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A New Exhibition of Ancient Manuscripts: The Settlement Sagas

On March 21st, the Reykjavík City Museum is proud to present Settlement Sagas. The central feature of this new exhibition are of the nation’s greatest treasures, ancient manuscripts that are usually kept under lock and key at The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies. It is therefore a great honour for us to be able to put on public display for the first time these items that tell us so much about Reykjavík’s past.

Since the exhibition will be in the same building as the Settlement Exhibition, visitors will be able to view the manuscripts alongside various other artefacts that have been discovered in the Reykjavík area and therefore attain a better understanding of their significance within the wider context of the history of the Settlement. In short, this is a unique opportunity to look back in time at the beginnings and development of Iceland’s capital city over a period of more than a millennium.

Settlement Sagas comprises some of the nation’s most renowned documents, many of them written in the twelfth century but relating events that go back as far as 874 AD, when the first settlers are said to have come to Iceland. Recognised by UNESCO as having outstanding cultural value, the documents on display include Landnámabók (the Book of the Settlement), Íslendingabók, Kjalnesingasaga, Jónsbók and the Bill of Purchase for Reykjavík (1615).

It is precisely Iceland’s literary heritage that has preserved this ancient language and helps us remain in touch with the beginnings of our culture. Indeed, the Icelandic language is the very cornerstone of that legacy. These manuscripts have shaped our view of history and given us a unique basis from which to study both our origins as a nation and our long-standing relationship among the other Nordic countries.

The Settlement Exhibition focuses on the settlement of Iceland in 874 AD and first few decades after that. The artefacts there give us an invaluable insight into the life and times of the first people to inhabit the Reykjavík area and the ways in which they adapted to their new environment. The exhibition is founded on archaeological and other scientific research and introduces visitors to the latest facts and interpretations forwarded by a range of experts who have concentrated on this period of our history.

These two very different exhibitions hosted by the Reykjavík City Museum afford an unprecedented view into the ancient origins of Icelandic culture. One is based on archaeological findings from the days of the Settlement and the other on ancient documents from the same period. This is also the first time Iceland’s literary heritage and archaeological history have been placed side by side for the general public. In addition, the preservation of these precious manuscripts is one of the reasons why UNESCO officially designated Reykjavík as one of its Cities of Literature in 2011.

The designer of the exhibition is one of Iceland’s most known artists, Gabríela Friðriksdóttir.


The Settlement Exhibition & Settlement Sagas

Aðalstræti 16, Reykjavík

Open daily 09:00-20:00