Unspoiled nature reigns on the island of Viðey, which has a unique place in Icelandic history. Birdlife abounds on the island, while outstanding works of modern art also make their mark. We hope that you will enjoy your stay and that you help us keep the Island the treasurous pearl that it is.
Viðey was inhabited from soon after the settlement ofIceland around 900 AD. In 1225 a monastery was founded on the island by Þorvaldur Gissurarson, with the assistance of scholar/chieftain Snorri Sturluson. The first monastery in the southern quarter, it soon grew wealthy. At its zenith it was the second richest monastery in Iceland, owning up to 116 estates.
In 1539 the monastery came to a dramatic end when it was raided by Danish soldiers when the Reformation was imposed on the Icelandic church.
For the next two centuries, Viðey belonged to the royal estate of Bessastaðir. A home for paupers was located on the island.
Skúli Magnússon was the first Icelander to become Treasurer, and for half a century he was one of the most powerful men in the country. He had Viðey House built as his official residence; it was completed in 1755.
But Skúli did not only make his mark on Viðey. He also founded the first industrial enterprise inIceland, the Innréttingar woollen workshops, which led to the beginning of urban development in Reykjavík. Hence he is known as the Father of Reykjavík.
Skúli died on Viðey island in 1794 and buried beneath the altar of the church he had built there 20 years before.
The Stephensen family
In 1794 Ólafur Stephensen, the first Icelander to be Governor of Iceland moved to Viðey, where he lived until his death in 1812. He was renowned for his hospitality. His son Magnús Stephensen, president of the High Court, took over the estate at his death, and in 1817 he bought the island from the royal estate. He installed a printing press on the island, which functioned 1819–44. Magnús died in 1833, and the island remained in the Stephensen family until the end of the 19th century.
In 1901 Eggert Briem and his wife Katrín Pétursdóttur started large-scale farming on Viðey. They built a cattle-shed housing 48 cows and sold about 200,000 litres of milk per year to the inhabitants of Reykjavík.
In 1907 Pétur J. Thorsteinsson and Thor Jensen founded the P. J. Thorsteinsson & Co. fishing company, with a share capital of a million krónur, a huge amount at the time. Hence it was always known as Milljónafélagið (the Million Corporation). It was located at the eastern end of the island, where a village of houses and fish processing facilities developed, adjacent to the best harbour facilities onFaxaflói Bay. At that time Reykjavík had no proper harbour.
The Million Corp. went out of business in 1914, but fish processing continued. In 1924 the Kári company made the island its fishing headquarters, and the population of the village rose to a high point of 138 in 1930. A year later the fishing company failed, after which the islanders began to move away. By 1943 the village was uninhabited.
Farming continued on Viðey until the 1950s, after which the island was uninhabited. By 1968, when Viðey House and the church passed to the National Museum of Iceland, the buildings were severely dilapidated. In 1986 the Icelandic state presented the buildings to the City of Reykjavík. Renovation work on the buildings was completed in 1988.
Vegetation flourishes on Viðey island, which was for centuries regarded as one of the best estates inIceland. The fields yielded large quantities of hay, and traces can still be seen of walls built to keep grazing livestock out of the hayfields. Over the centuries, the natural marshes of the island have been drained to provide more agricultural land. Today 156 species of vascular plants grow on Viðey, or one-third of the flora of Iceland.
Treasurer Skúli Magnússon made various horticultural experiments in the 18th century, growing e.g. potatoes, cabbage and tobacco, and planting trees. One of Skúli’s experiments was a resounding success: the caraway plants he introduced still flourish all over the island. The caraway plant generally ripens in August.
Many of the oldest sources on Viðey island relate to its birdlife. Over the centuries, the eider (Somateria mollissima) colony on Viðey was an important resource, providing costly eiderdown. After declining in the first half of the 20th century, the eider population of Viðey is recovering, and the eider is now the commonest bird on the island. Its major breeding areas are on either side of the Þórsnes headland: this area is closed to visitors during the nesting season.
Other common birds on Viðey island include the fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis), greylag goose (Anser anser), snipe (Gallinago gallinago), the purple sandpiper (Calidris maritima) and oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus). A few years ago the black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa) started to breed on Viðey island. A total of about 30 species breed on the island, which is thus a great attraction for bird-lovers. The ponds on the isthmus (Eiðið) are especially rich in birdlife.
Please show consideration for the birds on the island: keep to the marked footpaths and do not disturb nests or nesting birds.
Two million years ago Viðey was an active volcano, which is known as the Viðey volcano, and the rock of Viðey island is the oldest in the Reykjavík area. At the end of the last Ice Age, 12–13,000 years ago, the sea level rose due to the melting of the glacial ice, and the island was inundated. When the sea level dropped, the island rose once more from the sea 9–10,000 years ago.
Viðey island is about 1.6 km in total area, comprising Heimaey (HomeIsland) and Vesturey (WestIsland), which are linked by a narrow neck of land or isthmus, Eiðið. The easternmost part of Heimaey is known as Austurey (East Island).
Spectacular rock formations can be seen along the shore of the island, as well as on Virkishöfði (Battlement Headland) and Eiðisbjarg. The island is constantly being eroded by the forces of the sea, and this is especially clearly seen at Kríusandur and Þórsnes.
Please take care when walking along the cliffs.