City of Literature - Literary Landmarks

Literary Landmarks

Throughout the city, you can find signs with information about the literary connections of various locations.

Langibar - Adlon

Adlon Bar, or Langibar as it was known in daily parlance, stood between Aðalstræti 6 and 8, the old Morgunblaðið building and the theatre Fjalakötturinn, respectively. Langibar was a popular haunt for youngsters, earning it the playful moniker of Ungverjaland – the Icelandic term for Hungary, which can also be read literally to mean “land of youngsters.” A prominent sign announcing the presence of a “Sodabar Fountaine” birthed an equally playful, if rather less-flattering title, Sódabarinn; in Icelandic, the sóda- means “filthy.” The merchants Silli og Valdi, now almost mythological characters in the history of Reykjavík, opened the bar in 1946 and operated it until 1960, when an open sandwich restaurant took over the premises.

Langibar features in the novel 'Lullaby' (I. Vögguvísa) by Elías Mar, which was published in 1950 and is sometimes referred to as the first Icelandic youth novel. A contemporary tale, Lullaby tells the story of a young man known as Bambínó, who gravitates to the seedier underbelly of the of postwar Reykjavík, depicted with an unprecedented faithfulness in the novel. Elías also meticulously reproduced the slang and speech cadences of the day, which lends a colorful air to the prose. In the fall of 2012, the publishing house Lesstofan republished Lullaby, and the new edition includes an illuminating appendix on the work, as well as a collection of slang terms that Elías compiled while writing the book.

The swinging guys’ café, Adlon, a.k.a. Hungary, hunches between old wooden houses downtown, in a stuccoed-over hovel done up like a diner, with a lengthwise counter. The boy can’t bring himself to go shoot pool without first getting down a cup of lukewarm joe.

From Vögguvísa (Lullaby) by Elías Mar. Translation by Sarah Brownsberger (unpublished).

Lullaby is the first youth novel of the newly minted republic, and in short, it was a hit. Elías wrote it in the summer of 1949, the same summer he turned 25. The story opens with a break-in on a Wednesday night, and concludes on a Sunday evening, with Bambínó wallowing in snow turned to sludge at downtown Austurvöllur, ruminating on recent events. Bambínó is a city child, whose nickname is borrowed from a pop song. He's fifteen, the youngest in the group. They know nothing of the life of youngsters outside the city. The countryside is as remote as the Moon. The isolated Iceland of old has vanished. The modern Iceland with its business exchanges and American pop influence is here to stay.

The teenagers in ‘Lullaby’ don’t dream of a renaissance of Icelandic rural culture, they dream of being cool cats in killer suits. They haunt cafés and bars, play billiards, throw parties, collect pulp magazines and play boogie-woogie records. They don’t believe themselves to have any responsibilities. They steal money to counter the boredom of Reykjavík. They steal out of a devotion to a particular aesthetic. Their conversations are heavily influenced by pop songs and movies. Elías picked up the lingo at bars, pool dives and cafés, compiling a dedicated “slang dictionary” to write the book. The young republic took a direction that was wildly divergent from the intended one. Elías sensed this more acutely than anyone in 1949: the pop culture of teenagers was about to conquer the world. Some stories sense the heartbeat of time.

Hjálmar Sveinsson: “A new pen in a new republic.” Morgunblaðið, October 28, 2006.

Hannes Hafstein - Hannesarholt

Hannesarholt is at Grundarstígur 10, and it was the home of the poet and minister Hannes Hafstein (1861–1922). Hannes built the house in 1915 and lived there with his family until his death.

Hannes Þórður Hafstein was born on December 4 at Möðruvellir in Hörgárdalur in the north of Iceland. He studied law at the University of Copenhagen, after having graduated from the school Lærði skólinn in Reykjavík (now M.R. in Lækjargata), finishing his law degree in 1886. Hannes Hafstein wrote poems during his student years and shortly after returning home from his studies but then largely set aside his literary work as his official duties took precedence.

Hannes first sat in Alþingi in 1900 and led the Home-Rule Party when the Danish government agreed to appoint a minister for Iceland in 1904, granting the country home rule. Thus, Hannes became the first Minister for Iceland, serving in that position until 1909 and again from 1912-14. Among the issues Hannes addressed during his tenure as minister was the so-called 'telephone affair'. He advocated for the installation of a submarine telephone cable to Iceland instead of establishing a wireless telegraph connection.

Hannes Hafstein published his first poems at the age of 18. He continued to write over the following years and published his first collection of poems in 1893, titled 'Various Verses’ (I. 'Ýmisleg ljóðmæli). His collection of poems was released in 1916 and was later reissued by the poet Tómas Guðmundsson in 1968. Hannes was one of the contributors to the publication of the journal 'Verðandi’ or Becoming, which conveyed the message of realism that was taking over from the romantic movement at that time. However, it can hardly be said that Hannes's poems bear strong marks of realism; on the contrary, they are filled with emotion and romance.

