The historical Hólar in Hjaltadalur in North-Iceland

Hólar in Hjaltadalur is such a special place in Iceland and one of the best known historical sites here. It is very dear to us Icelanders. To me it is one of the most special places in Iceland and I always stay here when travelling in this area. My first photo was taken on an August night when Hólar were bathed in the midnight sun.

For ca 700 years Hólar used to be the capital of the north until Akureyri got that title. From 1106-1801 Hólar was the one of 2 bishopric in Iceland - The Northern bishopric and the educational capital of the north. The Agricultural school at Hólar has been operating since 1881. And there has been a University at Hólar since 2003.

Among the things you can see at Hólar is Hólakirkja Cathedral from 1763, Nýibær turf-house from 1854 and Auðunarstofa log-house.

Hólakirkja Cathedral

Hólakirkja Cathedral at Hólar in Hjaltadalur, north Iceland

A church has been a church at Hólar since the 11th century. The current church was erected in 1763 and is one of the oldest stone-churches in Iceland. It is red in colour and the red stones come from the mountain above Hólar.

Hólakirkja cathedral is the seventh church on this site and the fifth cathedral.

The first bishop at Hólar was Jón Ögmundsson helgi "the holy" - but the best known bishops are Guðmundur góði Arason, Guðbrandur Þorláksson, who published the first Icelandic Bible, Guðbrandsbiblía Bible, in 1584, and Jón Arason, who was the last Catholic bishop at Hólar. A copy of Guðbrandsbiblía Bible is on display in the church.

Hólakirkja Cathedral at Hólar in Hjaltadalur, north Iceland

The church tower is so lovely and one of its kind here in Iceland seeing that it is free-standing. It is 27 meters high and stands beside the church. The tower was built in 1950 on the 400th anniversary of the death of bishop Jón Arason, who was the last Catholic bishop of Iceland. He was beheaded in the year 1550 together with his sons at the change of religion to Lutheranism. A very sad story. 

The church tower is open to visitors and it is possible to walk up to the church bell. On the ground-floor there is a tiny chapel containing the earthly remains of Jón Arason. And a beautiful mosaic of Jón.

All in all there were 36 bishops at Hólar, 23 Catholic and 13 Lutheran.

I always visit the Cathedral in awe as there is such a big part of Iceland's history here. There are so many artefacts in the Cathedral and a beautiful altarpiece from 1520 - we Icelanders are not used to such ornamental churches, being Lutheran.

Nýibær turf-house

Nýibær turf- house in north Iceland

At Hólar there is a lovely turf-house called Nýibær or "New Farm" raised in 1860. It is called New Farm as the old farm was still there when the new farm was raised. People lived in the turf-house until 1945.

Nýibær turf-farm is now in the index of archaeological sites and relics and has belonged to The National museum of Iceland since 1958. It is open and admission is free. But it is different from other turf-houses, which are now museums in Iceland, in that it is almost empty, and the turf-house itself is the show-piece. And it is a beautiful show-piece, both inside and out. 

It is especially interesting walking around it, seeing the small windows in what seems to be only a grass-mound. The turf-farms only look like houses from the front - they are totally different from the side and from the back. 

Nýibær turf- house in north Iceland

Do NOT follow my example and climb on the turf-house ;) I added this photo as a profile photo on Facebook and people were asking me where on earth this photo was taken and I even got questions like: "Where did you find a hobbit house?" :)

Auðunarstofa log-house

Auðunarstofa log-house in north Iceland

You will see a beautiful log-house at Hólar. It was erected in remembrance of the Norwegian Auðun rauði Þorbergsson, who was a bishop at Hólar from 1313-1322. While he was bishop he built a log-house from Norwegian wood which he carried to Iceland with him from Norway. It became the quarters of the bishops at Hólar for five centuries.

In the early 19th century the log-house was dismantled and in 2002 a new log-house was built. The Norwegians donated the wood and it was built with tools like were used in the 14th century. 

At Auðunarstofa are the offices of the ordained bishop at Hólar located together with a parlour where concerts are held and meetings. In the cellar canonicals and old books are on display and the old chalices of the Cathedral at Hólar.

Gvendarbrunnur well

Gvendarbrunnur well in north Iceland

You will find a well called Gvendarbrunnur at Hólar. There are several wells in other places in Iceland with the same name, f.ex. at Klúka in Bjarnafjörður. They are said to have healing powers as Guðmundur góði Arason blessed them. Guðmundur the Good was a bishop at Hólar in 1203-1237 and a saintly man. The name Gvendarbrunnur comes from the nick-name of Guðmundur being Gvendur.

The main water reserve for Reykjavik in Heiðmörk is also called Gvendarbrunnar. The well here at Hólar was reconstructed in the 1950s.

Mt. Gvendarskál

Mt. Gvendarskál overlooking Hólar in north Iceland

There are lovely hikes at Hólar and a lot of things to see. One of the hikes takes you hiking up the mountain to Gvendarskál, where the above-mentioned Guðmundur góði Arason, who was bishop at Hólar in 1203-1237, used to go and pray. On the top of the mountain is an altar and a guestbook.

I hiked up to the mountain, but didn't get to the altar. It is a relatively easy hike but when you reach the top it gets rocky and on the top it is very rocky and a relatively long walk to the altar. The view from here of Hjaltadalur is breathtaking.

The population of Hólar is ca 100 people but in the winter-time ca 200. The University specialises in horse-breeding and horse-riding, fish-farming and fish-biology - together with tourism. 

The historical Hólar in Hjaltadalur in North-Iceland

Hólar in Hjaltadalur is located some 314 km away from the capital city, Reykjavík. You can rent a car in Reykjavík and drive up to Hólar in a day or two. Once you have reached the Viking fjord Skagafjörður take road 76 north and turn right on road 767. There are ca 11 km on this road to Hólar. Follow the sign "Velkomin heim að Hólum" or Welcome home to Hólar.

Don't miss visiting this important historical site when travelling up north in Iceland :)  Also check out the Tröllaskagi nature, culture and history tour. Guide to Iceland has also put together many self-drive tours with a detailed itinerary, car and accommodation included, which might prove to be useful when planning your Iceland trip.

Contact Regína