At a distance of over 700 kilometers from Reykjavík, the town of Seyðisfjörður, tucked in the East Fjords, seems a world away. Its natural beauty, tight-knit community and vibrant art scene attract creative souls from all corners.
Published in the 2013 January-March issue of Iceland Review – IR 01.13. By Zoë Robert. Photos by Áslaug Snorradóttir.Ríkey Kristjánsdóttir and her son Rökkvi with a wheelbarrow full of rice pudding, dessert for the whole community.There is something about this town and its community that gets people hooked. “Many people come here and immediately start trying to find an excuse to stay,” our host, manager of Hotel Aldan Ríkey Kristjánsdóttir, says in explanation of Seyðisfjörður’s growing popularity among artists. It’s something we would hear again and again during our stay.
Áslaug, the photographer, and I arrive in early November, a week after a storm threw a blanket of thick snow over the fjord. Large piles of snow border the streets and the highland pass that winds down into Seyðisfjörður.
Nestled in the long and deep fjord of the same name—a dramatic setting surrounded on all sides by 1,000-meter-plus high mountains—Seyðisfjörður easily lives up to its reputation as one of Iceland’s most picturesque towns.
In winter the fjord is quiet and the subzero temperatures add to the calmness by hushing the otherwise tumbling waterfalls. Once a week, the hum of the Norræna ferry breaks the silence on its arrival to Seyðisfjörður, the closest harbor to mainland Europe. Trucks queue to load and unload goods before driving the 30 kilometers over the winding Fjarðarheiði mountain pass to Egilsstaðir, the largest town in East Iceland and its main service, transportation and administration center. In winter, it’s mostly machinery and other goods which arrive, and fish that is carried back on the ferry to Europe, providing an important lifeline for the 660-strong community and the entire region.
As in other parts of the country, Seyðisfjörður sees the bulk of its visitors during the summer months when it’s transformed into a bustling tourist destination. Tourism is a recent trend, though. As other coastal towns in Iceland, the town’s history is built on the fishing industry. Norwegian herring fishermen settled Seyðisfjörður in the mid-19th century and contributed to it earning an official town status in 1895. Around the same time, the Danes began trading in the fjord. The Norwegians built the colorful wooden buildings which remain here today, as well as a number of herring fishing facilities. So plentiful and valuable were the fish, that they were dubbed the ‘silver of the sea.’ Later, during World War II, Seyðisfjörður became an important military base.
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