Hannes's wife was Ragnheiður Stefánsdóttir (1871-1913), and together they had ten children. Ragnheiður had passed away by the time Hannes and his family moved to Grundarstígur 10, where he lived with his children, mother, and mother-in-law until his death.


I love you, storm, as you roar on the field
And rustling gladness from deep groves yield
And kink and crumble each brittle gray limb
And brace up the birches as you skim.

You scour the drifts from hollow and rise
And send clouds scudding from sun-warmed skies;
You blow spark to flame and flame to full blaze
And fling gold spangles on coves and bays.

You bellow the sails and jostle the freight;
You shine and freshen, early and late,
And drive out the listless, muggy, and stale
And muster all spirits brisk and hale.

And as you sweep on in your victory
I feel endurance abound in me.
I love you, force that makes the waves tower;
I love you, sheer fog-clearing power!

I love you, I love you, eternal strife,
And offer my song, roiling with life.
Swiftly, you sky-faring freedom, storm on!
My spirit flies with you, glad and strong.

Translated by Sarah Brownsberger (unpublished).

Published in Verðandi 1882


Steinn Steinarr

He was not a bulky man, small in build and thin, the head unusually big in proportion to the torso, the blond hair thick and wavy. His brown jacket is open and the suit looks way too big. He has a loose walk, as his left hand is withered and that whole side of his body lacks strength.

As usual, he walks into Hressingarskálinn, the biggest and most popular coffee house in town. It is frequented by the common citizens and poets, artists and all kinds of cultural types meet there on a daily basis.

Gylfi Gröndal, Steinn Steinarr: Leit að ævi skálds (Searching for a Poets Life), 2000: JPV Publishing

The history of Hressingarskálinn (lit. The Refreshment Lodge) in Reykjavík, or “Hressó” as it is usually called in its shortform, goes back to 1932. The place was popular from the start, partly because of the back garden where food was served in pleasant weather. It was a lively meeting place for artists, among them many poets and intellectuals. This included the poet Steinn Steinarr, who in later years usually sat in a designated area to the right of the entrance.

Steinn Steinarr is strongly connected to the city's history as a radical political writer and one of the poets who loosened the poetic form and paved the way for modernism. His poetry was considered philosophical, and he was among the first poets to write about the existential problems of the modern Icelander. He belonged to the group of 'Atom Poets' who emerged in the sixties, poets who radically overturned traditional poetic form and introduced fresh influences from foreign metropolises to Iceland. This era is often referred to as the 'Atomic Age', primarily denoting the period when modernity began in earnest to make room for itself within the traditional Icelandic society.

Jón Óskar describes in his memoirs about the 'Occupation-Era Poets' that at Hressingarskálinn, there were deep discussions about everything under the sun concerning literature. Among the poets and writers who warmed its seats were Elías Mar, Jón Óskar, Hannes Sigfússon, and Stefán Hörður Grímsson. Younger poets also visited and greatly admired Steinn, for instance, Thor Vilhjálmsson described the atmosphere at Hressó in his memoirs:

The hall of Hressingarskálinn was divided into wings. In one wing sat Ólafur Friðriksson, the astrologer Jón Árnason, and Sigurður Jónasson, called Serious. Sigurður was a giant of a man, accordingly stout and troll-like. He laughed so loudly that glasses rattled in the town of Rif when he drew a deep breath in Reykjavík. He was deeply into mysticism and took spiritual journeys. If he needed to meet someone in Bangkok, his soul would zip there while his large shell lay in Reykjavík. In another wing, the men of tomorrow stayed. Sigfús Daðason, Elías Mar, Jón Óskar, myself, and others. Most of us intended to become poets and some had even been published. One evening, there was much talk that Hannes Sigfússon would soon come home, that he was always reading Dostoevsky. I had indeed written an essay on the author and read from it to the group but received lukewarm reactions. People were on guard and avoided putting themselves in the spotlight. Some were daunted by the intellect and personality of Steinn Steinarr, merely dragging out their words and saying: "Ah-ha-ha-a-aa."

Thor Vilhjálmsson, Ships and Beautiful Oars, 1996: Mál og menning

Wednesday by Steinn Steinarr

Wednesday – and life goes its usual course,
the way God himself at first envisages.
It strikes you as strange, but it‘s true all the same,
because that‘s how it‘s been and that‘s how it is.

You stroll around here wearing yesterday‘s looks,
today‘s heroes in triumph, ever taking your slice.
This morning they auctioned what belonged to a man
who couldn‘t pay off his debts – that‘s the price.

