farm of EirÝkssta­ir, so name after the most famous viking of them all, EirÝkur Rau­i, Erik the Red, who lived there prior to his epic journey over the rough seas to Greenland, after having been condemned and chased away from Iceland. Here of course, we will recall the Saga of Erik the Red, the Saga of the Greenlanders, the discovery and settlement of Greenland and the subsequent discovery of America exactly 1000 years ago.

Crossing over the Brattabrekka Pass and into the valley of Nor­urßrdalur, where we will admire the beautiful shape of the pair of volcanic craters GrßbrˇkargÝgar and the lava fields around them, we will finally head inland in order to admire beauty of the waterfalls of Hraunfossar and Barnafossar before finishing the day at Reykholt for dinner and overnight stay.

Day 9.

At Reykholt, the fief of the Saga Age chieftain and historian Snorri Sturluson, people have for years been able to admire the beautiful shape and ingenuous construction of Snorri's bathing pool and been able to take a peak into the getaway tunnel leading to the higher ground and hill and above it. Thus, it has been obvious that under somewhere under that hill or near the old cemetery, the remains of Snorri's residence or wooden fortress could very likely be found. But for decades, lack of funds prevented any serious archeological investigations from being initiated at this very promising site, i.e. until only 4 or 5 years ago, that they were finally raised, and the research started under the leadership of chief archeologist Dr. Gu­r˙n Sveinbjarnardˇttir, who very naturally started her work digging in a northwesterly direction from the place were the tunnel left off. However, instead of the fairly rapid success which was hoped for, the work has progressed at an almost painfully slow rate since the ground has proved much more difficult to excavate than previously thought, with layers upon layers of latter day constructions being have to be sifted through before finally reaching the highly coveted Saga-Age layer. Here, therefore, as in so many other places which we have already visited on this journey, the task in hand will take years and even decades to complete. At Reykholt, there are also some ambitious plans afoot to establish a library of historical works, in the honour of Snorri Sturluson, and a small exhibition dedicated to Snorri and the writing of the Icelandic Sagas has already been open in the basement of the new church.

Our next destination will be the tremendously powerful Deildartunguhver hotspring, in the vicinity of Reykholt, but thereafter, having visited so many monastery- and convent sites on our trip, we intend to visit the place where the first of them all was founded, at BŠr, in the BŠjarsveit county. Here, as generally admitted by scholars, it is highly likely that the first abbey in Iceland was founded, by an Englishman named Hrˇ­ˇlfur by the Icelanders who was a bishop and we also know that he was closely related to the English king and saint, Edward the Confessor who reigned from 1042 -1066, since we know that after he left Iceland, he was promoted by this relative of his to abbot of the Abbey of Abington in Northamptonshire in the year 1050. It is also generally admitted by scholars that it was Hrˇ­ˇlfur, who brought the Icelanders the "English" alphabet (33 letters) which we still use today, substituting it to the runic alphabet which had been in use up until that time.

From BŠr, we continue our journey alongside the river HvÝtß, until we reach the town of, Borgarnes, where we will first observe the burial mound of the Viking settler SkallagrÝms Kveld˙lfsson and the beautiful botanical garden which the people of Borgarnes have laid out around the burial mound. We then head up to SkallagrÝms's settlement farm, Borg ß Mřrum and remember the tumultuous saga of SkallagrÝm's son Egill, the Egils Saga, which is commonly considered to be the second best of the Icelandic Sagas. At Borg, we will also examine another runic tombstone in the cemetery, which for a very long time was thought to be the tomb of Kjartan Ëlafsson, the hero of another saga, the LaxdŠla Saga, but later studies of it have revealed that it almost certainly isn't, and now it's generally admitted that the inscription reads: "Hier hvÝler Halr Hranason", i.e. Here lies Halr Hranason.

From Borgarnes, we will continue our journey southwards, to the town of Akranes, where we intend to visit the important Folk and Shipping Museum at Gar­ar which has a very important collection of objects and artifacts from the western part of Iceland, which make this collection well worth a visit. Unfortunately, there is no guidance or escort available at this museum (such as the one which has made the museum at Skˇgar so popular) so here, we will have to find our own way through the displays. One of the highlights of this museum are the roughly 12.000 year old whalebones, which were discovered high in the hills of mount Akrafjall during the construction of a roadway nearby.

After a short sightseeing trip around the town of Akranes, we will pass under the sea through the impressive Hvalfjar­arg÷ng underwater tunnel and arrive shortly in ReykjavÝk, where the participants will have some free time for themselves in the late afternoon.

Duration of tour: 9 days, 9 nights.
Minimum number of passengers: 2 persons.
N.B: This tour operates in the summertime only, and the itinerary is liable to change if, at the last minute, we learn of some interesting discoveries being made.
Price: Trade enquiries welcome.(click inside box to select your currency).

Deposit required at the reservation30% ; single room supplement +18%

Scheduled departures for 2014 : See Schedules.

Conditions of sale. (please read carefully)

Services included: (4x4) transportation and guidance. Small comfortable hotels, farm accommodation or similar, in double rooms with "en suite" facilities. All meals,(big breakfast, small lunch, three course dinner), starting with lunch on first day and ending with lunch on the last day.Drinks/minibars not included.
Necessary gear: Good outdoor clothing and sturdy footwear. Also bring a swimsuit.
Operated: In summer only. Note: The tour may come momentarily to a halt for reasons of bad weather, snow, flooded roads or other such unforseeable "force majeure" causes. Valfer­ir ehf will not accept any responsibility for inconvenience or extra-cost incurred because of such events.

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