Herring Era Museum Floods: ‘The exhibition area was basically floating’

The award-winning Herring Era Museum in Siglufjörður in North Iceland flooded on Friday, RÚV reports. Staff were met by 40 cm [15.7 in] of water when they arrived, and two days of heavy rain have only exacerbated the situation.

The Herring Era Museum – Síldarminjasafn Íslands, FB

Wellsprings located in the embankment behind the museum tend to collect water underground, and these simply overflowed after days of heavy rainfall. The runoff had no good drainage channel, something that fire chief Jóhann K. Jóhannsson says will need to be addressed in the future.

“[The water] rose really quickly,” said curator Aníta Elefsen. “Around noon, it had reached 77 cm [30 in] and the exhibition area was basically floating, I think that’s the only word for it.”

The Herring Era Museum – Síldarminjasafn Íslands, FB

Artifacts and cultural relics at risk

Located in a former salting station, boathouse, and herring factory in the centre of Siglufjörður, the Herring Era Museum offers an extensive, immersive glimpse into a fascinating period of Icelandic history. The museum has received numerous awards for its innovative curation and live exhibitions. It is, in fact, the only museum in the country to have won the European Museum Award.

The Herring Era Museum – Síldarminjasafn Íslands, FB

Unfortunately, it’s the main exhibition space that has flooded, and although firefighters have been running numerous pumps since Friday, they were still draining water away eight hours later, on Saturday morning. “I think we’re using every available pump in the municipality,” said Aníta.

She says it’s difficult to determine the extent of the damage to the collection at this time but hopes that staff will be able to start doing so early next week.

“Obviously, this is a great deal of water and it’s the exhibition space we’re talking about. There are artifacts and cultural relics. It’s hard to say right now—I think we’ll just have to wait until everything dries and we can walk through here […] without getting our feet wet to assess the situation.”

‘It’s Mostly Foreigners Who Take an Interest in Turf Houses’

An engineer in East Iceland is passing down ancestral methods of turf construction, Austurfrétt reports. Þorvaldur P. Hjarðar has a great deal of experience with these ancient building techniques, having recently restored two turf outbuildings and one turf sheep shed on his farm, Hjarðarhagi í Jökudal.

“There aren’t a lot of folks who are up for such specialized courses, but seven people were interested in participating and so now we’re just about to finish rebuilding an old, turf smokehouse which must, of course, be consecrated by smoking some lamb and singing the old songs,” said Þorvaldur. His course focused on methods of building turf structures that are unique to the East Fjords.

Interior wall of restored turf house, Hjarðarhagi í Jökudal / Minjastofnun Íslands, Instagram

“Not many people know this, actually, but there were a number of unique things about the turf houses here in the East. Foremost that the masonry on most of them is cabled, as it’s termed. That’s to say that they alternated between layers of turf and stone. This isn’t unheard of elsewhere but it’s very prominent here in the East. It was done a lot here because there weren’t a lot of good stones in most places out here.”

Interior of restored turf sheepshed, Hjarðarhagi í Jökudal / Screenshot, RÚV

Þorvaldur says that Icelanders even have their own prosciutto, though it’s a luxury good that has yet to be capitalized on.

“So, the thing is, that in the old days, all hangikjöt [smoked lamb] was double-smoked in smokehouses made from turf and that hangikjöt is much different from the processed kind we get in Icelandic supermarkets today. The meat is much firmer and the flavour a lot milder. It is, to my mind, the only real Icelandic delicacy, but no one’s running with this historical tradition. We lose our minds over prosciutto in Italy or Jamón Ibérico in Spain. But we’d have an entirely comparable product here in this country, if we just smoked it in an old-fashioned turf house.”

Window of restored turfhouse, Hjarðarhagi í Jökudal / Screenshot, RÚV

Þorvaldur says he’s found there’s a growing interest in Icelandic turf houses, but this interest is by far the greatest among foreign tourists.

“There’s certainly a growing interest, but maybe least of all among Icelanders,” he mused. “It doesn’t make any sense because we tend to go see old buildings when we ourselves are traveling abroad, but we care almost nothing about our own remarkable history and houses. And no one should be in any doubt that Icelandic turf houses are magnificent in every way.”

Fire Destroys Grímsey Church

The historic church on Grímsey island, North Iceland, was burned to the ground in a fire yesterday, Vísir reports. While no people were injured in the fire, it was not possible to save any items from inside the church. The cause of the fire is unknown.

Named Miðgarðakirkja, the church on Grímsey was built out of driftwood in 1867. In 1932, it was moved further away from the neighbouring farm due to risk of fire and a tower and choir loft were built on to the structure. The church underwent extensive renovations in 1956 and was reconsecrated that year. The renovation included wood carvings made by Deacon Einar Einarsson both on the outside and inside of the building. Miðgarðakirkja was protected in 1990.

Elín Elísabet Einarsdóttir, Grímsey church

While the cause of the fire remains unknown, Henning Henningsson, one of Grímsey’s two firefighters, suspects it was an electrical fire. “It was an old electrical panel and there is little else that comes to mind.”

Grímsey island is the northernmost point of Iceland and has 67 inhabitants.

Update: An earlier version of this post included a photo of another church.