And people make money and people lose money in turn,
and money is lent although nobody pays what he owes.
Along asphalted streets the crowd‘s noisy bustle is heard,
and the paper‘s on sale in the square as everyone knows.

Wednesday. – and life goes its usual course,
and its course will never be lengthened or tarried.
Dagbjartur the mason had a baby son yesterday,
today Mr Petersen the merchant will be buried.

Translation: Bernard Scudder

Icelandic Poetry, 2012: Saga forlag

Laugavegur 1

Laugavegur draws its name from the old washing pools in Laugardalur, where women carried laundry from Reykjavík to wash in the hot pools until 1930.

Reykjavík housewives and maids set out early in the morning, having to struggle with heavy laundry loads and everything to to with the laundry – washtub, washboard, soap, soda, laundry bat, buck, coffee, and a packed meal – for a long way over rough terrain. Women generally tended to this work alone, but men were known to accompany, and foreign sailors also used the baths for washing.

The way to and from the hot springs was difficult and conditions often unsafe, as streams could swell with water when it rained and overflow. This was hard and dangerous work, accidents happened, and there are instances of women falling into swollen streams and drowning beneath heavy burdens. In 1885, work began on constructing a road to make it easier for people to reach the hot springs, with the hope that carrying heavy laundry would cease with improved transportation.

The use of the hot springs decreased when the Laundry Sping Heating System was installed in 1930, and the springs run dry today.

Margrét Jónsdóttir (1893-1971), a poet, editor, and teacher, best known for composing 'Ísland er land þitt', wrote the following poem about Þórunn, a laundry woman who did laundry for others while she lived in poverty.

Old Þórunn by Margrét Jónsdóttir

Old Thorunn, the washerwoman
Plods along, stunned and cold;
Another day of aching toil
Is finally all told.
Before her, winter’s snow-white bolts
Of softest wool unfold.

Many of our finest ladies
Trust to old Thorunn’s brush;
Her work is wanted everywhere;
She won’t slack off or rush;
She’ll cross the bridge, she’ll climb the Slope;
She’ll come through rain or slush.

Swollen, knotted, bluish red hands,
Sloping shoulders, smarting feet,
That has long been Thorunn’s fashion
Plodding up and down the street;
From her headscarf stray locks dangle,
Long since gray, seldom neat.

Glance into the glittering brilliant
Color-spangled banquet hall:
Perfect collars, pure-white linen,
Choicest people, one and all,
So many sparkling, polished things!
“Be glad! Rejoice!” they call.

Old Thorunn came to scrub and shine
And then she spent the night
In her small hut that lacked a stove
And seldom caught the light;
Not many linens there, I think,
Got starched and pressed snow-white.

Was she ever young and blooming
Like the ladies on the Slope?
Did she have her own bright future,
Her loves, her faith, her hope?
Had she a right like you and me
To riches and broad scope?

Winter spreads its woollen homespun,
Winds the earth in clean fresh cloth,
Evens out, erases footprints;
Also yours, Thorunn, are lost.
Out of the clouds a crescent moon
Comes shining, pale and soft.

Translated by Sarah Brownsberger (unpublished)

Laugavegur 11

Ásta Sigurðardóttir

Ásta Sigurðardóttir was born in 1930 on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. She moved to Reykjavík at a young age, completing her national exam in 1946, and subsequently attended the Teacher's College, graduating in 1950 with a teaching degree. Ásta started engaging in writing and visual arts at a young age, and her short stories and artwork quickly gained attention. Ásta's first collection of short stories, Sunday Evening to Monday Morning, made a significant impact when it was published in 1961.

Much has been written and discussed about the author Ásta Sigurðardóttir, and here is a selection of material available online about her:

Bragi Kristjónsson writes about Ásta Sigurðardóttir in the online publication Herðubreið in October 2014.

An article in Morgunblaðið’s collection about Ásta Sigurðardóttir from the year 2000

Páll Ásgeir Ásgeirsson wrote an article about Ásta Sigurðardóttir's career in the magazine Ský in 2007

Laugavegur 11

There was a popular café simply named after its address, Laugavegur 11, in the 1950s. The place, where the restaurant Ítalía is today, was heavily frequented by artists and students. For example, the poets Dagur Sigurðarson, Ásta Sigurðardóttir, Þorsteinn from Hamar, Jón Óskar, Thor Vilhjálmsson, Jóhann Hjálmarsson, Ari Jósefsson, Stefán Hörður Grímsson, Jónas Svafár, and Elías Mar would sit there; the place was especially a refuge for those somewhat at odds with prevailing traditions.

