Streymoy, southern part - Tórshavn

It began with a Viking “Thing”, followed by a mar­ket, later it be­came a thriving town, and today it is one of the smallest and most pleasant capital cities in the world.



This is, in brief, the history of Tórshavn which began centuries ago when Vikings from Western Nor­­way first discovered the is­lands. In summer, and in the middle of the islands, they met here for their annual gathering. They came to settle their quarrels or impose their will, to talk to­gether and to trade. This sum­mer court and market gradu­ally grew into a perma­nent trad­ing area.

Under Norwegian and then later Danish rule, government officials ma­de Tórshavn their home. They built forts to protect the town and their monopoly trade from marau­ding pirates. The poor and those without land tried their luck in Tórshavn working at the forts and with the monopoly trade.

The trade monopoly even­tu­ally ended in 1856. From that time on, free trade developed quickly, and spurred on by an expanding fishing fleet, the village soon became a real town. In 1801 the population of Tórs­havn was 554. By 1950 it had grown tenfold to 5,600. After the merger with Kollafjørður some years ago, the municipality of Tórshavn has seen its population rise to over 19.000, approx­i­ma­te­ly 40% of the total po­pu­lation.

But the old centre of the town is still well pre­­served and lively.   When you enter the old town and walk around among its old houses, you will find your­self in a con­fusion of lanes and narrow passages, steps and rocks and tiny black-tarred houses with white windows and green turfed roofs. You may think that you have lost your way onto the set of an historical film or into a museum, but what you see is in fact a genuine town dating from the Middle Ages and still alive with hens and children and all the buzz of ordinary life. A town that never fell prey to an all-de­stroy­ing fire, as was the case of almost all other Nordic timber-built towns of that time, and thus it is unique not only in the Faroes but in the world.

The old town of Tórs­havn is the dwelling place of history and stories. It is the hometown of the great story teller William Heine­sen. He was born on 15 January 1900 in Bringsnagøta, and from the high attic in his father’s shop he could look down onto the small grass turf covered houses, right out over the sea and into the infinite cosmos. From here he saw Adam sitting in a garden full of wild chervil and ange­lica, nam­ing the animals, and on especially good days he could see, on the mountain ridge towards the west, the remains of Noah’s Ark. It was also here in the loft that he met the dream and elf girl Tarira, who now stands as the Heinesen monu­ment in the town’s park, cast in bronze in the sculptor Hans Pauli Olsen’s repre­sent­ation.

Here his “Lost Musi­cians” wan­de­red among the houses, drea­mers and visionaries who on­ce having heard the wind harp’s music in the church tower, could never be the same as other ordi­na­ry folk. Here in a doorway stands  Fina i Tranten and her bea­u­­tiful daughter Rose­dukken, and soon all the others arrive. In the old story-teller’s narratives live the alleys and passageways, hens fly down from roofs, women talk to each other from win­dow to win­dow, the world is being created and the world is being destroyed with horrors and delights.

The Faroese Museum of His­tory, together with the open air museum in the old village of Hoyvík, is well worth a visit if you want to learn more about the cultural history of the Faroe Islands. For those who are inte­rested in natural history, then the Museum of Natural History is the obvious place to go with its exhibitions about the island’s geology and animal life. The Faroese National Gallery of Art displays a comprehensive collec­tion of powerful and vivid Faro­ese works of art. And then, of course, there is the Nordic House with its architecture and cultural events which make for a unique experience. Føroya Sjósavn – the Faroese Aquarium, is the latest attraction where you can experience up close just some of the fish, squid, starfish, mussels and other species that swim in the sea around the islands.



Vestaravág, Tórshavn’s west­ern bay, has gradually become ‘the’ place to experience various events in the town. At the head of the bay, there are three red gabled buildings that are a part of the old commercial house in Vágsbotn. It was here in 1768, that the Danish businessman, Niels Ryberg, established his business in trading luxury goods from places such as the West Indies. He became one of Denmark’s richest men by smuggling the goods on to the United Kingdom.

The old dairy and margarine factory are in the same road and these now function as a youth centre with facilities for various youth groups and as theatre premises for the new Faroese national theatre.

In the square opposite the media house, there is a statue of Nólsoyar Páll, Poul Nolsøe, who worked for a while at Ryberg’s commercial house. He was a farmer, sailor and skipper, sailing out in the world during the Napoleonic wars. He is however, best known as a poet and in particular, for his bird ballad where he uses the allegory of an oystercatcher chasing birds of prey, representing the authorities and officials, in defence of all the small birds, representing the country’s poor population.

From his low pedestal, he can observe the activities surrounding the many colourful boats in the harbour and watch life as it passes by under the picturesque gabled buildings along the quayside. Perhaps he knows some of the pensioners, who sit on the wall benches when the sun comes out, or at least he recognises the type; those who never change even though everything around is changing.

