Iceland: Bessastaðir

After our morning at the horse farm, we headed up toward Reykjavik for our final adventure in Iceland.

We said a final farewell to beautiful Selfoss, drove back through Hveragerði, and on up out of Suðerland and the coastal plain, into Höfuðborgarsvæði (the capitol region).

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We met up with our friend Júlíus at Bessastaðir, on the Álftanes peninsula, just south of the capitol.

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Bessastaðir is the current residence of the President of Iceland.  It has been such since 1944, when the first president was elected by parliament.  However, this place has a long and fascinating history that stretches back to the settlement in the 9th century.

From the official website of The President of Iceland:

Archeological excavations have shown that the first inhabitants of Bessastaðir settled there before AD 1000, and ever since the site has been inhabited. In the 13th century the great writer Snorri Sturluson had one of his farms there. After Snorri’s death, the king of Norway confiscated the property, and during the remainder of the middle ages it was used by top representatives of the foreign rulers of Iceland. In the 17th century Bessastaðir was the residence of the most powerful representative of the Danish monarch in Iceland.

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Across the water to Reykjavik, the Hallgrimskirkja is clearly visible from Bessastaðir.

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We were lucky enough to have our very own tour guide (Júlíus is the grounds manager) to show us this peaceful and elegant place.  The first building we visited was the church.

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It is thought that there has been a church on this site since the year 1000, with the first historically documented church building dating from 1200.  The present church was built in the 18th century, consecrated in 1796, and completed in 1823.

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The main building was constructed during the 1760s.  It has served as the first secondary school in Iceland, a private residence to several families, and is now where visiting heads of state and other dignitaries meet with and are entertained by the President of Iceland.  It houses the President’s library, large rooms for dining and entertaining, and in the basement are wonderful museum-like exhibitions featuring excavations of earlier settlements on the site.  It is an absolutely beautiful building, both inside and out, and holds much history and many curiosities within its graceful white walls.

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Every piece of furniture and every work of art had a story.  I could have spent a week in there just learning about all the beautiful items on display!

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We kept eagle eyes on the children:  Look, DON’T TOUCH!!!!

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I believe the Canada goose on the left was a gift from a Canadian dignitary…I wish I could remember all the details!

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The president’s office.  A pretty nice place to work, huh?!

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There were many photos of visiting heads of state and royalty.

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Recognize this guy?

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So many beautiful works of art.  This place really was a museum unto itself.

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Gorgeous paintings lined the large halls.

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Absolutely loved these by painter Jóhannes Sveinsson Kjarval.  Incredible sense of color and texture.  I could immediately identify the types of lava-filled landscapes that were now familiar from our trip along the south coast.

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Another room filled with evocative Icelandic paintings.  Can you imagine sitting down to dinner at this table?

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I wish I had dressed up for our official photo!

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The library.  I could have browsed these shelves for weeks.  Such an incredible collection of books and art and curiosities.

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Early Icelandic bible.

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Júlíus allowed Charlie to handle a cannon ball.  It was heavy!

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Upstairs we saw many gifts on display.  These are items given to the president over the years from foreign leaders and dignitaries.

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White owl:  gift from Ronald Reagan.  Clock:  gift from Gorbachev.  Remember the Reykjavik summit of 1986?  For Brad and I, children of the Cold War, this was amazing to see!  And if I’m remembering correctly, I believe the songbird on the branch was a gift from Richard Nixon.

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Something from close to home:  A gift from Boeing!

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A narwhal tusk from Greenland.

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The kids were fascinated by the Polar Bear pelt.

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The last part of our visit led us downstairs, to see the excavations.  It is an excellent  display.  All of the placards were in Icelandic, but we had our tour guide to lead us through.  We learned about the history of human occupation on this site, including the fact that this was once home to the very famous writer and politician, Snorri Sturluson (he wrote the Prose Edda, the Heimskringla, and some think also Egil’s Saga).  

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Fascinating artifacts from a various periods.

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Fish-pounding stones.

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And the kids were proud to identify this one:  a cannon!

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What an amazing place.  What a once-in-a-lifetime day.

And we still had to head to the airport to catch a plane to Seattle!

We cannot thank our lovely friends Júlíus and Hrefna enough for their hospitality and willingness to share their culture, their history, and their home with us.  We were humbled and warmed by the whole experience and we cannot wait to go back and learn more of this amazing and beautiful place.

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Við elskum Ísland!!!

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