Among the elder poets who also frequented the place were Jóhannes from Kötlur, Steinn Steinarr, and Þórbergur Þórðarson, and Þorsteinn from Hamar much later stated that their visits were considered a great honor for the venue. Jón Óskar dedicates an entire chapter in his memoir 'The Generation of the Cold War' (1975) to this gathering place of young poets.

In an interview with Nína Björk Árnadóttir in Nýtt Líf in 1986, the visual artist Alfreð Flóki says the following about Laugavegur 11 when Nína Björk asks him if he has socialized much with his colleagues over the years:

I haven't socialized with my so-called colleagues, although I certainly admire them from afar. I have mingled more with poets and authors. I met most of those who are my friends today at Laugavegur 11, that good café, and it was Sigurður Oddgeirsson, now a principal in Greenland, who first took me there. There I met Jóhann Hjálmarsson. And Þorsteinn from Hamar, Ásta Sigurðardóttir, Úlfur Hjörvar, the late Ari Jósefsson, Elías Mar, Sturla Tryggvason, Bragi Kristjónsson, Helgi the master watchmaker and painting collector Guðmundsson, Dagur Sigurðar … There was also the so-called Intelligentía … in which we were a few selected gentlemen and three waitresses from Laugavegur 11.

When the coffee house closed in the evenings, we went on long health-improving walks or car rides, debated, philosophized, and speculated about life and art, analyzing all things down to the marrow.

"Alfreð Flóki … Who might he be and how might he be?" Nýtt líf, issue 8, volume 9, 1986.

Dagur Sigurðarson wrote a poem of longing for the place, 'Epistle from Abroad,’ (Ljóðabréf frá útlöndum) which could be said to be an entirely different kind of patriotic poem than tradition dictates:

Epistle from Abroad

Edinburgh's tree trunks:
gigantic steel pillars
Their crowns: a mesh of rusted
barb wire, veiled in smog

- I long to return to Lellef's

The sheeple in Copenhagen:
war-time raised bunglers

Never vaulting the pen walls
as people would in Hornafjörður

- I long to return to Lellef's

Vienna's air:
a searing inferno,
yet clingingly moist.

The "beautiful blue" Danube
a deceptive guise,
it’s gray and brown and dirty.

- I long to return to Lellef's

Never rest in foreign fields.
You’ll be besieged by creeping pests

- I long to return to Lellef's


Melkot was one of the last turf houses in Reykjavík and stood approximately where the Prime Minister's Residence on Tjarnargata is located today (in the southern corner of the property). This workingman's cottage belonged to the land of Melhús and was built in the 18th century.

Melkot, which is the model for Brekkukot in the novel The Fish Can Sing (1957) by Halldór Laxness, was demolished in 1915, and it was there that Halldór's parents met while they were farmhands. The last tenants of Melkot were Magnús Einarsson and Guðrún Klængsdóttir, Guðrún's sister was Halldór's grandmother, and he was very familiar with the farm in his childhood.

From The Fish Can Sing:

[...] to the south of the churchyard in our future capital city of Reykjavík, just where the slope begins to level out at the southern end of the Lake, on the exact spot where Gudmundur Gúdmúnsen (the son of old Jón Gudmundsson, the owner of Gúdmúnsen’s Store) eventually built himself a fine mansion-house – on this patch of ground there once stood a little turf-and-stone cottage with two wooden gables facing east towards the Lake; and this little place was called Brekkukot. This was where my grandfather lived, the late Björn of Brekkukot who sometimes went fishing for lumpfish in springtime; and with him lived the woman who has been closer to me than most other women, even though I knew nothing about her: my grandmother. This little turf cottage was a free and ever-open guest-house for anyone and everyone who had need of shelter. At the time when I was coming into this world, the cottage was crowded with people who would nowadays be called refugees – people who flee their country, people who abandon their native homes and hearths in tears because conditions at home are so desperate that their children cannot survive infancy.

Translated by Magnus Magnusson.

Pósthússtræti 5

Málfríður Einarsdóttir

Málfríður Einarsdóttir‘s (1899-1983) first book, ‘Samastaður í tilverunni’ (A Place to Belong), was published in 1977, when she was at the age of 78. She lived in an apartment at Pósthússtræti 15, with her husband Guðjón Eiríksson, a caretaker of the building.
It was surprising that such a talented author emerged so late in her life, but Málfríður had been writing for years before her first book was published. In addition to her autobiographical books and fiction, her poems and articles appeared in journals and newspapers, and she was also an active translator.

Málfríður's books are characterized by original topics and a personal tone, which had few parallels in Icelandic literature. Their content is autobiographical, yet Málfríður did not follow the conventional template of the genre, which dictates a linear narrative from birth to the present. The narrative of her works is fragmented, and the context not always immediately clear, as the texts were written over a long time with breaks and interjections.

