heritage along the highway

1_Black ChurchNorthernmost Black Church on Hrdarstunguvegaur

Historic architecture is one of my favorite landmarks to discover while touring. We are rewarded by a back roads shortcut with two very quaint historic churches, as we drive up and over mountains on Route 944, heading west across the Flojotsdalsherad Valley to reconnect with the Ring Road. As we cut across the Hrdarstunguvegaur, Route 925, the stunning silhouette of one of the three Black Churches in Iceland cuts across the northern skyline. Wind sings through the gate as our boots crunch across gravel parking lot, circling the church anchored on this sparse landscape, punctuated frequently by austere beauty; black clapboard of church, severe in cold repose in the barren north. We are the only people for miles.

1_Church Turf4

Then along an adjacent road, we stumble upon Geirsstadakirkja, a reconstructed archeological site of an ancient farm settlement at Litli-Bakki. The remains of an ancient turf wall surrounds a small Viking church and longhouse. The Geirsstadir church was rebuilt in 1999 by expert carpenter, turf-constructor, and curator from the East Iceland Heritage Museum. We walk through the beautifully crafted wooden branch gates framed into the stone and turf wall. Iceland is famous for its turf homes, churches, and barns. Turf angling to the ground, covers the sloped roof of the trim timber structure. Turf, deep cut, dried, and compacted into a bricklike substance, is both an economical and resourceful material in a sparse landscape where trees are scarce, as well as an excellent insulator in freezing temperatures. Spring flowers bloom from the corner pieces framing the doorway that leads to an interior dirt floor, structural tree poles with information sheets clipped in plastic sleeves, and a small wooden altar with carved cross. Outside is an organic slab table and bench with a minimalist stacked stone sculpture of a Viking ship in the front of the walled area. The expanse of green fields belie the function of this rich farmland  owned by the farmer church-guides of this historic plot. Their Icelandic horses circle around a water trough oppposite the gate. Greg walks proudly around the encampment imagining his Norwegian ancestors coming to this very spot in the Settlement Era  that began in the 9th C by Norsemen, then in 1264 Iceland accepted the sovereignty of the King of Norway. For a brief moment Greg wishes he’d packed his Norwegian sweater, but in the days to come he will gladly replace it with a sweater of Icelandic design. It is hard to imagine that we are only on Day 4 of our travels. In Iceland, so much to see, so little time, so we make our time extend into a vast expanse of culture and geography along every turn and roadside vista.


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