On the other side of the bay are the shipyard and old warehouses. These served the town’s large fishing fleet that would lay anchored during the winter months before setting out to fish in Iceland and Greenland. One of them, West­ward Ho, has recently been refurbished, as has one of the old warehouses, which is now used for exhibitions and cultural arrangements. There are many plans for the undeveloped area between the two arms of the bay and when completed, Vestaravág will finally become the town’s cultural centre.

What is this special experience then? What is the town’s special identity? It is the history com­bined with the attraction of a modern society. The visitor to Tórshavn will find a thriving business life, good restaurants and hotels, cafés, galleries, con­ference facilities and live music, but also an intimacy seldom found elsewhere. It has something to do with size; the surrounding ocean is infinitely great, yet within lies a perfect microcosm.

Tórshavn is both old and mo­dern, understandably the focus of the islands with its many and sometimes noisy attractions, yet with an enviable position that will enable you to reach even the most remote location in just a few hours. On arrival you can be sure to find nature’s incompre­hensible greatness and the best thing of all; tranquillity. Through the changing light and sound of the wind and water, nature will transform you from a sophisti­ cated citizen of the world to one with an inner peace devoid of words.






Kirkjubøur

During the Middle Ages, Kirkju­bøur was the eccle­siastical and cultural cen­­tre of the Faroes. Here was the bishop’s residence un­til the Re­for­mation, when the Faro­ese diocese was abol­ished, but the im­po­sing ruin of Saint Mag­nus Cathedral still domi­nates the site.

Con­struction is thought to have begun in the late thirteenth century, the style of the building being from the best period of Gothic archi­tec­ture, pointing to West Norwe­gian church building from that time. Tradition has it that it was never finished, yet recent research has revealed that it was proba­bly roofed at one time. A great avalanche in 1772 severely damaged the cathe­dral, crushing in the northeast corner of the building.
A crumbling wall and a mound of stones is all that remains of another, smaller church, most of this buil­d­ing having been washed away by the sea. The exis­ting parish church is the only medieval church still in use; thought to be even older than the cathe­dral and reputedly dedi­cated to the Virgin Mary and St. Olav. The church was surrounded by a chur­chyard, but as much of the land between Kirkju­bøur and the islet of Kirkju­bøhólmur has been ero­ded by the sea, it now stands right at the water’s edge.

The Roykstovan, stan­ding on the stone base­ment of a part of the bishop’s palace, has been the home of the farmers in Kirkjubøur for centuries and occu­pied by the same Faroese family for 17 ge­ne­­rations. Cove­red with a turf roof, it is a large splitlog building made of timber which is said to have come drift­ing all the way from Norway some 700 years ago. The farm­house interior re­­flects the life­style of a large Faroese farm. The main floor was the eating and sleeping area as well as the cen­tral activity area with, amongst other things, the spin­ning wheels.

To get to Kirkjubøur you can either take the bus or hike over the hills. If you start from the cross be­tween Landavegur and Velbastað­vegur in Havnar­dalur, there is a bridge go­ing over Sandá and from there it is easy to find the path and the first cairn. This path that passes Reyns­múlalág is well marked with many cairns and can be seen in the terrain. The hike takes about two hours and you have the most beautiful views of the islands to the west: Sandoy, Hestur, Kol­tur and Vágar.

The Faroese Museum of His­tory has a large collection of exhibits depicting the cultural history of the islands. The most important exhibit is that of the Kirkjubøur chairs. These were a part of the beautifully carved interior of the parish church in the Middle Ages but are now thought to have been made for the cathedral in Kirkjubøur.

On the top of Kirkju­bø­reyn you find a veritable lunar landscape, but it is never­theless impressive and there are idyllic lakes. The famous Faroese writer and pain-­ ter, William Hei­n­esen, describes this land­scape in some of his no­­vels, and the lake, Porkeris­vatn, is the subject of many of his paintings. Some of William Heine­sen’s paintings can be seen in the art gallery in Tórshavn.





Nólsoy

Nólsoy lies like a giant buffer protecting Tórshavn from the eastern storms. It is therefore not surprising, that it belongs to the municipality of Tórshavn. Yet, why would it want to be a part of all the crowds and noise of the capital? Fortunately, it has the fjord between keeping a suitable distance and yet at the same time, it is close enough to the centre of Tórshavn taking only twenty minutes by ferry.

There are more and more who take advantage of this fact. Instead of taking a long boat trip to one of the more distant isles, you can make the short journey across the fjord to an island and village free from everyday hustle and bustle, cars and noise.