Málfríður suffered from tuberculosis for decades and was bedridden for a long time due to poor health. She was reportedly always writing, and the following was written by the poet and Málfríður's publisher, Sigfús Daðason, in her obituary:

Málfríður Einarsdóttir was a writer of body and soul, possessed by a passion bordering on graphomania. She wrote every single day, if possible: nulla dies sine linea, and I suppose that her last words were written on Friday, October 21. She took ill on October 22 and was moved to a hospital. She passed away on the afternoon of October 25.

From A Place to Belong

I have always had a place to call my own, at least it has never come to the point where I had to be nowhere. Certainly, a few places have closed to me, many more have never opened, and at some, I was allowed to stay simply because the law prohibits hospitals from turning away the sick unless they break the rules. At my current home, I have been able to stay the longest. Another place where I stayed a long time was my childhood home, where I really didn't have a place that I could call my own, safe from intrusion or worse; I slept above my paternal aunt in her bed, and she was fond of this child who belonged to no one. It was a cramped space, but a space nonetheless, although I am not entirely sure it was livable in the truest sense there, although I lived, or perhaps just existed. The cold was intense; it was called a draft. Outside this small, miserable house, which was hardly my own place at all, began the marsh. It was not good to step into it. Beyond the marsh lay other marshes. Most places were difficult to traverse. Yet it happened that the sun shone brightly and the meadow was dry, enough so that one might wander beyond it and set up treefigures on a mudsill, where they were supposed to dwell. For it was my nature to want to consider a place of its own for everything, especially that which had been forgotten or left behind.

Málfríður Einarsdóttir, A Place to Belong, 2008: Forlagið (1st edition, 1977: Ljóðhús)

Svava Jakobsdóttir

The Literary Landmark was unveiled on October 7, 2015, during the Reykjavík Reads Festival in the City of Literature, dedicated to Svava Jakobsdóttir (1930-2004). Svava was an author and playwright, best known for her novels, short stories, and plays. Svava served as a member of the Alþingi for the People's Alliance from 1971 to 1979.

About Svava Jakobsdóttir from the Literary Web:

In the mid-20th century, the magazine 'Líf og list' conducted a short story competition. The winner was a nineteen-year-old girl, Svava Jakobsdóttir, and her story, "The Woman in the Basement," appeared in the July 1950 issue of the publication. As far as can be determined, this was Svava's first story to be printed. Svava did not include it in her later books and may have considered it an early imperfection in her writing, but as a contribution to the tradition of Icelandic realism in short story writing, this story stands strong. It bears witness to Svava's early interest in delving beneath the surface of the setting, which is often taken for granted in storytelling, especially concerning housing. From the start, Svava understood that the dwellings which frame people's lives are meaningful in more ways than one; we call such a refuge 'a place to live', (‘húsnæði’ in Icelandic which combines ‘hús’ and ‘næði’, or ‘house’ and ‘privacy’ respectively) but the 'privacy' can be limited when homes are explored as a stage for existence and a mirror of the human being.

Ástráður Eysteinsson

Tryggvi Emilsson

Author Tryggvi Emilsson (1902-1993) lived in Blesugróf from 1947 to 1956. His memoirs are an important resource about the life and struggle of the working class in Iceland during the 20th century, comprising the books 'Fátækt fólk' (Poor People), 'Baráttan um brauðið' (The Struggle for Bread), and 'Fyrir sunnan’ (Down South). They were published between 1976 and 1979, and the first two books were nominated for the Nordic Council's Literary Prize.

In the third volume, Tryggvi describes, among other things, the remarkable development of Blesugróf. He and his family were among the first residents of the area, living in a house named Gilhagi, which stood on a patch of grass between what are now houses number 15 and 17. A fir tree that Tryggvi planted in 1952 stands out of the sidewalk between these houses.

Tryggvi and his family were among the thousands who flocked to the capital in the 1940s, coming from Akureyri.

The place-name Blesugróf — Blaze’s Hollow — probably came into being because a mare with a blaze on her head lay there to rest and later when the long winter ended, was found there dead. Maybe she had been too thin and wasted to foal; cold winters could be very rough on man’s most vital servant.

Tryggvi Emilsson: Fyrir sunnan (Down South)

The houses on Blesugróf were built by low-income people at the end of the Second World War. They put down shacks or added to structures already there. For example, Gilhagi was originally a bathhouse for the British occupation force, but Tryggvi converted it into a two-family house, as described in his book. During the occupation, Blesugróf was the location of New Mercur Camp, used by the armed forces. The land was unzoned, but several homesteads and summer cottages had risen there starting in the 1930s. To the west of the settlement was a road known as Útvarpsstöðvarvegur (Radio Station Road) or Breiðholtsvegur, and the area was for a time called the Breiðholt neighborhood. The settlement continued to grow until a new residential area was planned there in the early 1960s. Several houses from the neighborhood's early years still stand, but others, like Gilhagi, have been removed.

