Luxury Hotel’s Impact on Protected Valley Raises Concerns

þjórsárdalur

The company building a luxury hotel and baths in the protected Þjórsárdalur valley has yet to negotiate payments for water usage at the site. The Icelandic Institute for Natural History called it a mistake to permit the development, as it entails disturbing the landscape. The company building the hotel is a subsidiary of the Blue Lagoon and holds a 40-year lease on the land.

The hotel and baths are being constructed within a protected area, on a plot owned by the state. The company Rauðukambar ehf., a subsidiary of the Blue Lagoon, is leasing the 130,000 square metre plot for just over ISK 400,000 [$3,000, €2,800] per month. Payments to the state for water usage are yet to be negotiated.

Prime Minister’s Office authorised construction

Since the construction is on public land, it was subject to the approval of the Prime Minister’s Office, which has authorised the project according to the conditions of the protected area. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir herself was present at the official start of construction, digging the first shovelful into Rauðukambar mountain alongside the mayor of Skeiða- og Gnúpverjahreppur municipality, where the hotel will be located, and the developers.

The hotel is being built into Rauðukambar mountain, reportedly to minimize its visibility. The Icelandic Institute for Natural History has stated its opinion that the hotel and baths do not comply with the objectives of protection of landscapes and natural monuments as they cause irreversible damage and change the natural landscape.

In Focus: Tourism Development in Protected Areas

The parent company of the Blue Lagoon is also constructing a luxury hotel in a second protected area in the Icelandic Highland, Kerlingarfjöll. According to original plans for the area, the new hotel was to be one of the largest not just in the Highland, but in all of Iceland. The ambitious nature of the project raised concerns about environmental degradation and in 2015, the Icelandic Environment Association (Landvernd) appealed the construction, the first stage of which had begun without any environmental impact assessment.

Ultra Marathon in Icelandic Highland This Summer

Fjallabak - syðra highland

The Environment Agency of Iceland has granted Arctic Yeti Ltd. permission to hold a so-called “Ultra Marathon” in Iceland’s highland this summer. It’s the first time such a run has been held in Iceland: participants will have six days to traverse 280 kilometres (174 miles) between June 26 and July 3. Arctic Yeti CEO Javi Gálves told mbl.is the company hopes to make the marathon an annual event.

It is estimated that there will be about 50 participants in the marathon, which will partly take place around Fjallabak and Þjórsárdalur, protected areas in Iceland’s highland. The running route contains a mixture of main roads in the area, dirt roads, and highland hiking trails.

Marathon participants will stay at campsites within Þjórsárdalur valley for the duration of the run. The campsites will be set up by Arctic Yeti, who will provide tents and other necessities to runners. Participants will be required to carry organic waste bags for their personal use, which will be disposed of in designated areas.

Arctic Yeti is a Spanish travel agency that specialises in trips to the Nordic countries. They have previously held an Ultra Marathon in Costa Rica.

Landmark Project to Protect Archaeological Remains

Gjáin Þjórsárdalur

The Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland is now working on an unprecedented project that would collectively protect dozens of archaeological sites within Þjórsárdalur valley. Archaeological sites in Iceland are usually protected individually, but if the project is realised, it would be the first ever to protect multiple sites under a single declaration. The agency released a statement yesterday outlining the initiative. RÚV reported first.

Þjórsárdalur valley is the site of over 20 Viking Age farmsteads, the most recent of which was rediscovered just last fall. The area has yielded artefacts of interest such as a unique Thor’s hammer pendant dating back over 900 years.

The agency asserts that protecting the entire valley would simplify the protection of its artefacts and response to any threats they may face. It would also ensure that any artefacts discovered there in the future would be automatically protected.

[/media-credit] The proposed borders of the protected area in Þjórsárdalur. Blue and red dots mark archaeological sites currently protected by law.

Over 300 Viking Age artefacts

“Þjórsárdalur contains a unique collection of artefacts from the Middle Ages which are little touched by later development,” a report on the proposed declaration states. “In it lies great value, not only educational and experiential value for travellers and the general public, but also economic value for tourism in the region.” According to the agency, the National Museum’s director proposed protecting the entire area in the 1920s. While at the time some 22 archaeological sites were known, recent listings indicate there are over 300 artefacts in the valley. By linking the protected areas together under single declaration, the agency says, they would be implementing a policy formulated in 1927.

The Cultural Heritage Agency welcomes comments from the public on the proposed initiative by email at [email protected]. Comments must be sent no later than February 10.

Viking Age Thor’s Hammer Found in Iceland

A newly-uncovered Viking Age farmstead in the Icelandic highlands has yielded a unique Thor’s hammer pendant, among other artefacts dating back over 900 years. RÚV reported that a Thor’s hammer carved from sandstone was found last week at the farmstead, which is located in Þjórsárdalur valley and archaeologists have named Bergsstaðir. Only one other such hammer has been found in Iceland. No other stone Thor’s hammers like them have been found anywhere else in the world.

Bergur Þór Björnsson, a local resident, is to thank for the discovery. Bergur’s great grandfather discovered the last of 20 known Viking era farms in the area in 1920. “I just thought it was quite far between the ruins here and started to search just for fun,” he said about the discovery.

[media-credit name=”A screenshot from RÚV. ” align=”alignnone” width=”800″][/media-credit]

Archaeologists have since uncovered ash and burnt bones at the site, as well as artefacts such as a whetstone and a soapstone pot. The most recent discovery is waste from ironwork, indicating metal forgery was likely carried out on the farmstead.

The found artefacts have been transported to Reykjavík for research, and it seems clear there is much more to be discovered at the site.