In 2018, Aegean Odyssey will once again visit the charming shores of Iceland, allowing her guests to witness some of the most stunning scenery in the world. Among the highlights are two waterfalls that leave visitors in awe each year: Godafoss and Gullfoss. Our included tours feature both, but many people don’t realise there’s so much more behind them than just a torrent of water. In our blog today, we take a look at the history of these impressive natural wonders.
Waterfall of the Gods (Godafoss) Iceland
Godafoss is one of Iceland’s biggest and best natural attractions and one of the most spectacular waterfalls on the island. It is located approx. 31 miles east of the port of Akureyri and 33 miles south/west of Husavik. The waterfall isn’t incredibly tall or powerful, but it is certainly something to admire and the separate cascades form a truly elegant semi-circular arc.
Godafoss is more than just a waterfall and tourist attraction, it is also closely connected with one of the most important events in Icelandic history: the conversion to Christianity from heathendom or “the old custom” in the year 1000. In that year, Thorgeir Thorkelsson, the law Speaker of the Icelandic Parliament, lived on the farm Ljosavatn only 2 km from the waterfall and at the time, Iceland’s legislative assembly was debating which religion they should practice: “Norse paganism” or “Christianity”. Thorgeirr, himself a pagan priest and chieftain, decided in favour of Christianity after a day and a night of silent meditation. Pagans could still practice their old religion, but it had to be done in private. After his decision, Thorgeirr himself became a Christian and when he returned back home to Ljosavatn from this historic Althingi, he dispensed of his heathen gods by throwing them into the falls in a symbolic act of the conversion. The waterfall was then named Godafoss (Waterfall of the Gods). In the year 2000 a church was built on the farm Ljosavatn commemorating the 1000-year anniversary of Christianity in Iceland and named after chieftain Thorgeir. The church is open to visitors during the summer months.
Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall) Iceland
Gullfoss is a truly incredible sight to see and it will certainly leave you in awe. This iconic waterfall is a symbol of Iceland’s natural and untouched nature and is located on the Hvítá (White) river which is fed by Iceland’s second biggest glacier, the Langjökull. The water plummets down 32 meters in two stages into a rugged canyon. On a sunny day shimmering rainbow can be seen over the falls. Gullfoss is a highlight on the ‘Golden Circle’ tour that is offered from the port of Reykjavik.
Just like Godafoss, Gullfoss is also much more than just an attraction to be admired, it has a wonderful story to tell those that visit. In the early 20th century foreign investors wanted to harness the power of Gullfoss to produce electricity. In 1907 and Englishman named Howells wanted to buy Gullfoss from Tómas Tómasson, a local farmer who owned Gullfoss at this time. Tómas declined Howells’ offer to buy the waterfall and instead later leased it to him. The farmer’s daughter, Sigridur Tómasdóttir who grew up on her father’s farm sought to have the rental contract voided. Sigridur using her own saving hired a lawyer in Reykjavik to defend her case. The trial lasted years and Sigridur went several times barefoot on traitorous terrain to Reykjavik to follow up on her case. She even threatened to throw herself into the waterfall if the construction would begin. Her attempts ultimately failed in court, but before any damage was done to the waterfall, the contract was disposed due to the lack of payments of the rent fee. The struggles of Sigridur to preserve the waterfall brought to people’s attention the importance of preserving nature and therefore she is often called Iceland’s first environmentalist. Gullfoss is today owned by the Icelandic government and it was designated as a nature reserve in 1979.
Waterfall in the Tungudalur Valley
Although Gullfoss and Godafoss are the main attractions, there is also a small, unnamed waterfall in the Tungudalur Valley that is also well worth seeing and you can head there on our ‘Culture in the Westfjords’ included tour from the port of Ísafjördur. It’s much smaller than the other 2 waterfalls you will see during your time in Iceland and there’s no real history behind it as such, but it is incredibly beautiful and flows from the top of the hill, all the way down until it eventually turns into a small stream that runs beneath your feet. The water is incredibly pure and sometimes it’s offered by the glass.
Aegean Odyssey will sail on her Iceland, Faroes and Shetlands cruises in July and August 2018. If you’ve already visited Iceland, but are still craving more superb scenery, then we highly recommend our Norwegian Fjords sailing in June 2018.