Ingólfur Arnarson

Ingólfur Arnarson is the most famous of the settlers, arriving around the year 872 and the first to claim land here. Ingólfur sailed here with his brother Hjörleifur from Norway to escape the tyranny of King Hákon the Fair-Haired of Norway. Hjörleifur was killed by his slaves shortly after arriving in Iceland. Ingólfur's wife was Hallveig Fróðadóttir. His settlement and choice of location are described in the Book of Settlements as follows:

When Ingólfur saw Iceland, he cast his high-seat pillars overboard for good luck; he decreed that he would establish his home where the pillars reached land. Ingólfur claimed the land now called Ingólfshöfði, while Hjörleifur landed on the west side of the country where there was a scarcity of water. Then the Irish slaves mixed flour and butter to make bread they called 'óþorstlátt’ (not making thirsty); they named it minnþak. When it was ready, there came a heavy rain, and they collected water on their awnings. But when the minnþak began to mold, they threw it overboard, and it drifted ashore to a place now called Minnþaksakseyri.

Ingólfur sent his slaves to search for the high-seat pillars, which were found in a bay filled with smoke. Ingólfur moved his farm there and named the place Reykjavík.

Much has been written about Ingólfur and his stay in Reykjavík. These are vague sources, but attempts have been made to justify them with archaeological finds in Reykjavík, such as the Settlement Exhibition 872±2, which aims to shed light on the lifestyles of the original settlers.

Ingólfur and the settlement of Iceland have also inspired many authors, exemplified by the poem 'Ingó' by Þórarinn Eldjárn.


On the shore, Ingólfur stands,
In a mood so dour and grim,
Back and forth, he searches lands,
But his pillars, they elude him.

He finds a rubber shoe, so old,
And glass floats in a pile,
But his high-seat pillars, bold
Missing, all the while.

He spots houses, countless, bright,
With dishwashers and phones:

Up he walks on green hill's face,
Turns a drunken statue, quite,
And there remains, in timeless grace,
A picture-perfect sight.

(Unofficial translation)

From the book 'Halastjarna' (Comet) from 1997. Published by Forlagið.

Þórarinn Eldjárn is not the only one to have written poems about Arnarhóll. Some of which can be found on the Poetry Map of Reykjavík.

Jón Árnason

Jón Árnason (1819–1888), a pioneering collector of Icelandic folklore. In his memoirs, he shares that from an early age he was eager to hear stories, and no one in his childhood home could escape telling them to him, even though he would sometimes become so frightened that he had to ask his mother to hold him in bed. Jón began collecting folklore in 1845 with Magnús Grímsson, and their collection 'Íslenzk ævintýri' (Icelandic Fairy Tales) was published in 1852. Magnús passed away in 1860, but Jón continued the collection, and his 'Íslenskar þjóðsögur og ævintýri' (Icelandic Folk Tales and Fairy Tales) was first published in two volumes in 1862 and 1864. Jón was Iceland's first national librarian and instrumental in establishing a museum of antiquities, along with the painter Sigurður Guðmundsson. Together they oversaw the museum, which later became the National Museum of Iceland.

A Literary Landmark dedicated to Jón Árnason is located at Laufásvegur 5, where Jón and his wife Katrín Þorvaldsdóttir Sívertsen (1829–1895) built their home in 1880, and where Jón lived until his death. The house is made of hewn gray basalt assembled with lime from Esja. It has sometimes been called Jón's House.

Skáldastígur (Poet's Path)

Adjacent to Unuhús, which stands at Garðastræti 15, is a very small path called ‘Skáldastígur’ (Poet's Path) that leads down to Mjóstræti in the Grjótaþorp neighborhood.

Poet's Path is neither paved nor laid with cobblestones and remains almost unchanged from the time when Unuhús was a haven for poets, artists, and all kinds of outsiders during the time of Erlendur Guðmundsson and his mother Una Gísladóttir in the early 20th century. The path was so named because poets walked up to Unuhús via it, as it was one of the main routes through Grjótaþorp, and it was also known as Götuhúsastígur after the croft of Götuhús.

Unuhús is most notably featured in the works of poets Halldór Laxness and Þórbergur Þórðarson. It served as a refuge and meeting place for young artists in the early decades of the twentieth century. The path has now been preserved.

Una was a widow who earned income from renting out rooms and taking in boarders, and she and her children also took in various outsiders. Erlendur was Una's only child to reach adulthood and he took over the house from his mother.

