Iceland Mag

10 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag


Gorgeous images of Reykjavík in 1910s and 20s: A charming small town

By Staff

  • The City Center Seen from Arnarhóll hill downtown. Large white building at the center is now a Radisson hotel. Photo/Egill Jacobsen

  • Austurstræti street Looking east along Laugavegur/Bankastræti streets. This view hasn't changed too much! Photo/Egill Jacobsen

  • The view to the North Reykjavík emerged as the leading fishing town of Iceland in the early 20th century. Photo/Egill Jacobsen

  • The corner of Laugavegur and Skólavörðustígur streets Some of these houses are still standing, including the house on the corner and the building standing opposite it. Photo/Egill Jacobsen

  • Þingholtsstræti street looking north Both of these beautiful buildings are still standing: "Næpan" with its distictive dome and Þingholtsstræti no 29. Photo/Egill Jacobsen

Reykjavík has undergone some dramatic changes in the past century. At the turn of the century 1900 Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland was little more than a small fishing town, with just 5.802 inhabitants, or 7.4% of the total population of Iceland, which was just 78,203 that year. Reykjavík is still a rather small, with just 123,000 inhabitants (2017). The total population of the Metropolitan area, including the suburban municipalities is 212,000. Today the population of Iceland is 338,000, which means 63% of Icelanders live in the greater Reykjavík area, and a full 36% live in Reykjavík proper.

Read more: Watch: What did the “bleak outpost” of Reykjavík look like in WWII?

As Reykjavík has grown it has acquired a lot of the trappings of a major city, including high and low culture, an anonymous crowd, cafés, art galleries, theaters  and everything else one might expect to find in a major city.

But despite having grown up Reykjavík still retains much of the charms of a small town. It has also avoided many of the negative features of major cities, including crime and homelessness. And - it is still a beautifully colorful city with a whimsical streetscape.

Read more: 1920 map shows how Reykjavík has grown from a small town to a small city

These photos from early 20th century Reykjavík were taken by Egill Jacobsen, a Danish merchant who settled in Iceland. The small selection of his photos give us a fascinating glimpse of what Reykjavík looked like nearly 100 years ago. 

Some parts of Reykjavík haven't changed very much, including the downtown pond Tjörnin:

The pond
Fríkirkjuvegur street Fríkirkjan the church of the Independent Lutheran Congregation, the Reykjavík Women's college and "The Palace". The building which houses the Icelandic National Gallery has not yet been built. Photo/ Egill Jacobsen 
The pond

The pond Horses out at pasture in what is today Hljómskálagarðurinn park. Most of the buildings seen in this photo are still standing. Photo/Egill Jacobsen

Tjörnin pond, Reykjavík 1910

Tjarnargata street in 1910 All of the houses in this building are still standing. Notice that the pond reached much closer to the buildings in the early 20th century. The street is built on a landfill. Photo/Egill Jacobsen

The Pond, Tjörnin 1920
The pond Tjörnin in 1920 The buildings on the southern edge of the pond have been demolished. Photo/Egill Jacobsenn

Other parts of the city center have undergone a far more dramatic transformation, as these photos of the area around Austurvöllur and Víkurgarður squares show. The streets have not been moved, and some of the buildings are still standing, but identifying the angle and the buildings in the photo can be quite a challenge made even more difficult by the fact that some of these old houses have not just been demolished to make room for new construction: Other buildings have been moved from one location to another.  

Kirkjustræti, Austurvöllur, Reykjavík 1910

Looking east Kirkjustræti in 1910 You can see the Reykjavík cathedral and the house of parliament. Photo/Egill Jacobsen 

Austurvöllur, Reykjavík 1910
Víkurgarður and Austurvöllur squares in 1910, Looking east You can see the Reykjavík cathedral and the house of parliament in the upper right corner. Most other buildings in the photo have been demolished. Notice that Víkurgarður square is a fenced in garden, while Austurvöllur is simply a grassy field. Photo/Egill Jacobsen 
Aðalstræti looking north, ca 1920
Aðalstræti street looking north, 1920's The only buildings seen in this photo still standing are the houses at the north end of Aðalstræti. The walled in Víkurgarður can be seen clearly. The tree in the center is still standing, though. Currently it is the oldest tree in Reykjavík, planted in 1884. Photo/Egill Jacobsen 



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