Published June 26, 2012
Reykjavík’s newest neighbourhoods, Kjalarnes and Grafarholt-Úlfarsárdalur, probably have the strongest connection to elves and ghosts of the city’s ten districts. Grafarholt’s Grásteinn (“Gray Rock”) is without a doubt the most famous rock in Reykjavík. After the rock was moved in the ’70s during the construction of the road Vesturlandsvegur, thousands of salmon parr died at a nearby salmon farm. On top of that, several construction workers sustained injuries in all sorts of inexplicable accidents at the time. The rock was eventually registered at the Archaeological Heritage Agency as a home to an elf family in 1983, and therefore cannot be moved without special permission. This is Iceland’s only officially registered elf home.
Elves as well as ghosts have also been spotted in Kjalarnes. For instance Móri, one of Iceland’s most famous ghosts, has also been seen there. He is known for leaving big blue marks on a cow—marks that are said to be his finger marks.
Kjalarnes: the first settlers’ neighbourhood
Kjalarnes sits below Esja, a mountain that is fairly popular for hiking and is especially nice during the summertime. It is Reykjavík’s most spacious and sparsely populated neighbourhood.
The Kjalarnes area is rich with history. Notably, it features in Kjalnesinga saga, and is also said to be the location of the country’s first regional parliament, a precursor to the first national one, Alþingi. Kjalarnes may also be home to Iceland’s first church, supposedly built in the year 900.
Located about 30 kilometres north of the city centre, Kjalarnes was merged into the City of Reykjavík in June 1998, and is the only neighbourhood that has been adopted by the city. Today, the urban area Grundarhverfi (in development since 1974) has about 850 residents living in 200 homes.
Kjalarnes is also home to the most popular scuba diving spot in Reykjavík. It’s called Gullkistuvík (“The Gold Coffin Bay”). Yes, you can be excited. It is so named because there is supposedly a coffin full of gold inside a rock in the south end of the bay.
Grafarholt: the millennium neighbourhood
Grafarholt was developed much later, in the late ’90s, and was proclaimed by city officials to be the “millennium neighbourhood.” In the year 2000, a thousand years had passed since we officially abandoned the Ásatrú faith and, under considerable pressure, adopted Christianity. Furthermore, a thousand years had passed since the explorer Leifur Eiríksson reached the “New World” from Greenland. All of the street names were thus given names in honour of these milestones. Many have criticised them for being strange sounding neologisms.
As a teenager in the mid ‘90s, I used to plant trees in Grafarholt, a job offered by the City of Reykjavík. At that time, Grafarholt was part of the countryside. In 2002, a couple of years after my gardening training, I went for a walk in Grafarholt and I felt like I was entering the future: I was in the millennium neighbourhood with millennium houses, characterised by their flat roofs and huge windows. At the time it was a novel style in Reykjavík, but it has since become quite prevalent.
Grafarholt is named after the farm Gröf, which is as old as the first settlement in Iceland. One of the most famous residents of Gröf was the entrepreneur and poet Einar Benediktsson, who bought the farm around 1900. His aim was to make a salmon river in the area with a little help from machinery and manpower. While nothing came of this idea, Einar managed to accomplish a lot of outlandish things in his life, such as selling the Northern Lights to an Italian businessman.
As late as 1950, it took a farmer around 45 minutes to drive from Grafarholt to Reykjavík. Today, the drive takes 15 minutes.
Úlfarsárdalur: the half-built neighbourhood
Before Úlfarsárdalur was built, the area had mostly been farmland. Then, during World War II, three barracks, Belvoir, Tientsin, and South Belvoir, were set up there. The largest of them, Belvoir, housed 1,100 people. The barracks have since been torn town and almost no evidence of their existence can be found.
The neighbourhood was born out of a design competition between six groups of designers, with the winning blueprint of the neighbourhood drawn up in 2001. It is considered part of Grafarholt, and like Grafarholt it was designed so that the buildings would fit in with the surrounding natural environment. The area was intended to attract people who enjoy outdoor activities just outside their doorstep. However, due to the economic crisis in 2008, the neighbourhood remains half-built to this day.