Thursday, March 7, 2013

Reykjavík, Iceland

Reykjavík is in southwest Iceland.  With around 200,000 people, it is the country's largest city and home to about two-thirds of the entire country.  It is also the world's most northern capital city.  Reykjavík was home to the island's first permanent settlement back around 870 AD but the city wasn't founded until 1786.

It's a really clean city and very easy to walk everywhere.  Even if you have no earthly idea of how to pronounce any of the street names. 

Sólfar, "Sun Voyager", is by the sea, near the center of town.  The stainless steel sculpture was unveiled in 1990 to commemorate the city's 200th anniversary.

Perlan, "The Pearl", was built in 1988 on top of Öskjuhlíð Hill, about 2 km from the city center.  The tanks store hot water for heating the city.  On top is a glass dome with a rotating restaurant.  There is also a viewing platform that gives you a great 360° view of the city.  One of the tanks now houses the Saga Museum which illustrates Icelandic history from the end of the 9th century through the Reformation.

Stjórnarráðið is home to the prime minister's offices.  Iceland's prime minister is Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir.  Not only is she the country's first female prime minister but in 2009 she became the world's first openly gay head of state.

Höfði is a house that was built in 1909.  Over the years it has served as both the French and British consulates.  Legend has it that the house is haunted.  However, the house is best known as the site of the 1986 Reykjavík Summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev.

Landakotskirkja is officially the "Basilica of Christ the King", the cathedral of the Catholic Church in Iceland.  When the church was sanctified in 1929, it was the largest in the country.

Hallgrímskirkja, the Church of Hallgrímur, is visible from most parts of the city.  Construction on the Lutheran church began in the late 1940s but it wasn't completed until 1986.  Today it is the largest church in Iceland and can accommodate over 1,000 people.  While the Church of Iceland is the official state religion only about 10% of the people regularly attend church services.

In front of the church is a statue of the Viking Leifur Eriksson, the first European said to have discovered North America.  The statue was a gift from the USA, in 1930, to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the Alþingi. 

The Alþingi is Iceland's parliament.  The first was established in 930 AD in Þingvellir.  The current Alþingi has been in place since 1881.

The Ráðhús is the city hall.  The current building was completed in 1992.  Behind the city hall is the Tjörnin, a small lake in the town center.

Dómkirkja is Reykjavík's most cathedral.  The current building was consecrated in 1796 and is the seat of the Lutheran Bishop of Iceland.  It went through restoration in 1879 and 1999.

Harpa is the national music and conference center that opened in 2011.  With irregularly shaped glass panels of different colors, the building changes based on the light.  The building was started when the economy was still in full swing but was partially abandoned during the country's financial crisis.  The final price tag is estimated around €164M (~$213M). 

Not far from Reykjavík is Bessastaðir which is the offical residence of the President of Iceland.  It was originally a farm and was built between 1761 and 1766.  It's amazing that there was no visible security around.

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