“ Location: Rekjavik „
Though there are some striking and handsome architectural sights in Reykjavik, when one thinks of attractions in Iceland, it is not usually those in the built environment that spring to mind. However, there is one building that stands out above all others on the island, and not just because of its physical location.
The Hallgrimskirkja is the largest church in Iceland and it dominates the Reykjavik skyline. I got my first glimpse of it as we came into the city from Keflavik airport; it's one of those buildings that can be seen from different parts of the city, yet can seem hidden when you're close to it. The best way to approach it, to really capture the full impact, is on foot from Skolavordustigur; how you perceive the details of the design, the colour and the construction continually alter as you climb the hill towards the church. (Note: Skolavordustigur is a rather nice shopping street crammed with enticing stores selling handmade goods as well as little bistros and cafes so getting to the church may take longer than you expect).
This astonishing church was commissioned in 1937 but I didn't pick up on that from the design; that's hardly surprising since the graduated designed was intended to resemble basalt columns in an echo of Iceland's volcanic landscape (very similar to the columns of Northern Ireland's Giant's Causeway) and it isn't really representative of any prevailing architectural trend of the period. If anything, this building reminds me of the modernist buildings of Brasilia. The building took a total of thirty-eight years to be completed (work started in 1948 and was finally completed in 1986) though I assume that the original design was adhered to. The 75 metre tower was among the first parts to be completed, the steeple and wings not until the 1970s. It has been said, by people who don't like the design of the church, that it resembles a seal without a beach-ball; personally I do like the design but I do see what they mean.
The church is named after Hallgrimur Petursson, an Icelandic cleric and hymn writer; the three bells in the tower represent Hallgrímur, his wife, and their daughter who died young. The statue in front of the church, however, is of Leifur Eiriksson, an Icelander who is regarded (at least in Iceland) as being the first European to discover America (apparently this was in 1000 AD, some five hundred years before Christopher Columbus made a a song and dance about it). The statue was a gift from the American government in 1930 on the occasion of the 1000th anniversary of the Althing, Iceland's parliament, and the gesture is regarded as a tacit agreement that the Icelander was there first.
Entry to the church is free but there is a charge to take the lift up to the viewing platform. We were fortunate to visit on a very clear (but cold) day and probably wouldn't have paid to go up the tower had the visibility not been as good. Only four people can travel in the lift at once so there may be a queue at busy times. Once you get as far as the lift goes there are a couple more flights of steps to the viewing platform. The cost at the time of writing is 700 ISKr for adults (£3.74) and 100 ISKr (£0.53) for children aged between 7 and 14 years.
The views are wonderful: the little corrugated houses of the tiny city are stretched out like a colourful patchwork quilt while the snow capped mountains make a striking contrast between the city and the island's rugged natural landscape. Were it not for the biting cold, I could have spent several hours up there looking down at the technicolour toy town.
In contrast the interior is rather austere with very little decoration, though this is typical for the Lutheran church. It is however grand in a very simple understated way and the high vaulted nave is breathtaking. The most decorative element is the organ; it's fifteen metres tall and has over 5,000 pipes. Between mid-June and mid-August there are concerts of organ music three times weekly at lunch time or in the evening.
It's worth taking the time to walk all the way round the exterior of the church because there are some really quirky details that you can't see from the front. The bit I liked best was the little dome which reminded me partly of middle eastern bath-houses and partly of those little beehive shaped cottages in Puglia in the far south of Italy.
In a country that is famous for its natural landscapes there are few buildings that can be considered a must see but the Hallgrimkirkja is surely one of them. While the interior need not detail you long, it's worth the short walk to the church to go onto the viewing platform and to see the building close up. It must be the cheapest paid for experience in Reykjavik and worth every Krroner. Admittedly the tower is not for vertiginous but the views are truly memorable.
This church can be seen from almost anywhere in Reykjavik city and as you are approaching the city. This is not because the church is exceptionally high but more because everything else in the city is actually quite low rise so that the church which is on a bit of a hill does actually stand well above the other buildings. It is the sixth tallest building in the country so not surprising that it can be seen from all over Reykjavik.
Strangely the church actually looks bigger from further away than it does when you are up close. Once inside the main church part it is not anywhere near as big as some of our cathedrals and more like a decent sized town's church. However it is the largest church in all of Iceland.
The church was designed by Gudjon Samuelson who was the former state architect. Samuelson is supposed to have taken his inspiration from the volcanic basalt rock formations found in so many parts of Iceland. The church took an amazing 38 years to build as construction work began in 1945 and ended in 1986 which seems an incredibly long time to me and I am not sure why it did take so long as it really isn't as huge or complex as many other modern buildings which have been built is far less time.
The tower stands over 73 metres high and is certainly an impressive sight. It is not highly decorated or colourful nor are there any fine stone carved decorations but still it is impressive in its simplicity. It does indeed look like a rock edifice but beautifully symmetrical.
The church is open daily from 9.00 to 20.00 and is free to look around the church on ground level. If however you want to go up the tower in the lift then there of around 350ISK for adults, a discount for senior citizens and children from 6 to 12 are 50ISK.
Outside the church centrally located perfectly is a huge statue of the Icelandic explorer who actually discovered America, Leifur Eiriksson. He sailed to America in 1000 AD but this is largely forgotten in favour of Columbus's 1492 voyage of discovery maybe because of a lack of documentation at the time.
If you do visit I highly recommend paying to go up in the lift which takes you to the first level where the clocks can be seen from the outside. You can look through windows in the clocks and get fabulous views of Reykjavik from all four sides. I got some great photos taken through these windows which are parts of a circle so a curved shape which made a great frame.
Once at this level you can climb a stair case to the top and from here you can see from higher up and without glass obstructions but you do have to endure the icy winds so I went up felt as though I was being blown away and frozen so I retreated down to the next level again.
Downstairs in the church it is all very simple with few decorations. Some of the windows had stained glass pictures and there was a lot of modern polished wood around the altar area.. The church also is very proud of its organ which is the biggest in Iceland. It did indeed look pretty impressive from below and we were told It is 15 metres tall and weighs 25 tons!!
The church was opened in 1986 and its name comes from an Iceland priest and hymn writer named Hallgrimur Petursson. I have to admit not someone I had ever heard of before visiting this church.
The churches in Iceland tend to be Lutheran, as this is hence the simplicity and lack of decoration both outside and inside. Personally I loved the clean lies and simple stained glass modern designs and the tall simple windows making the area with the altar a bit like a ship in shape. The pulpit was ultra modern ad very simple which again I found attractive in comparison to the ornate carved ones so often found in old churches, it was a refreshing change.
The church is really a must visit place in Reykjavik if only for the wonderful views over the colourful rooftops of Reykjavik. The bells were pretty impressive too if you looked up instead of out of the clock windows. They didn't ring while we were there so not sure how noisy they would be if you are in the tower when they are rung.
This is a very different church both from the outside and the inside and well worth spending around an hour exploring. After you have been to the church you should visit Cafe Loki and sample some Icelandic specialities as they offer some great taster plates. They also have a great display of photos of the church taken in all different lights which is pretty impressive. Sitting in the café you can enjoy views of the church and see if from another angle too.
Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same username.