Nordic Clinker Boat Traditions Added to the Unesco Intangible Heritage List

The creation and usage of Nordic clinker boats has been inscribed by UNESCO on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The inscription is shared by five Nordic countries: Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark.

Nordic clinker boats have been built by the people in the region for nearly two millennia. The boats are quite small, between five to ten metres [16–33 ft] long and are made from wood. Although the craft of making a clinker boat varies slightly from region to region, the boats are built using the same basic techniques, which is explained as following on UNESCO’s website: “Thin planks are fastened to a backbone of the keel and stems, and the overlapping planks are fastened together with metal rivets, treenails or rope. The shell of the boat is strengthened with frames.”

Traditionally, clinker boats were mainly used for fishing and transport. Building a clinker boat required great skill and mastering the craft was a lengthy endeavour. Aspiring craftsmen would commonly start training with a master as young men, sometimes practicing for up to a decade until fully acquiring the skill.

The nomination was a result of a joint effort by various Nordic cultural institutions, associations and individuals, which commenced more than five years ago, RÚV reports. Over 200 associations signed the nomination, which was endorsed by all five governments.

Sigurbjörg Árnadóttir, chair of The Icelandic Lighthouse Association, says that the organisation had been preparing the nomination for quite some time.

“Reaching this milestone is simply wonderful, we are so delighted,” she says.

Sigurbjörg says the idea came into being after a series of annual festivals celebrating Nordic coastal culture. The festivals took place in various locations, such as Norway, the Faroe Islands and the Icelandic coastal town Siglufjörður. “During the festivals we shared our knowledge and expertise with other people and quickly realised that the building of Nordic clinker boats is a shared Nordic tradition that has been sustained for millennia,” she says.

Sigurbjörg admits that throughout the process, she was optimistic that UNESCO would accept the tradition to their list of intangible heritage. “We prepared the application very well and got many associates on board with us”.

Although the usage of Nordic clinker boats has changed throughout the years, UNESCO reports that the tradition is still of great significance. Today, the boats are mostly used for ceremonial purposes, such as festivities and sporting events.

 

 

Four Visitors at Þingvellir National Park

þingvellir national park

Just four visitors were counted by wardens at Þingvellir National Park on February 18, 2021, according to an article on the park’s official website. On the same day last year, 3,322 visited the popular Almannagjá, a gorge between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.

“Today four tourists visited Þingvellir,” the article reads. “One walked into the fog in Almannagjá and disappeared from sight. Two travellers from France and one from Belgium peeked through the window of Þingvellir Church and had a good chat with the park warden that was on site. They were finishing a four-week trip around Iceland that started with the traditional quarantine. They praised the country and nation and enjoyed travelling around the country and being almost entirely alone on their trip.”

Þingvellir is not only a site with geological significance, it also has historical importance. From 930 AD to 1798, it was the meeting place of Iceland’s Alþingi (parliament). The park lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the mid-Atlantic ridge. From Almannagjá, visitors can also see the largest natural lake in Iceland, Þingvallavatn. Þingvellir was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.

 

Year in Review 2019: Travel

wow air tourism Iceland

Iceland’s tourism industry faced a difficult year, most notably due to the bankruptcy of WOW air, which led to a steep drop in the number of foreign visitors. Nevertheless, big strides were made toward improving infrastructure for the country’s visitors, and preserving some of the natural areas that draw tourists in the first place. Here’s a summary of Iceland’s biggest travel news stories of 2019.

WOW air

After months of operational difficulties, Iceland’s only budget airline WOW air unceremoniously ceased all service on March 28, 2019, leaving thousands of passengers stranded. The company’s bankruptcy prompted the biggest mass layoffs in Icelandic history, with some 2,000 people losing jobs either directly or indirectly due to WOW’s downfall. The national unemployment rate has since risen, particularly in Suðurnes, where Keflavík Airport is the largest employer.

Two would-be companies, one led by former WOW executives and the other by USAerospace Associates, have been rushing to fill the gap left by WOW. So far, the task seems easier said than done: both have delayed their official launch.

