A Brief History of Skagafjrur

In 1798 the episcopal seat at Hlar was abolished, but in 1881 Skagafjararssla county purchased the property to establish an agricultural school. Today Hlar University College is a modern, busy university focussed on horse breeding, aquaculture and tourism.

The previous history of Skagafjrur was decisively shaped by the presence of the bishop''s seat. On the secular side, however, there were powerful chieftains living at such Skagafjrur estates as Reynistaur, Flugumri and s, to name a few. Gurur orbjarnardttir settled at the farm at Glaumbr. She had previously voyaged to North America and Rome and was without a doubt the most widely travelled woman of the Viking Age. Although there was a cloister at Reynistaur, that estate was also one of the major bastions of secular power.

Through the centuries, Skagafjrur''s major harbours were Hofss and Kolkus, both directly connected with the episcopate. Likewise, the main route east to Eyjafjrur over Hjaltadalsheii and Heljardalsheii passed by Hlar.

Known as flashy dressers, the people of Skagafjrur were proud and often preferred to seek other work than farming. In this they were considered rather distinct from other Icelanders. Horsemanship was also widespread in Skagafjrur, with gossipers claiming that many people from Skagafjrur would rather go horseback riding than bother with farm chores. Singing was also given more weight than in many other regions, and culture and literature prospered. Even though the vast majority of Skagafjrur residents made their living through agriculture, many were also engaged in fishing. Stagnation can be said to have marked many fields of Skagafjrur life from about 1650 until 1850, when the impact of the industrial revolution began to be felt, and the Icelandic demand for increased independence from Denmark received a great deal of local support. Trade practices likewise began to change and the general population began to migrate from the countryside. Many moved to North America, but others simply into villages and Iceland''s larger towns.

Saurkrkur was legally established as a market town in 1858, and travelling merchants began to trade on the nearby seashore. In 1871 the first resident, the blacksmith rni rnason, settled there and began to operate a public house. Two years later the first permanent store was built, founded by Hallur sgrmsson, the Greenland voyager. In 1875 he sold the store to the merchant Ludvig Popp, who operated it for decades under the name of Popps Store (Poppsverslun). Ludvig Popp may be called the father of Saurkrkur. He was in charge of or involved in numerous developments in the young community, organising the town to suit its rapid expansion. Around 1900 there were so many stores in the town that some wits called it Kaupmannahfn (Copenhagen), in reference to the large number of merchants, or kaupmenn. By then the population had multiplied past 400. In 1906 the first motor boat arrived in Saurkrkur and by 1916 a pier had been constructed. Shortly before the Second World War a harbour wall was completed. Little by little, a fishing industry was growing, although trading and services for the countryside continued as the main field of employment. In 1940 Saurkrkur had 964 inhabitants and in 1970 they numbered 1596. Today Saurkrkur has 2620 residents.

Skagafjrur municipality, the larger one in the region of Skagafjrur, is currently home to 4181 residents, with an additional 230 living in the independent Akrahreppur district. Overall, populations have fallen over the past decade. Today fishing, industry, commerce, and public services are the biggest fields of employment at Saurkrkur, whereas agriculture remains by far the largest economic sector in other parts of the region.

Theatre has strong roots in Skagafjrur, and entertainment found a common denominator through the years in the form of regional get-togethers, sometimes called Sluvika or Happy Week. These get-togethers can probably be traced back to 1874 and have included dramatic performances, dances, debates and all sorts of culture, long held in conjunction with an annual meeting of the Skagafjrur county committee members. The festival of Sluvika is still celebrated today, as a holiday when Skagafjrur residents flaunt their most notable cultural offerings.

Numerous nationally renowned artists have been connected with Skagafjrur. In former times these included the poet Hallgrmur Ptursson and the sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, and in more recent times the painters Jn Stefnsson, Sigurur and Hrlfur Sigursson, Jhannes Geir Jnsson and Elas B. Halldrsson; the writers Hannes Ptursson, Gurn rnadttir from Lundi and Gyrir Elasson; and the composers Ptur Sigursson and Eyr Stefnsson, to name just a few.

Author:
Unnar Ingvason, director
Skagafjrur Centre for Scholarship


Further information on local history is available at the Skagafjrur regional archives, where it is also possible to obtain information on publications of the Skagafjrur Historical Society or on other useful, informative references.

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