Construction Goes Through Despite Protection of Víkurgarður Square Skip to content
Photo: Skúli Magnússon looks over Fógetagarður square in downtown Reykjavík. The square itself is protected but the area around it, where a cemetery was once situated, is not..

Construction Goes Through Despite Protection of Víkurgarður Square

The proposed hotel construction in the area around Víkurgarður square will go ahead despite the protection of the square, Rúv reports. The Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland suggests that the protection of the area should only cover the part that is classified as an official city square in city plans. Therefore, the area surrounding the concrete square will not be protected and is expected to succumb to the construction of a hotel. Work in the area had previously been stopped by the Cultural Heritage Agency, as Iceland Review reported.

The area around Víkurgarður square was where the old Church of Reykjavík was situated from close to the year 1200. Numerous churches called the square its home, the last one in 1789. The cemetery in the area was demolished in 1838, but burials continued until 1883. The spot where the cemetery was situated will now become a hotel if construction plans go through. The square itself is one of the oldest in the city. Although it is a garden by name, it is more a square rather than a garden due as the area is covered in concrete.

Minister of Education, Science, and Culture Lilja Alfreðsdóttir will have to make the ultimate decision about the possible protection of the square and its surrounding area. The Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland sent the ministry the proposal last week. Reykjavik City had previously stated it was against the area’s protection, during a special period for comments on the proposal by the Cultural Heritage Agency.

Reykjavík city has owned Víkurgarður Square since 1966 and it has been transformed substantially since ownership changed hands. The square is sometimes called Fógetagarður (Sheriff’s square) in honour of the statue of Skúli fógeti Magnússon, former town sheriff of Reykjavík. The area had been a botanical garden and plays home to the oldest planted tree in Reykjavík, a Swedish mountain-ash from 1884. Reykjavík City paved the square, which has hosted street food markets in recent years along with other events.

Today, there are no graves in the former cemetery area close to the square. There were bodies found during earlier construction works around the square, which were duly relocated. Three honorary citizens had previously protested the decision to build the hotel in the historic area, as Iceland Review reported. The cemetery around Víkurgarður square was discontinued after Hólavallagarður cemetery was constructed in 1838.

Agnes Stefánsdóttir, a division manager at the Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland, said that she believes there are archaeological relics to be found under the stone slabs of the protected square.

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