Icelandair didn’t have a much easier year either, having to ground their three Boeing 737 Max 8 planes in March following two crashes involving the same models in other airlines. The planes remain grounded currently, and will be so well into next year.

Conservation

Minister for the Environment Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson and Minister of Tourism Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir announced extensive plans to build up tourism infrastructure at 130 popular nature sites across the country. The government will allocate ISK 3.5 billion ($28.8m/€25.5m) over the next three years to the initiative, which will be used to protect both Icelandic nature and cultural heritage.

It’s not only local authorities that are recognising the value in Iceland’s sights. In July, Vatnajökull National Park was approved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, becoming the third in the country. In October, however, Þingvellir National Park’s UNESCO status was revealed to be at risk, due to the extensive diving and snorkelling operations in the park’s Silfra rift.

Safe salmon

While some come to Iceland to look at nature, others want to reel it in. British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe bought additional property in Northeast Iceland, with the stated intention of protecting its salmon stocks. Ratcliffe has announced he will undertake conservation measures in the area that include installing salmon ladders, releasing fertilised roe into the rivers, and even improving the ecosystems along the banks of rivers. While some have expressed concern over how easily foreigners can purchase land in Iceland, salmon fishermen are undoubtedly supportive of the initiative. For a recap on news of Iceland’s flora and fauna this year, readers can consult Iceland Review’s Year in Review 2019: Nature.

New destinations

Despite the difficulties, there are reasons for optimism in Icelandic travel. Juneyao Airlines of China has announced they will launch direct flights to Iceland in March, expecting to carry 20,000 tourists to the country in 2020. Local airline Icelandair Connect has also announced they will be expanding their operations in Greenland, which is expected to grow as a tourist destination in its own right. Entrepreneurs are optimistic as ever: seven hotels are currently under construction in Reykjavík, and expect to offer a combined 800 new hotel rooms to visitors next year.

Diving in Þingvellir Could Jeopardise UNESCO Status

Silfra snorkeling

UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has asked the Icelandic government to provide information on diving operations in Þingvellir National Park, mbl.is reports. The committee received a complaint about the snorkelling and scuba diving operations that take place in the park’s Silfra rift. Seven diving companies have access to Silfra, where some 76,000 divers and snorkellers take a dip each year, potentially affecting its flora and fauna, as well as its appearance.

Lawyer Jónas Haraldsson sent the letter of complaint to the UNESCO committee in early August. He states that diving operations in Silfra prioritise profit over protection and contradict the conditions UNESCO places on world heritage sites.

Iceland contains three sites that are on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. While Þingvellir is listed for its cultural importance, Surtsey island and Vatnajökull National Park are listed for their natural importance.

Vatnajökull National Park Now Largest in Western Europe

The Vatnajökull National Park is being expanded by 560 sq km (216 sq mi), Vísir reports. The entire park now covers some 14,700 sq km (5,700 sq mi) or nearly 15% of Iceland’s total land area, making it the largest national park in Western Europe.

The boundaries of the park have now extended to include the Herðubreið Reserve. Established in 1974, the reserve was named for what is colloquially recognised as “the queen of Icelandic mountains.” Mt. Herðubreið is a 1,682m (5,518ft)-tall tuya, or flat-topped, steep-sided volcano (not active since the Pleistocene era), located in the northeastern highlands, not far from the Askja volcano. The Herðubreið Reserve also includes other impressive “nature pearls,” such as the Ódaðahraun desert, known for its “unusual geological formations, sands, and broad lava fields that have been formed by various volcanic sources during different periods.”

In January, an application was formally submitted to have Vatnajökull National Park added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List, which already includes the Þingvellir National Park and the island of Surtsey. Should the application be approved, the UNESCO World Heritage designation will also apply to the expanded area of the park, i.e. the former Herðubreið Reserve. A response on the application is expected by July 5.

The expansion of Vatnajökull National Park is, “…an important step in nature conservation,” remarked Minister of the Environment Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson. “With this, 0.5% of Iceland will now be part of the national park, including unique geological formations, natural spring areas, vast highlands, and then, of course, the queen of Icelandic mountains, Herðubreið… Not a bad gift for the 75th birthday of the Republic.”