A Brief History of Skagafj÷r­ur

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

The previous history of Skagafj÷r­ur was decisively shaped by the presence of the bishop''s seat. On the secular side, however, there were powerful chieftains living at such Skagafj÷r­ur estates as Reynista­ur, Flugumřri and ┴s, to name a few. Gu­rÝ­ur Ůorbjarnardˇttir settled at the farm at GlaumbŠr. 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, Skagafj÷r­ur''s major harbours were Hofsˇs and Kolkuˇs, both directly connected with the episcopate. Likewise, the main route east to Eyjafj÷r­ur over Hjaltadalshei­i and Heljardalshei­i passed by Hˇlar.

Known as flashy dressers, the people of Skagafj÷r­ur 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 Skagafj÷r­ur, with gossipers claiming that many people from Skagafj÷r­ur 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 Skagafj÷r­ur residents made their living through agriculture, many were also engaged in fishing. Stagnation can be said to have marked many fields of Skagafj÷r­ur 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.

Sau­ßrkrˇkur 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 ┴sgrÝmsson, ôthe Greenland voyagerö. In 1875 he sold the store to the merchant Ludvig Popp, who operated it for decades under the name of Poppĺs Store (Poppsverslun). Ludvig Popp may be called the father of Sau­ßrkrˇkur. 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 Kaupmannah÷fn (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 Sau­ßrkrˇkur 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 Sau­ßrkrˇkur had 964 inhabitants and in 1970 they numbered 1596. Today Sau­ßrkrˇkur has 2620 residents.

Skagafj÷r­ur municipality, the larger one in the region of Skagafj÷r­ur, 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 Sau­ßrkrˇkur, whereas agriculture remains by far the largest economic sector in other parts of the region.

Theatre has strong roots in Skagafj÷r­ur, and entertainment found a common denominator through the years in the form of regional get-togethers, sometimes called SŠluvika 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 Skagafj÷r­ur county committee members. The festival of SŠluvika is still celebrated today, as a holiday when Skagafj÷r­ur residents flaunt their most notable cultural offerings.

Numerous nationally renowned artists have been connected with Skagafj÷r­ur. In former times these included the poet HallgrÝmur PÚtursson and the sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, and in more recent times the painters Jˇn Stefßnsson, Sigur­ur and Hrˇlfur Sigur­sson, Jˇhannes Geir Jˇnsson and ElÝas B. Halldˇrsson; the writers Hannes PÚtursson, Gu­r˙n ┴rnadˇttir from Lundi and Gyr­ir ElÝasson; and the composers PÚtur Sigur­sson and Ey■ˇr Stefßnsson, to name just a few.

Author:
Unnar Ingvason, director
Skagafj÷r­ur Centre for Scholarship


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

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