There is a tourist information centre down on the harbour providing information about hiking tours, including one to the lighthouse at the southern­most tip of the island. The light­house has been constructed of beautiful hewn stone, has one of the world’s largest lenses and is almost three metres high; weighs four tons and is featured on the twenty kroner coin.

Other tours go to places nearer the village, such as the one to Korndalur, where the princess spring and ruins can be seen. Legend has it that it was here the princess lived with her lover after being forced to flee due to the disapproval of her father, the Scottish king.

Another popular tour is to the world’s largest colony of storm petrels, the small bird that only flies at night. The guide for this tour is usually the ornithologist, Jens Kjeld Jensen. Another name always mentioned in connection with Nólsoy is Ove Joensen, a local who rowed single-handed 900 sea miles from the Faroe Islands to Langelinie in Copenhagen. His boat, the Diana Victoria, is on display in the basement of the tourist information centre.

The historic house á Brunn, dating from the 1600’s has been converted into a museum. The cooker is one of the oldest on the Faroe Islands. It was installed in 1858 and hailed as such a fantastic technological advance, that it was christened the ‘cooking machine’.

That the people of Nólsoy have a sense of humour when it comes to words is best seen when making the return trip to Tórshavn. Behind the factory on the quayside lies a small shed fitted out as a music studio and going by the name of ‘Studio Ear Wax’!





Hestur and Koltur

Hestur is a long, narrow and steep island with a small village in the centre facing Streymoy. During the summer months, it is par­ti­cu­larly green on the eastern side. On the western side, there are sheer cliffs, whilst the island’s ridge has a large and unusually flat plain with many small idyllic lakes.

Hestur means horse and from a certain angle, the island does in fact look like a resting horse. There are two paths up onto the ‘horse’s back’, a steep one straight up from the village and a more comfortable sloping path from the south. From the top it is possible to look down into the dramatic Álvagjógv, elf gorge, and across to the steep bird cliffs with thousands of nesting sea birds. Hidden far in under these bird cliffs are incredible grottoes. In the summer months boat tours go to the western side of Hestur from Tórshavn and weather permitting, concerts are per­formed in the grottoes. Apart from being a unique way in which to experience the nature, the grotto concerts are an acoustically fantastic musical experience.

The tiny island of Koltur seems to follow Hestur like a colt following a horse, and it is possible that the island’s name has some connection with the English word ‘colt’. The island is dominated by the steep mountain of Kolturshamar that rises to 477m above the sea. There is only one farm on Koltur and no regular connection to the island. Occasio­nally during the summer months, visits are arranged to Koltur and the farmer provides farm holidays with many exciting activities.

Historically, Koltur is a unique place. It is not possible to find such an unspoiled cultivated landscape, from coast to moun­tain, anywhere else on the islands. The cultivated area within the stone fences is immense, a signi­ficant part of which is ancient farmland for the growing of corn. After the restoration of several old buildings belonging to the abandoned settlement Heimi í Húsi, Koltur is most definitely worth a visit.






St. Olavs Day
– and other arrangements


­Before the Reformation the wake of St.Olaf was an important religious festival in Norway and its tributary countries, of which the Faroe Islands were one. The Norwegian King, Olaf the Holy, fell on 29 July 1030 in the battle at Stiklestad and every year on that day, his memory as Norway’s patron saint, is commemorated.

Most of the saints were forgotten after the Reformation, but the Faroe Islands continued to celebrate St.Olaf’s Day as a national festival when work would stop and people would flock to Tórshavn from all over the country.

Over the years the festival has grown and it now starts with a procession through the town on 28 July at 2pm. This is followed by a tightly packed programme of sports events, meetings, concerts and exhibitions etc; so much that it is impossible to do and see everything. An important part of the occasion is simply to walk up and down the main streets saying hello to friends, acquaintances and summer guests, people you may not have seen for years.

The ceremonious part of St.Olaf’s Day is the proces­sion from the parliament building to the cathedral on 29 July by the members of parliament and the government, the clergy and leading civil servants. After the service in the cathedral the procession returns to the parliament building where they stand and listen to a choir singing outside. After this, the government members enter the parliament building where the prime minister delivers his opening speech and a new parliamentary year begins.

Outside the festivities continue and at midnight the festival is officially over as everyone gathers for the community singing in the middle of the town. It is a fantastic experience to take part in the singing and later on, the dancing. If the weather is good, the streets are filled with singing and dancing St.Olaf’s Day guests until the small hours when everyday life begins once again.

There are also other younger festivals and cultural events in Tórshavn. Summer starts with the ‘Night of Culture’ on the first Friday in June. The Summer Music Festival of classical and con­temporary music, including choral and new Faroese compositions follows in late June. Some of these concerts are held outside of Tórshavn.

