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  • Peggy Simonsen

Architectural extremes

Iceland is in many ways a juxtaposition of its long past history and contemporary life. The same can be said about its architecture. The traditional houses over many centuries were turf houses- stone bases with sod walls and roof. The forests were felled centuries ago, leaving little wood for building but turf was plentiful, so that led to turf houses. There aren’t many left, but a few still in use and some in an outdoor museum we visited. They had dirt floors and animals lived under the same roof, though with an attached room. Apparently, the sod was a good insulator for the bitterly cold winters people endured.


Today, Icelanders are designing and building amazing contemporary buildings, especially churches. The national religion of Iceland is Lutheranism, so these huge, beautiful buildings are not called cathedrals, but they rival medieval Gothic cathedrals in soaring height with gothic arches distinguishing the interiors. What a contrast to the ancient turf houses!




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