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 collection of turf houses.
Keldur turf-farm and an employee from the National Museum
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 the 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 one of the most powerful chieftains in Iceland 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 that has been used at Keldur since the middle ages. The hall (skáli) of the turf houses is believed to be the oldest turf house hall in Iceland.
I saw this exquisite artifact at Þjóðminjasafn Íslands - Iceland's National Museum. It is called Keldnaskrínið from the Keldnakirkja church and is on loan from the National Museum of Denmark. It is believed to date back to the first part of the 13th century and that it was made 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.
Mt. Hekla volcano
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 be seen with this strange-looking cloud on her top, which makes her look like she is wearing a cap with a tassel.
Lava rocks from Hekla's eruptions were used for building the farmstead at Keldur. And driftwood was also used as a building material.
Inside Keldur turf-farm
The other buildings at Keldur, 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 in 1932 by coincidence when the residents were digging for a septic tank. The underpass is believed to date back to the 11th-13th century, at the time of the Viking Sturlungaöld age.
The old underpass
The 25 meters long underpass leads from the farm to the creek and is believed to have been an escape passage during the Sturlungaöld age wars. It might also have been used to hold down the fort.
The daughter of Sighvatur Sturluson, Steinvör Sighvatsdóttir, lived at Keldur with her husband Hálfdan Sæmundsson, who was the grandson of the aforementioned Jón Loftsson.
See also my travel-blog on the Viking battles during the Age of the Sturlungs:
Inside Keldur turf-farm
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 inside the old turf farm at Keldur and the church.
Additions were made to the turf farm in 1800, a baðstofa - sitting room, 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 the wintertime, but in the summertime, many of them are open to visitors.
Inside Keldur turf-farm
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.
I just recently wrote this travel-blog about all the turf houses in Iceland, which is a start, but there are several stone buildings as well in the collection, which I will show you in another travel-blog.
Also 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.
The drying system in full swing inside Keldur turf-farm
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 not to 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 120-year-old mill house, which runs by hydroelectric power in Króktúnslækur creek. There are hundreds of springs at Keldur and the name, Keldur, stems from all these springs.
The clear spring water creates the two creeks, Króktúnslækur and Keldnalækur creeks, which in turn run into the river Eystri-Rangá. I have seen the water being described as the clearest and coldest in Iceland.
Below you will see the old lamb-houses (lambhús) at Keldur. By them runs Keldnalækur creek.
Lamb-houses at Keldur
The turf house is open to visitors in the summer months. There is an entrance fee for adults, but free entrance for children under 18 years old. In other seasons you can have a look at the turf-house and take some photos from the outside.
But be very respectful and don't visit other buildings at the adjacent farm Keldur, which is the home of the farmers.
My relative at Keldur, Drífa, has told me that some visitors have even opened and entered the farm's barn, which is strictly forbidden due to obvious reasons. So let's always be respectful and keep a low profile when visiting the turf farm at Keldur.
Looking out from the window of Keldur turf-farm
After passing the village Hella, continue on ring-road 1, then turn onto road 264. Part of road 264 is gravel, but it is suitable for 2WD cars. From Hella, the distance it’s 19 km. To reach this area you can rent a car in Reykjavík.
Here is the location of Keldur on the map. GPS: 63°49'17.9"N 20°04'25.4"W
Other travel-blogs I have written about turf houses in Iceland are, if you are interested in seeing what they look like:
Have a lovely time at Keldur :)