Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Show me the way

There is something about lighthouses. How could there not be? It is hard to beat the visual impact of these solitary spires, erected in remote locations, upon the joint of solid land and raging sea.  Pointing upward to the sky, sending a message of light out towards those that travel across the sometimes treacherous ocean waves. The sight of a lighthouse conjures up visions of storms gone by, wooden ships and struggles with the wind over torn and salty sails. Their original purpose also makes them eerie, connecting them with death through the navigational aid they provided and the shipwrecks that were in turn avoided. Eerie is always good.   

A small detour: Does anyone know if the word “aspire” originates from “spire”? It seems likely.

The first lighthouse in Iceland was built in 1877. Before that time, most fishing was conducted in small open boats and almost inclusively during daylight. No one was particularly interested in coming here and under 100 trips from foreign vessels passed the Reykjanes peninsula annually. It is worth a mention that despite there being no lighthouses before 1877, an attempt to pass a lighthouse tax was made. (It did not go through).

With lighthouses came lighthouse-keepers. These men were believed to require guidance so regulations were passed regarding their duties in 1897. Amongst the articles found therein was one forbidding them to allow anyone drunk, dishevelled or raggedly looking into the lighthouse.

Today there are 104 lighthouses owned and operated by the Icelandic Maritime Authority. An additional 30-40 belong to various municipalities and are situated at harbour entrances.

Here are some photos of Icelandic lighthouses for your enjoyment. It is easy to imagine bad things happening there. I have incorporated one of them into my latest book which came out in Iceland last November. I will allow you to guess which one captivated the writer in me.
Gróttuviti - in my hometown, originally built in 1897 but replaced by this one in 1947. My husband's great-great grandfather was a lighthouse keeper there. I can only hope he did not allow the druken and raggedy to enter.

Dyrhólaeyjarviti - built in 1927 to replace the original built in 1910. The original did not last long for some reason.
Arnarnesviti - 1941

Þrídrangaviti -1939. Anyone interested in the lighthousekeeper position?

Skaftárósviti - built in 1911, possibly under the influence of Eiffel's masterpeice - if you put the colour to one side.
Malarrifsviti - built in 1946 in the place of an iron lighthouse like the one above that gave way to rust
Urðaviti - built in 1986 to replace the original lighthouse that went under lava in the Heimaey eruption in 1973.
Garðskagaviti - the archetypal lighthouse design - constructed in 1944

 Yrsa - Wednesday


  1. The one I'm betting interested you, Yrsa, reminds me of the Greek monasteries of Meteora set atop seemingly inaccessible cliffs. Hard to imagine that anyone making up to Þrídrangaviti wouldn't be disheveled, raggedy and soon drunk.

  2. How would a lighthousekeeper even make it to Þrídrangaviti?

    1. Hi Michael - there was never a lighthouse keeper at that particular location. To access it men would go by boat and climb up the side aided by a chain that was bolted into the cliff. That is how they brought the supplies for the construction onto the top. Some years later they built a helipad and after that access was via air. Now this helipad is too small for the coast guard helicopters so anyone that has to go there (replace batteries etc) goes down from the helicopter in a line.

  3. Yrsa, have you heard this?

  4. These are beautiful designs and so different.

    I've seen some lighthouses in the States in different states, and they were not outstanding works of architectural artistry, rather plain and alike.