Luckily the day I had decided to dedicate as a museum day is the day when it started raining and just didn’t stop, which meant I visited a few more places than I’d actually intended to. The main museum I was interested in and which I had heard good things about, was the National Museum of Iceland.
It is a very good museum, the centre for preserving Iceland’s heritage and is located near the University of Iceland’s campus. It was founded in 1863 but its present site was opened in 2004.
The museum’s permanent exhibition is called Making of a Nation: Heritage and History in Iceland, and traces Iceland’s history from the settlement to the present, which certainly built on the things I’d been learning about the country from places like the Culture House.
The story of Iceland is told in chronological order, and includes the skeleton of a woman and a baby which is very moving, and which I didn’t feel it appropriate to take a picture of. The museum is full of interesting artefacts, laid out very well and with multimedia stations dotted around as well as the more traditional explanatory signs (all with English translation) and there were also plenty of staff on hand for extra explanations if needed.
It gives an excellent grounding in Icelandic history, particularly the development of religion in the country. It was also interesting to learn that the Icelandic language is so uniform because Icelanders moved around constantly, so different dialects never had the opportunity to develop.
Also surprising was the sheer number of the Icelandic population who died due to smallpox – which never caught on in the way it did on the European mainland, so Icelanders never developed an immunity – and through volcanic eruptions.
They also, somewhat randomly, hold the original chessboard used in some of the Fischer and Spassky chess games which took place in Reykjavik in 1972 and there is a mini exhibition with the chessboard at its centre along with pictures, caricatures and a video documentary on the subject which was very enlightening.
The Museum is definitely a place worth visiting and if you’re interested in the culture/historical side of Iceland is probably best viewed near the beginning of your trip so you start to understand the culture context of the country.