I adore turf houses, also called sod houses, they are so typical Icelandic. So I think it is proper to write about the oldest turf house in Iceland, the historical farm of Keldur in South-Iceland.
Keldur is one of only very few preserved turf houses in South-Iceland, the other ones are f.ex. the turf house at Austur-Meðalholt, which is now a museum, and at Skógar museum you will find a lovely reconstructed turf house.
Keldur farm is a historical place and here lived one of the characters in the Saga of Njáll, Ingjaldur Höskuldsson, who lived at Keldur from 974 until around year 1000.
In the 12th and 13th century Keldur was one of the manors of one of the most powerful clans in Iceland, the Oddi clan, and Jón Loftsson (1124-1197), who was their chieftain, lived at Keldur until his death in 1197. He was the most powerful chieftain of the old Norse religion, Ásatrú religion, in the 12th century. He also lived at the manor Oddi, which is nearby.
At the farm of Keldur you will find the oldest surviving turf buildings of this kind in Iceland. The front buildings are parallel to the farmyard, which is a design which has been used at Keldur since the middle ages. The hall of the turf houses is the oldest turf house hall in Iceland.
The turf houses at Keldur have been rebuilt many times. The present turf houses were rebuilt after big earthquakes shook the houses in 1896 and 1912.
The ruins of 16-18 farmsteads have been found at Keldur.
Close to Keldur is the well known volcano Mt. Hekla, which erupts pretty frequently, and from Keldur is a beautiful view of the volcano (see my photo above). Mt. Hekla can often been seen with this strange looking cloud on her top, which makes her look like she is wearing a cap with a tassel. I believe that this cloud formation is called "hekla".
Lava rocks from Hekla's eruptions were used for building the farmstead at Keldur. And driftwood was also used as a building material.
The other buildings apart from the farm are f.ex. a smithy, a cattle-shed, a stable, store-houses, a stockyard and a smithy.
The oldest remaining structure in Iceland is to be found at Keldur. An underpass was found by accident, as it were, when the residents were digging for a septic tank. It is believed to be from the 11th-13th century, at the time of the Viking Sturlungaöld age. The underpass leads from the farm to the creek and is believed to have been a way out during the Sturlungaöld age war.
My mother's cousin and her husband are the farmers of Keldur now, and his ancestors lived at Keldur. His grandfather was the last person to live in the old turf farm, or until 1946.
My mother's cousin allowed us to have a look into the old turf farm at Keldur and the church.
Additions were made to the turf farm in 1800, a sitting room (baðstofa) - which was rebuilt in 1891.
Since people are no longer living in the turf houses they get cold and damp. So a drying system is needed to keep them dry in winter time, but in summer time many of them are open to visitors.
The National Museum of Iceland bought the old turf farm in 1942 and the farmhouse is part of the National Museum Historic Buildings Collection. I plan on showing you all of the old houses in Iceland, which belong to this collection :)
It is possible to drive almost the whole way down to the turf houses at Keldur. By the information sign you will find a car park - leave your car there as to not disturb the farmers, and walk for a short distance to the old farmhouses.
You will encounter a sign in Icelandic saying: "Bílastæði - Gestir sem koma til að skoða bæinn á Keldum eru beðnir að skilja bíla eftir hér á stæðinu og ganga heim að bænum. - Þjóðminjavörður" - want me to translate ;) "Parking - Visitors, who come to see the farm at Keldur, are asked to leave their car here on this car park and walk to the farm".
First you will arrive at a cute little turf structure - it is a mill house, which runs by hydroelectric power (see my photo below).
The turf house is open to visitors from the 15th of June until the 15th of August from 10:00-17:00 (10 am to 5 pm). There is an entrance fee for adults, but free entrance for children under 18 years old.
Have a look at what UNESCO has to say about Keldur turf houses and all of the remaining turf houses in Iceland for that matter.
Below you will see the old lamb-houses (lambhús) at Keldur.
Keldur is well worth the detour from the ring-road 1. Keldur is located in South-Iceland, between the villages of Hella and Hvolsvöllur. After passing the village Hella, continue on ring-road 1, then onto road 264. Some of 264 is gravel, but it is suitable for 2WD cars. From Hella, it’s 19 km.
To reach this area you can either rent a car in Reykjavík for a day or two, or check out these self drive packages: 5 Day Self Drive South Coast Tour | The Golden Circle & Jökulsárlon Glacier Lagoon, 7 Day Self Drive Tour | South and West Coast & the Golden Circle.
Also check out the most popular guided tours of the South Coast of Iceland.