Premonitions sometimes appear as visions


Reykir in Ölfus is located along the mountain side on the outskirts of Hveragerði. The area is probably mostly known for  The Agricultural University of Iceland (AUI), which is currently operating there, and a little less known for its historical origin.

For a short time, before the horticultural college took over in 1939, it was used as a rehabilitation center for Tuberculosis patients.  Jónas Jónsson from Hrifla had great visions for this place, but it had to start somewhere. Inspired by the  Papworth Everard village (today  Royal Papworth Hospital) in Cambridge, Jónas dreamed of building a similar sanitarium in Reykir.

Reykir had long been known for its geothermal water and its value as a resource. They had also discovered that a couple of the heat cracks contained Radium (Ra). This chemical was rare and very expensive. In addition, it was considered an important chemical for various medical treatments. Another attraction to this spot was its shield against the cold and great potential for horticulture. Not only did the land have great benefits, but it also had a great view of the open land and the ocean.

Jónas Jónsson from Hrifla

Jónas wrote a petition to open a tuberculosis (TB) rehabilitation clinic at Reykir and the Althing accepted. Building in Reykir was quite economical. Due to its readily available resources, Jónas had figured it would cut costs by 2/3 of what it cost in Reykjavik. To get started on the construction, timber was brought in from Þingvellir to build the first house in the project.

Jónas thought he could use the radium to his advantage. He knew that in Italy many people visited the radium-contained hot springs every year to treat arthritis and all kinds of neuropathy. He also knew that in  Viborg, Denmark there was a large hospital servicing several hundred patients during the summer. They used radium rich mud from hot springs transported from Czechoslovakia to treat their patients. Iceland had such mud right there at Reykir. Jónas' vision of all kinds of people seeking natural healing for their illnesses was strong and hopeful.

The Tuberculosis rehabilitation village

When the work and rehabilitation center opened in 1931, they had room for 30 tuberculosis patients.  The goal was to build a small village where the patients could work with horticultural duties and other  handy work such as sewing and wood working. The center met all its goals. During the patients' rehabilitation, the center prepared them to get back into society by giving them light work duties and also taught them skills they could use in the future. As their main rehabilitation, they worked with plastics, wood working and sewing. They would then sell their products on the open market. The TB rehabilitation village closed down when the horticultural school took over. Instead, there is now a rehabilitation and health clinic in Hveragerði.

In an  article from 2014, around 100 banana plants were being grown in Reykir greenhouses. These bananas are harvested year round. As a rule of thumb, from the time the plant sprouts from the dirt, it takes about 18 months until the bananas are ready to be picked. It is calculated that one thousand kilos of bananas are being harvested each year.

Bananas growing at Reykir

Hlín Eiríksdóttir (1916-2003) was studying horticulture in Swanley, England. When she returned to Iceland in 1939, she brought with her banana plants to plant in Laugardalur, Reykjavik. These were the first banana plants to be grown in Iceland. In the 1950's some of the banana plants were brought to Reykir and in 2014 they were the only banana plants growing in Iceland.

Several plants and moss that grow in the hot earth have been recorded in the Hveragerði area. In Reykir, three types of plants have been recorded to grow in the earth heat. These are Laugadepla, Hveraaugnfró (extremely rare plant and has been protected) and Laugabrúða. The grass growing there is called Blóðkollur.

Laugadepla (Veronica anagallis-aquatica)

Photo taken in Iceland of Augnfró. Not sure if it is Hveraaugnfró (Euphrasia calida)

Laugabrúð (Callitriche stagnalis)

Reykir is also one of Iceland's main sources of geothermal heating. In 1922 Reykir used the hot water to heat up the summer homes in the area. They led the hot water into the kitchens, bathrooms and heaters. It didn't take long until this service extended to all the homes in the town. The first time a greenhouse was powered with the hot water at Reykir was in 1930. This water source became scarce and they had to find additional water sources by drilling the ground for hot water.

Concrete duct carrying geothermal water. .

The concrete duct, seen in the picture, allowed the hot water that was being pumped from the hot springs in  Reykir to be used in Reykjavik. You may have seen this on the drive from Reykjavik to Hveragerði.

One of the structures at Reykir is a house (built in 1939) called Fífilbrekka and used to be the vacation home of  Jónas Jónsson  from Hrifla. He was one of Iceland's most influential politicians.  Fífilbrekka

The much older history of Reykir began when the Norwegian chieftain, Ingólfur Arnarson, was forced to leave Norway. He set sails with his men and family and headed towards Iceland. When Ingólfur was close to land, he wanted the Norse gods to show him where to build his homestead. 

In seeking divine intervention, Ingólfur threw his two carved pillars overboard believing the gods would guide them towards a place to settle. It was important to him that the life he was about to make for himself was being guided by the gods.

They spent much of their time exploring the southern coast of Iceland. Ingólfur had his slaves search for his two pillars that were carved with the Norse gods.

