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Traveling through Iceland's literary past

Iceland sagas are an important part
of the country's tourism offering

The following article will emphasize on Iceland’s literary tourism, with a deep focus on the incorporation of the tourism industry that is related to the country’s medieval past, wilderness, and rural areas. Travelers to Iceland should get the chance to relate landscapes and places of interest with beautiful stories of the past. Hence, the goal should be to help avid voyageurs connect to Iceland on a deeper, more literary level.

Introducing Iceland’s sagas

In Iceland, the term ‘saga’ is related to 13th and 14th centuries literature. During that time, the country was an extremely active literary community and its most renowned products are the family sagas, or stories that dealt with disputes between well-known farming families. Urbanism was unknown in the 13th century, so the social insight of the sagas is 100% rural. If you’re looking to explore Iceland’s saga sites, you need to be ready to travel through the country’s wildest and most uninhabitable locations.

The capital Reykjavik
Urbanism was relatively unknown in Iceland until more recent times.

Out of a total number of 40 sagas, the most famous remains the Njal’s Saga. Over the years, they were neglected and during the 17th and 18th centuries a strong antiquarian movement began. Saga manuscripts were gathered and shipped to Denmark, the colonial power of the period. As the Icelandic push for sovereignty from Denmark kept developing, the sagas were used to highlight Iceland’s genuine cultural identity and rich academic history. Saga scholars and diplomats presented the sagas to the community as a clear indicator of the country’s national individuality.

The link between Icelandic literary heritage and tourism

After 1955 there was a remarkable increase in travelers who wanted to see Iceland. Nearly 10,000 people came to the island to explore its unbelievable sceneries and historical attractions. Better yet, in 2005 over 350,000 people made Iceland their preferred travel spot, and in 2008, the number of tourists exceeded 500,000. Although a lot of people come here for the landscapes, even more people choose this destination because of its literary past.

Iceland's rural area
Rural areas are the source of Iceland's sagas,
which developed the country's cultural identity. 
Photo: by Flickr

Njal’s Saga – Iceland’s most famous literary story

The Njal’s Saga is without a doubt Iceland’s most ambitious and extensive literary work. It highlights a national perspective, it includes a complex narrative story, and it develops sophisticated themes surrounding honor, religion, law, and personal ethics. The majority of the events happened in the south, and the main character is known as Njal’s and his Hlidarendi farm located between two farming areas Eyjafjallajokull glacier and Fljotshlid, and the surrounding volcanic regions.

Travellers will always be dazzled by Iceland’s landscapes and abundant vegetation. Still, such unforgettable experience can be greatly enriched by the country’s literary history. Visiting the beautiful northern island will bring you closer to the sagas and closer to past civilizations.

In the 18th century Iceland’s adapted literature was poor, and yet it still drove people into reading books. Today, some of the country’s best literary works of art are associated with travel destinations.

Haukadalur – Landnáma

Landnáma talks about Iceland’s first settler known as Ingólfur Arnarsson. The famous book is included in the 40 sagas and it includes a wide collection of writings composed during the 13th century.

Leif Erickson statue, at Hallgrímskirkja church
The statue of Leif Ericson - Eric the Red's son, was the famous explorer.

Eric the Red and his Hallgrímskirkja Saga

Although Eric the Red is not that talked about, his son Leif was one of the most famous saga characters in Iceland’s history. The story starts in the year 1,000 when Eric the Red returned to Iceland to murder someone. His son Leif is regarded as the first individual to discover America before Christopher Columbus, however because didn’t like it at all, he left it and came back home. Leif’s statue can be admired in Reykjavik, right in front of the church known as Hallgrímskirkja.

Hólar – The Icelandic Bible

The Bible is deeply linked to the literary history of Iceland and its versions translated in many languages. It was in 1000 AD when Catholicism took over, and thus the Bible had to be translated in Latin. When Lutheranism reached dominance, the New Testament was print for the first time in Denmark, 1540. Somehow, Hólar is deeply connected to these happenings and although the town has only 100 people, it’s still fascinating from a historical point of view. Packed with archeological sites, and medieval ruins, Hólar is an excellent travel spot that will help travelers know more about Iceland’s literary influences on the population.

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