It is always a special experience to visit a new country and to see its sights and enjoy all that makes it different from one’s own. Its culture, its people, the beauty of its landscape and its man-made designs. However, its true wealth lies in what made it what it is today as each generation added their own contribution. What you see in today’s society is the result of all its previous generations and is what makes it truly unique.
The National Museum of Iceland is located next to the University of Iceland, and holds a sample of the lives previous generations have left. Here is where you will gain so much greater insight of what makes Iceland today.
A Young Nation with a Mature History
‘The Making of a Nation’ is the museum’s permanent exhibition, displaying the heritage and history of the Icelandic people and country, from the early days of the Settlement right through to modern times. It offers a fascinating perspective on many aspects of life and society throughout Iceland’s short history.
Being the last European country to be populated, Iceland doesn’t have the relics of the Romans, the architecture of the Greeks or the dynasties of China. What it possesses is a unique mingling of two very diverse cultures, living under incredibly difficult conditions at times and the powerful story of their struggles and overcoming great adversity to become the independent nation Iceland is today, with its rich culture. Many people find its cultural diversity absolutely incredible for a population so small.
Travel Through Time
The exhibition is conceived as a journey through time, beginning with the ship in which early settlers crossed the unpredictable ocean with the most rudimentary of instrumentation to the high-tech airport of today, handling many thousands of travellers. Using about 2,000 objects and 1,000 photographs, this is the next best thing to personal time travel.
When visiting the museum, you can opt to take one of four themed routes through the exhibition: Work and the Way of Life; Homes and Settlement Patterns; Arts and Crafts; Social Culture and Language.
To enrich your experience, there are multimedia presentations that allow you to gain greater insight and active involvement in a more immersive experience. Likewise, there are two rooms that are especially popular with families on the second floor which are dedicated to hands-on experiences. Dress like a Viking; have a mock sword fight; try out some of the puzzles and games – and come away with a new perspective on the country through the best medium: fun!
Craftsmen Before the Age of Plastics
Between the two cultures, the Celts, with their writing and the Vikings with their craftsmanship, a rich tapestry of life has been handed down to us today. For example, there is a room containing a range of ornamentally-carved drinking horns. Your imagination can take you back to see the care and skill of the craftsman at work, transforming these bovine horns into objects of art – practical drinking goblets that have disappeared from modern mass-produced plastic society.
Temporary exhibitions add an additional perspective on Iceland’s heritage, with thousands of photographs showing life over the last century.
Stay for the Day
You can choose how long and how much you want to get into the details of the exhibition but even a cursory look will take some time. For those wanting an in-depth view, you will undoubtedly want to stay longer. The museum offers refreshments and a shop so you can continue your time travelling. Iceland values it’s historical narrative highly and the National Museum is but the first step in a journey that will take you around the country. It provides a foundation that puts everything else in context.
History is for Children
Museums can make a very special contribution to a child’s development. Recognising that, the museum has brought in two teachers, Helga and Steinunn who make presentations for schoolchildren from a young age all the way up to university students, with each presentation being both geared to their age and maturity level and the national curriculum. Children visiting with their parents can enjoy the quizzes and hand-outs the teachers have made – as well as having fun dressing up and re-enacting lives of the past. This is the way to learn history – hands on and seeing it first hand. The multimedia presentations build on the displays to provide adults and children alike with a fascinating, engaging experience that educates without you even knowing it!