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Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum

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Until being usurped by tourism, fishing had always been Iceland’s most important industry, and the country’s biggest factory was found in the tiny northern town of Sigluförður. Today the former plant houses a museum dedicated to the bygone days when herring was king.

Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum

The herring boom which gripped Iceland at the dawn of the 20th century was something like a gold rush. Thousands of people and hundreds of ships flocked to Siglufjörður to stake their claim to the “silver of the sea”. Decades passed, businessmen became rich, a grand new factory was opened, and the herring never seemed to stop spawning. Until 1969, that is, when suddenly they didn’t show up at all.

Iceland and the other North Atlantic countries had simply over-fished. Herring congregate in large schools, a technique which might offer protection from aquatic predators, but makes them ridiculously easy for us clever humans to catch. Icelanders got better and better at scooping up ever larger batches of herring. With new equipment and faster ships, they eventually became too good at it. Today, thanks to a long moratorium and strict regulation, the herring have largely recovered, but the “boom days” when fishing accounted for 30% of Iceland’s economy are gone.

Everything written in the preceding paragraphs and the sum total of my “herring knowledge”, I learned during our visit to the Herring Era Museum. The museum does a wonderful job of recreating the spirit of Siglufjörður in the 1940s and 50s, in three buildings integral to the industry. There’s the salting house, where the town’s famous “herring girls” would sleep. The factory, with much of the original equipment still in place. And the boat house, where a number of herring-era vessels can be seen, and one even boarded.

Throughout the museum, there’s information about life in boom-time Siglufjörður, with photographs and old movies shot inside the factory. The curators have done a magnificent job leaving things intact. The herring girls’ personal items can be seen in the salting house, unbelievable industrial machinery in the factory, and nine authentic ships in the boat house.

Each of these three buildings would be worth visiting alone, but together they paint an amazing picture of an industry whose golden age is irrevocably in the past. Definitely worth a detour to the remote little town of Siglufjörður.

Location on our Iceland Map
The Herring Era Museum – Website

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Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum
Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum
Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum
Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum
Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum
Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum
Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum
Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum
Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum
Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum
Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum
Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum
Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum
Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum
Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum
Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum
Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum
Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum
Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum
Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum
Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum
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October 15, 2013 at 8:52 pm Comment (1)

Djúpavík

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The first two things you see when approaching Djúpavík are a defunct herring factory and a shipwrecked boat just offshore: rusting shells that set a mournful tone in this tiny northern town. We made a short pit-stop here on our way to Norðurfjörður, and were entranced by Djúpavík’s melancholic beauty.

Lightning Djúpavík Waterfall

Djúpavík was founded as a herring salting station in 1917. But its glory years arrived in 1934 with the opening of a major factory which was the most technologically advanced in the world, and among the largest concrete structures in Europe. By the mid-40s, though, the fishing had dried up and the company shut its doors for good in 1954. The workers moved away, leaving behind little more than a ghost town.

But like a herring who won’t stop flopping around regardless of how often you whack it, Djúpavík has stubbornly clung to life. And it’s done so by embracing its isolation. Iceland is the most remote part of Europe, the Westfjords are the most remote part of Iceland, and the northeastern coast is the most remote section of the Westfjords. So travelers who are looking to get away from it all can hardly do better than Djúpavík.

The town is memorably nestled into a valley at the back of the Reykjarfjörður fjord, with a lightning-bolt waterfall crashing down behind it. And the herring factory, which was never demolished, serves as a reminder of the town’s brief Golden Age. During our visit, it was acting as a venue for a photography exhibition, featuring the work of Icelandic and foreign artists. The town’s hotel runs daily tours, but you’re free to walk around inside yourself.

The Westfjords are the most geologically stable land in Iceland: the least affected by volcanoes and earthquakes. But Djúpavík serves as an evocative reminder that there are other, less dramatic types of natural disasters to worry about. Global warming has caused Iceland’s fish stocks to plummet in the last half-century, and tiny towns dependent on the trade have been disappearing from the map. So far, Djúpavík has managed to resist the grave… here’s hoping it can hold on.

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August 26, 2013 at 12:08 pm Comments (2)
Siglufjrur's Herring Era Museum Until being usurped by tourism, fishing had always been Iceland's most important industry, and the country's biggest factory was found in the tiny northern town of Sigluförður. Today the former plant houses a museum dedicated to the bygone days when herring was king.
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