For several years now the Ovastevna on Nólsoy has been celebrated at the beginning of August. This festival is in memory of Ove Joensen who rowed from Nólsoy to Copenhagen in a Faroese boat.




EXCURSIONS

Boat trips
Every Tuesday and Thursday mornings Norðlýsið, a restored sloop, sailsto the bird cliffs of Nólsoy or Hestur. There are concert trips onThursday afternoons to the huge grottos on Hestur which have beenformed by the eroding sea. Occasionally Norðlýsið will sail a full-daytrip to Stóra Dímun or other smaller islands. It is possible to gofishing with Norðlýsið on Tuesday and Thursday evenings where there isevery chance of catching something whilst enjoying the sailing trip. Itis also possible to go sailing from Tórshavn with Silja Star or Vanir.

Bus tours
Tora Tourist has a weekly programme that includes the Northern Isles:Klaksvík and Viðareiði, Eysturoy: Eiði, Gjógv and Oyndarfjørður,Streymoy: Vestmanna, Kvívík, Kirkjubøur and Tórshavn, in addition tothe villages on Sandoy. The guided bus tours may include museum visitsand/or a meal. Brochures available at tourist information centres.

Riding treks
Berg Hestar arrange a variety of treks with experienced guides in andaround Tórshavn, including Havnardalur and Glyvursnes. Contact thetourist information or Berg Hestar direct.

Bird watching tours
Many species of birds can be found on Nólsoy including the world’slargest colony of Storm Petrels. They are only seen at night, but toursare available by arrangement with the local ornithologist. Contact thetourist information for bookings.

Hiking and walking tours
Koltursgarður: The small distinctive island of Koltur is dominated bythe towering mountain of Kolturshamar. There is only one farm on theisland and the farmer is pleased to show visitors around the island.Contact Bjørn Patursson or the tourist information in Tórshavn.
Tinganes: Every Tuesday and Thurs­day afternoon there are guided walksaround the old town and Tinganes, where the Vikings, and later Barbara,lived their daily lives. The tour on Thursday can be combined with awalk through the newer parts of the town, stopping to look at theoutdoor works of art. The tour ends with a visit to the Art Gallery.
Skælingsfjall: Around midsummer, the tourist information in Tórshavnarranges a midnight trip to the top of Skælingsfjall mountain (768 m).The tour is quite strenuous and not for those who are afraid of heights.
Travel the length and breadth of the Faroes: Take a hike from Akrabergin the south to Enniberg in the north or from Fugloy in the east toMykines in the west. Tours are 6 or 8 days long, following ancientcairn paths and sailing between islands. It is possible to take partover shorter distances. Information from the tourist centre.


Faroese evening
There is a Faroese evening every Tuesday from mid June to mid August,arranged by the Havnar Sjónleikarfelag (Tórshavn’s Theatrical Society),providing a variety of entertainment, Faroese chain dance and a tastingof Faroese specialities. Hotel Føroyar serves a Faroese specialitiesbuffet on Monday evenings and Hotel Hafnia has a special fish buffet onTuesday and Thursday evenings. Information from the Tourist Office.

Tours from Vestmanna
The boat trip to the cliffs north of Vestmanna will give you afantastic experience of the birdcliffs and sailing between thefree-standing rocks and into deep grottos. There are several departuresin the summer, weather permitting. Operators: Palli Lamhauge andSkúvadal.
Fishing trips. Fishing trips from Vestmanna are quite special be itfishing for cod, halibut or shark. Contact the tourist information orthe skipper Magni Blástein.


Tours from Tjørnuvík
Off the coast north of Tjørnuvík lies the tall free-standing rockcalled Stakkur with grazing sheep on its top. It is possible to joinone of the two trips arranged from Tjørnuvík, travelling out to therock on an aerial ropeway. An exciting trip; information from thetourist office.

Tours on Nólsoy
Borðan: On Saturdays, the tourist office on Nólsoy arranges hikingtours to the lighthouse on Borðan, which can be seen from Tórshavn. Thetour is either by boat to Borðan and then walking to the village, orwalking both ways. The tours are with a guide and end with coffee andcake in the village. A picnic is available on the longer tour.
Korndalur and the Princess: Taking a guided tour through the villageyou can see where a Scottish princess used to live and where peopleused to hide from pirates. Going in the other direction you can seeStongin, which was the first lighthouse to be built in the FaroeIslands.These tours are not scheduled in advance, so ring the touristinformation for details and they will arrange coffee and waffles whileyou wait for the boat to Tórshavn.


For more information about tours, please contact:

Tourist Information in Tórshavn
Tel. +298 302425,
fax +298 302426,
info@visittorshavn.fo
www.visittorshavn.fo

or

Tourist Information in Nólsoy
Tel. +298 327060,
info@visitnolsoy.fo
www.visitnolsoy.fo

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