With strong faith that his gods were guiding him, he ignored all suggestions about settling in the fertile ground they continuously passed while looking for the pillars. After what I can imagine was a long and strenuous three year search of the coastline, they finally found them in a bay where the ground was smoking. They called the place Smoky Bay or Reykjavik. They arrived in Reykjavik ca. 874 A.D.

Ingólfur arriving in Reykjavik with his wife and slaves

Although he made Reykjavik his homestead, he claimed all  the land from Ölfusá river in the east to Hvalfjörður in the west. He was quite generous with his land and gave much of it to his fellow Norwegians when they settled Iceland.

The Icelandic sagas mention him living in Reykir the winter of 873-874 before heading to Reykjavik. When Ingólfur was old and blind he had moved to Reykir where he lived out his days. He is believed to be buried on top of the mountain named after him, at Inghóll on Ingólfsfjall (Ingólfur's mountain). T

he south tip of the mountain, across the street from where the white crosses are, is called Kögunarhóll and is believed by some to be where Ingólfur's Viking ship is buried.



White crosses on the side of the road

From Ingólfur we jump right into the Sturla era when Earl Gissur Þorvaldsson (1208-1268) lived at Reykir. One of the most famous Icelanders to stay with Gissur at Reykir is considered Iceland's most important historian, Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241). When Gissur was 28 he became an important chieftain. He was smart, popular and athletic. Sturla Sighvatsson (1199-1238), Snorri's nephew, was a messenger for the Norwegian king Håkon IV. His mission was to claim all of Iceland on behalf of the king.

Gissur lived at Reykir during the famous Battle at Bæ ( Bæjarbardagi) that took place on April 28th, 1237.  The year before, Sturla Sighvatsson had forced his uncle Snorri Sturluson out of Reykholt and another uncle, Þorleifur Þórðarson (1185-1257) from Garðir.

Snorri and Þorleifur were not happy about being driven out of their homesteads and gathered 400 of their men in the spring of 1237. When Sturla heard about this, he gathered his own army. When Snorri heard about Sturla's army, he wasn't too thrilled and chose not to go into battle. Þorleifur, on the other hand, was not so quick to give in and rode with his men to Bæ. 

This historical battle left 29 of Þorleifur's men dead, while only three of  Sturla's men died. Þorleifur and some others made it into the Bæjarkirkja (Bæ Church) where they received shelter. The following years they had to live their lives in exile.

The lake,  Apavatn, plays an important part in Iceland history. Its saga goes far back and can be found in Sturlunga saga. This is a collection of sagas from the 12th and 13th centuries.  There's an abundance of fish in the lake and therefore great for fishing. 

In the spring of 1238, in his mission to help the Norwegian king gain influence in Iceland, Sturla summoned Gissur to  Apavatn. Gissur wasn't expecting anything but an amicable meeting and arrived at Apavatn with only 40 men (as opposed to Sturla's almost 400 men). 

After the two men had engaged in a discussion, Sturla had his men arrest Gissur and strip all weapons from his men. He admitted that Gissur was the only man he feared in all of Iceland. After the arrest, Sturla forced Gissur to swear an oath that he would leave the country. 

Afterwards, Gissur felt lucky, because he knew Sturla had comtemplated killing him. Relieved and happy, Gissur and his men rode back to Reykir where they celebrated with a great feast.

Later that summer on August 21st, 1238, was to be Iceland's largest battle in history, the Örlygsstaðabardagi (Battle at Örlygsstaðir) that took place in Víðivellir near Akureyri. Sturla and his father Sighvatur, were preparing to fight Gissur and Kolbeinn the young Arnórsson (1208-1245).

The battle site at Örlygsstaðir. Courtesy of Alyson Hurt

After gathering their forces, the Sturlungs (Sturla-family) showed up with ca. 1300 men, but Gissur and Kolbeinn had managed to gather 1700 battle-ready men. When Gissur and Kolbeinn got to the battle site, they managed to ambush the Sturlungs. The unprepared men did the best they could in defending themselves, but were quickly overpowered. The Sturlungs lost 49  men, but Gissur and Kolbeinn only seven (some sources have slightly different numbers).

You can read about Reykir in Sturlunga saga  here.

Both Sturla and his father Sighvatur died in the battle. With this ended Sturla's attempt to get Iceland under the king of Norway.

Örlygsstaðir. Courtesy of Alyson Hurt

Battle site 

The summer of 2018 a  pilgrimage  (120 km hike) was organized that went from Bæ to Apavatn.  Pilgrimage

300 years later, during the Reformation era, the last Catholic bishop in SkálholtÖgmundur Pálsson (d.1541) lived at Reykir. Living with him at Reykir was Oddur Gottskálksson (1514/1515-1556). Oddur was translating the New Testament into Icelandic at the time. This was the first book ever printed in Icelandic. He was a highly regarded author, translator and publisher.

In the early summer of 1556, Oddur was on his way to the Althing. To get there he had to cross Norðlingavað by Laxá in Kjós. He fell into the water and nearly drowned. His escape from death was short-lived. He died the following night.

You may have heard of or even visited Kotstrandarkirkja. Its story begins at Reykir. Before there ever was a church at Kotströnd, it was in Reykir from 1200-1909, except for a 30 year period beginning ca.1597 when the church was moved to Vellir. 