Erlendur was known as a broad-minded and educated man, though his schooling was modest, and the poets who visited the house praised him in their writings. He is said to be the model for the organist in Halldór Laxness' novel 'The Atom Station'.

From 'The Eccentric' by Þórbergur Þórðarson

I had never seen such a pleasant room before. It was bright and gleaming, all its colors were clean and pure and it seemed that every board of the paneling and ceiling and every object inside spoke like a living thing and breathed a warm and friendly welcome. It was like a luminous world that existed irrespective of the greyness and rain in the country. No object inside spoke of private property. It was as if the room belonged to no one. It was as if it just stood here on the world’s highway and all of humanity could walk in uninvited. I liked it here. I felt like I should always have a home here.

Reykjavík: Mál og menning, 1993

Einar Benediktsson

Einar Benediktsson (1864-1940), poet and entrepreneur, lived here in Höfði from 1914 to 1917. Einar was a cosmopolitan and idealist; he traveled widely and proposed many innovative ideas that have kept his name prominent, even if they didn't all become reality. However, it is Einar's poetry that endures. He published five books of poetry and is considered one of the nation's foremost poets.

Einar Benediktsson, 1864-1940, was one of the nation's most esteemed poets in the early 20th century. In addition to writing poetry, he was a lawyer, magistrate of Rangárvallasýsla, editor and publisher of Dagskrá, a founder of the National Defense Party, and a financier with European connections and ideas about major power plant projects in Iceland.

Surf (Brim)

Mighty heartbeat of the ocean‘s cold depths,
my strength and peace I drink from your sound.
Within your ephemeral, trembling waves
I hear time‘s onward-marching steps
and my blood races as the surf pounds.

I turn my soul to the ocean that enslaves,
that beyond the sun drinks from my life‘s stream.
I see my own sky with its sunlit drapes
blend at the horizon in the shadow‘s caves
and I plunge into my mind‘s deepest dream.

I plunge into the surf that sucks at the shore
and propel my soul to where recollection stops.
I feel an affinity with the cold waves
as one of the measured and counted drops,
as a snatch of sound in the eternal ocean‘s roar.

Translation: Bernard Scudder from ‘Icelandic Poetry in the translation of Bernard Scudder’. Saga forlag, 2012

Historian Guðjón Friðriksson wrote the biography of Einar Benediktsson, which was published in 1997 and for which the author received the Icelandic Literary Prize.

Torfhildur Hólm

Torfhildur Þorsteinsdóttir Hólm (1845-1918) is often called Iceland's first professional writer, as she was the first Icelandic author to receive a writer's salary. The name of the writer's grant, which the Alþingi awarded her in 1889, was in fact changed to 'widow's benefits' due to strong opposition to the writer's salary. Torfhildur herself said in a letter from the turn of the century in 1900 that she had been the first woman in the country to be naturally judged to reap the bitter fruits of old, deep-seated prejudices against literary women.

Torfhildur primarily wrote historical novels and was a pioneer, as the genre had not been common here before. Additionally, Torfhildur blazed trails as the first Icelandic woman to publish and edit a magazine when she started the publication of Draupnir in 1891. Draupnir was a magazine for women, often featuring news of the women's movement in the United States.

Torfhildur lived at Ingólfsstræti 18 in her last years and died of the Spanish flu in 1918.

The website, has the story 'Týndu hringarnir’ (The Lost Rings) by Torfhildur.

Theodóra Thoroddsen

Theodóra Thoroddsen (1863-1954), a poet, is especially known for her verse narratives. Her verse narrations were first published in a book in 1916 with illustrations by Guðmundur Thorsteinsson (Muggur), her nephew. The book was reissued in 1938 and illustrated by Sigurður Thoroddsen in addition to Muggur. It has been reprinted three times, most recently in 2000. Theodóra's writings were finally published in 1960.

Theodóra's poems, stanzas, and sagas were widely published, among others in the Monthly Magazine of the Reykjavik Women's Reading Society (1911-1931). She translated stories from other languages and also collected folklore. 'Islandsk folketru' was published in Christiania in 1924, based on her manuscript. Theodóra was also an artistic craftswoman, and exhibits have been held featuring her work.

Theodóra was married to Skúli Thoroddsen, and they had thirteen children. Their upbringing was considered rather liberal by the standards of their time. The family moved to Vonarstræti 12 in 1908, and the house was later moved to Kirkjustræti in 2010 where it now stands, and is owned by Alþingi. In the outbuilding, there was a printing press operated by Skúli, where the newspaper Þjóðviljinn, for instance, was printed for a time.

