Historian Guðmundur Magnússon wrote an interesting column entitled ‘Þegar þjóðin eignaðist geysir’ (‘When the Nation Acquired Geysir’) in daily Morgunblaðið today.
In the article, Guðmundur explains that the famous geothermal area had been owned by the local farmers since the settlement of Iceland. In the summer of 1893, a noble and wealthy Irishman, James Craig Jr. was traveling around Iceland, and like most tourists still do, he visited the Geysir area. There he met the poor farmers who had been trying without success to sell the area to the government. Craig told the farmers that if the deal with the government went through, he would buy the land around the geysers. In the spring of 1894, he bought the land for DKK 3,000 from the owners, Sigurður Pálsson, Jón Sigurðsson and Greipur Sigurðsson.
Craig’s family was very unhappy with his decision, spending the family’s money on a geothermal area in faraway Iceland. In the end, he gave the Geysir area to his friend, E.Rogers, who had never been to Iceland and had no interest in the land.
In 1935, Sigurður Jónasson, a wealthy Icelandic businessman, bought the Geysir area for ISK 8,000 and gave it to the Icelandic state.
At the time, he told daily Nýja Dagblaðið: “Personally I think the Icelandic state should own this unique treasure Geysir, and do everything it can to protect the area for future generations. The area should of course be a national park.”
Geysir was not the only gift Sigurður gave the Icelandic state. In 1941 he gave the government the Bessastaðir estate for the use of the future President of Iceland. Iceland became independent in 1944 and Bessastaðir has been the presidential residence ever since.
The recent introduction of a ISK 600 (USD 5, EUR 4) entrance fee to Geysir by landowners has caused heated debate in Iceland. The area receives up to 6,000 visitors per day and landowners say that the fee will be used for development and protection of the area. The government maintains that according to the 1935 agreement set out above, the land within the fenced area is owned by the state and it is therefore illegal for landowners of the surrounding area to charge an entrance fee.