This was done because when Hekla erupted it created changes in the hot springs and the land became unstable with new hot springs suddenly appearing in random places. Another record shows the church being moved in 1575. Regardless of the year, my guess is that it was the instability of the hot earth that was the deciding factor in moving the church.  Bishop Oddur Einarsson (1559-1630) demanded the church be moved back to Reykir and so it was.

The cemetery belonging to Reykjakirkja (Reykir Church) is still somewhat visible on the southside of the main school building.


On November 27th, 1908 the  winds were so strong that the church was moved about 5 meters (16 fet) south off its foundation. Instead of rebuilding it, they tore down whatever was left of it. There was another church located nearby in Arnarbæli. A decision was made to tear down it as well and build one church for both districts. Both churches were torn down and its wood used to build a new church.

They started building the new church in the spring of 1909 and dedicated it on November 14, 1909, almost exactly a year later.


They kept the altar tablet (from 1872) that had been on display in Reykir Church. It is still present in Kotstrand Church today. The church at Reykir was dedicated to the martyr Laurentio (St. Lawrence?). The church was considered beautiful and well designed.

If you look closely right above the center of the photograph, you can see the overgrown outline of a farm called Stekkatún (speculated to be Grændalsvellir). It was one of the homes in Reykir. The last people to live there left in 1703.

The latter part of the 19th Century the farmer Þóroddur Gissurarson (1834-1913) lived at Reykir. His brother, Gottskálk Gissurarson (1829-1885) lived in Sogn, another farm on the Reykir property. Their father had lived at Reykir and this is where the brothers grew up.

One late evening in the fall of 1885 the people sleeping in the main room at Reykir were startled by a powerful pounding on the window. In fact, the pounding was so forceful that all those sleeping in the room jumped up and were instantly wide awake. One of the workers jumped out of his bed and rushed over to check on the window. He figured the window was smashed to pieces after all the pounding. This turned out not to be the case.

In that moment "fara að glugga" occurred. This means that God is calling at the window. When they looked out the window, they saw Gottskálk  approaching the house. He knocked on the door and they let him in. He was on his way to Reykjavik, but had forgotten his lunch at home. Not wanting to turn around as he liked to be travelling early, he wanted to see if his brother could make him lunch for his journey. They made him a lunch and as soon as they handed it to him he went on his way.

Reykir 1791. The three white tents to the right are from Stanley's expedition in Iceland in 1789. Photographer: Nicholas Pocock

Gottskálk made it to Reykjavik, but it turned out to be his last trip. The same day as he was leaving Reykjavík, November 24th, 1885, Gottskálk went into a pharmacy with his travel companion. While in the store, Gottskálk asked his companion if he could have a sip of his brennivín (spirit/booze). The travel companion told him to grab the bottle from his travel sack. Gottskálk dove his hand down into the sack and grabbed a bottle, took a sip and put the bottle back.

To his demise, he had grabbed the wrong bottle. Instead of spirits, he grabbed a bottle of phenol (karbólsýra) and took one sip. That was all it took. They left the store and walked home to the travel companion house on Hlíðarhússtígur or Vesturgata today. Once there he drank some water, fell down to his knees and croaked. It all took about an hour from the time he took the sip.

When the sad news of his brother's death arrived at Reykir, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that the intense pounding on the window, right before Gottskálk arrived at the farm, was a premonition of his death.

There were some who believed that the pharmacy should be held responsible for the lack of labeling. Apparently the phenol bottle did not have a safety feature or even a label. The newspaper stated that it was appalling that a pharmacy could sell such a potent poison as phenol without precautions and should therefore be held responsible for accidents directly related to the lack of proper precautions.

Aerial of Reykir. The numbers in the photo show the location of archaeological sites.

A zoomed in image of the archaelogical sites 780, 781 and 782

A zoomed in image of  archaelogical site 783 located next to the horticulture school.

Cover photo
Tuberculosis rehabilitation village
Jónas´ petition to build the rehabilitation village
The Agricultural University of Iceland
Summon at Apavatn
Jónas Jónsson
Reykir history
Hlín Eiríksdóttir
Banana plants
Agricultural School
Additional reading
Additional reading (2)
Additional reading (3)
Additional reading (4)
Apavatn 1237
Sturlunga saga
Main Story
Gottskálk´s death
Gottskálk´s death (2)
Gottskálk´s death (3)
Accidents and Injuries p. 41
Gottskálk Gissurarson
Þóroddur Gissurarson


  1. Hi, I really appreciate you reaching out to me! It's so cool to see where my photos end up, and I am enjoying reading your blog. It's reminding me how much I want to visit Iceland again, someday. And thank you so much for asking about the attribution -- linking to my flickr is perfect.

  2. That makes me happy, LH. So glad you are enjoying the blog. I send out a newsletter each time I post a new blog, I'd love to have you on my list. Either way, I'm very happy you are reading it.

    You have a beautiful collection of photos on Flickr and I hope this blog brings more viewers to your account there :)


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