The historical novel 'Vonarstræti' (2008) by Ármann Jakobsson, which tells the story of Theodóra and Skúli, is also dedicated to the history of this famous house.

My Role

In this world, my role was clear,
Through sweltering heat and winter's chill,
To wipe my children, each new year,
In life's monotonous, ceaseless drill.

I longed to roam like lambs at play,
In fields where green and blue skies meet,
Yet freedom's not for those who stay
Bound by duty's never-ending beat.

I yearned to feel the blooms and skies,
Of days both long and bright,
But duty roared with thunderous cries,
"You're only fit to mend things right."

On my life, society has cast,
Deemed me worthless, fit for toil,
Held by roles that are so vast,
In a world that churns like soil.

Should hell arrive with scythe in hand,
To cut my tethered earthly tie,
I fear my fate in that forlorn land,
Will be to mend, not question why.

(Unofficial translation)

Neighborhood of the Gods (Goðahverfi)

Around Skólavörðuholt, streets are named after Norse mythology. Examples include Freyjugata, Njarðargata, Urðarstígur, Lokastígur, Nönnugata, Haðarstígur, and Þórsgata. For this reason, the neighborhood is sometimes called the 'neighborhood of the gods', and it was originally supposed to be named Ásgarður, but the name did not stick.

Our main sources for Norse mythology and pagan beliefs are found in Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda. The Codex Regius of both the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda are preserved at the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies in Reykjavík.

Prose Edda

Snorri Sturluson wrote the Prose Edda around 1220, which along with the Poetic Edda, is one of our main sources on pagan beliefs and Norse mythology.

The website of the Árni Magnússon Institute has the following to say about the Prose Edda:

The Prose Edda is divided into four parts. First, there is a preface which can be seen as a sort of philosophical introduction to the entire work. There, pagan religions are traced back to ancient worship of nature, and the Norse gods are described as descendants of Priam, King of Troy, who migrated to the Nordic countries and were revered as deities there.

The second part is Gylfaginning, a framed narrative in the form of a question contest between three deities and King Gylfi of Sweden, who approaches them disguised as the traveler Gangleri. In the deities' answers to Gylfi's questions, there is a detailed overview of Norse myths from the origin of giants and gods and the creation of the world to its destruction in Ragnarok. There are numerous references to verses from the Poetic Edda such as Völuspá, Vafþrúðnismál, and Grímnismál, occasionally to versions other than those preserved in the Codex Regius of the poems.

The third part of the Prose Edda, Skáldskaparmál, also starts as a conversation between Bragi, the god of poetry, and Ægir, the sea god. Bragi tells various myths at first, but then the narrative shifts from dialogue to explanations and an overview of poetic language. Numerous examples of metaphors and terms from poems by Norwegian and Icelandic poets from various times are presented, often citing verses that are now lost. Additionally, narratives from mythological and heroic sagas are woven in to explain the origins of metaphors.

The final part of the Prose Edda is Háttatal, a tripartite poem of 102 stanzas meant to illustrate various poetic meters.

The Prose Edda is preserved in several versions, the most notable of which is the Codex Regius, a parchment manuscript written by an unknown scribe in the early 14th century. Other editions include Uppsalabók and Ormsbók, also 14th-century parchment manuscripts, and Trektarbók, a paper manuscript from around 1600.

  • More details about the Prose Edda on the Árni Magnússon Institute website

Codex Regius of the Poetic Edda

The manuscript is written by an unknown scribe from the latter half of the 13th century, and the Codex Regius is the oldest collection of the Poetic Edda that has been preserved, and it may be said to be the most famous book of the Icelanders.

The Poetic Edda tells of pagan gods and heroes, and traditionally they are divided into god poems and hero poems. Among the god poems are Völuspá and Hávamál, Þrymskviða, Vafþrúðnismál, Skírnismál, Hymiskviða, and Lokasenna. Among the hero poems are Völundarkviða, Fáfnismál, Helreið Brynhildar, Guðrúnarkviða, Atlakviða, Oddrúnargrátur, and Sigurðarkviða.

The Codex Regius is undoubtedly the most significant manuscript in the possession of Icelanders and the most famous Icelandic book worldwide, so much so that some have referred to it as the Mona Lisa of Iceland. Many modern authors have drawn inspiration from its poems in all types of literature. One of the latest examples is Gerður Kristný's poetry collection from 2010, 'Blóðhófnir', which is based on Skírnismál and interprets the poem differently from the traditional interpretation. The Codex Regius plays a central role in Arnaldur Indriðason's novel of the same name, to mention just two diverse examples among many.

As previously stated, the Codex Regius is preserved at the Árni Magnússon Institute in Reykjavik. It was long kept at the Royal Library in Copenhagen but was returned to Iceland in April 1971.