Pompeii of the North
-Thirty Years of Ash and Lava Uncovered
One of the largest natural disasters in Iceland‘s recent history is the volcanic eruption in Vestmannaeyjar in 1973. While only resulting in one casualty, it destroyed a large portion of the town and made the whole island uninhabitable for the five months it lasted. The eruption was particularly powerful and caused the island to grow by about 2.24 square kilometers. It also covered almost 400 homes in lava and ash, which have remained there untouched since. That is until now.
An ambitious project, named Pompeii of the North, has been started which will eventually result in some of the houses being dug up and made available to visit. The project is already underway and several houses have been partially uncovered. Kristin Jóhannsdóttir, Vestmannaeyjar’s Tourism-, Culture and Marketing Manager, says that people were pleasantly surprised to see the condition of the houses once they were uncovered. “Experts had predicted that the houses would be in shambles, but we were pleasantly surprised to see entire walls intact still with the original paint on. Seeing these houses rise from the ashes after 30 years is an exceptional experience. This is a unique, modern archeology dig that cannot be compared to anything else,“ says Kristín. The project started officially in 2005 and is expected to take several years. Digging around the houses is done by industrial machinery, while digging close to the houses is done by hand. „Several houses have already appeared from underneath the ash and hopefully we will be able to enter the first house next summer,“ says Kristín.
The project entails creating a small village that will rise from the ashes of the disaster, giving visitors a chance to experience the effects of the awesome destructive force of a volcanic eruption. Some houses will be partially uncovered, while others will be completely uncovered and reopened for guests to visit. Already there have been put up signs next to each home, detailing its inhabitants and what the houses looked like. Even though the excavation has not yet been completed, it has been open for people to visit for some time now. Kristín says that visitors have been very impressed by Pompeii of the North and that many had expressed their intention of revisiting once the project develops further.