The Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland has temporarily protected the eastern section of the historic Víkurkirkjugarður cemetery, putting a halt to the construction of a much-debated hotel in the heart of downtown Reykjavík. The action prohibits all construction on the site, which overlaps the eastern part of the cemetery, for a period of six weeks. The agency hopes the Minister of Culture will agree to protect the area permanently. Vísir reported first.
In a press release published yesterday, the agency stated they had decided to temporarily protect the eastern part of the former cemetery, located inside the building lot. The reason cited for the decision was that the cemetery is a relic connected to Icelandic tradition and customs.
Víkurkirkjugarður, established in the 11th century, was one of Iceland’s first Christian cemeteries. Though it was officially demolished in 1838, burials continued on the site until 1883. The building lot, which is expected to be the future site of the Iceland Parliament Hotel, overlaps the eastern part of the cemetery. Originally set to open in 2018, the hotel’s construction has previously been delayed by the Cultural Heritage Agency after remains of a coffin were found on the site.
Disagree over hotel entry
According to their press release, the Cultural Heritage Agency asserts they had proposed changes to the design of the hotel entrance, which is to face the cemetery, and believed their proposal had been accepted by Lindarvatn, the property owner. The agency expresses dismay that the hotel’s design includes two entrances from the former cemetery, which they consider unacceptable. Lindarvatn CEO Jóhannes Stefánsson says the agency’s decision comes as a complete surprise. He points out that the area in question is currently open to pedestrians and houses bars, restaurants, and apartments, and the hotel would not change the area’s use.
Propose permanent protection
Minister of Education and Culture Lilja Alfreðsdóttir decided yesterday to accept the Cultural Agency’s proposal to protect the part of Víkurkirkjugarður that lies outside the hotel building lot. The Cultural Heritage Agency hopes to convince the minister to expand the protected area to include the section of the cemetery within the building lot, which they have now temporarily protected.