Iceland is a small country located in the North Atlantic. Its history has been closely linked to the Nordic countries, especially Denmark. In the 19th century, a nationalist and independence movement began to take shape that sought to disassociate itself from Danish rule. It was in this context of building a national identity that what would eventually become the National Museum of Iceland was formed.
In this museum there are exhibits that provide information about the cultural history of this small country. With his exhibitions, its goal is to encourage visitors to think about the past, present and future, promoting knowledge and innovation and maintaining a sense of community at all times. Let’s find out what can be found in the National Museum of Iceland.
History of the National Museum of Iceland
Before entering the museum, let’s learn a little about its history. The National Museum was created on February 24, 1863 under the name of the Antiquarian Collection. Until then, all the pieces that we admire today in this museum and in other Icelandic ones had been kept in private Danish collections.
With the creation of this institution, all the works that were scattered were concentrated in the Antiquarian Collection, a name that was kept until 1911, when it was changed to the National Museum of Iceland. During the first decades, the institution was housed in various penthouses in the capital, Reykjavík: in the Cathedral, the House of Corrections, the Parliament, the National Bank and the National Library).
In 1944, when the Republic was formed, Parliament decided to grant a building to house the museum. It was in 1950 when the collections were finally moved to the new building. The building was recently renovated to meet current conservation standards and requirements.
A tour of the National Museum of Iceland
As in any major museum, at the National Museum of Iceland there is what is called a ‘permanent collection’ and ‘temporary exhibitions’. The permanent collection of this museum is called Making of a Nation – Heritage and History in Iceland. In it we can go through the history of the Icelandic nation from its first human settlements to the present day.
Throughout the 2 floors that the permanent exhibition houses, we can admire approximately 2,000 objects and 1,000 photographs, all of them from the 20th century. The exhibition is a journey through time that begins with the ship of the first medieval settlers who crossed the ocean to make the island their new home. Just as the beginning of Icelandic history begins with a journey, the exhibition closes with an airport, which symbolizes the Icelanders’ gateway to the world.
The Vikings were the first settlers on the island, and from them we can admire utensils and tools, ritual masks and a statuette of Thor from Eyrarland. This last piece is one of the most popular vestiges of the collection.. With the arrival of Christianity, beautiful churches were built; some of its most exceptional stained glass windows and doors are on display in the museum.
The door of the Valþjófsstaður church is another of the most representative pieces in the permanent exhibition. Carved on it is a version of the Knight and Lion legend in which a lion becomes a companion to the knight who slew the dragon that held him captive.
A visit to the House of Culture
A visit to the House of Culture is included with admission to the National Museum of Iceland. This is one of the most beautiful historic buildings in Iceland, dating back to 1909. It is imperative to visit its beautiful exterior but, above all, it is interesting to admire the interior details.
The exhibition in the House of Culture houses collections from 6 major Icelandic cultural institutions. The works of art exhibited there are of various styles and periods; what’s more, they are presented together with museum objects and archive materials such as old books or maps.
To get to know Iceland a little better, visit its National Museum!
We know that national museums are institutions that have contributed to forging national identities. They show the “supposed” origins of the nation and its development throughout history, always in its official version. Iceland is no exception, but that does not mean that you should stop visiting them.
Knowing Iceland through its National Museum will allow you to know what the official national identity is, which you will be able to compare with reality, walking through its cities and towns and meeting its people. In addition, it will be a perfect opportunity to spend a few hours sheltered from the cold, and even to have a coffee accompanied by some local delicacy.