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Vestmannaeyjar Municipality
Basic data
State : IcelandIceland Iceland
Region: Southurland
Population: 4301 (January 1, 2019)
Surface: 17 km²
Population density: 253 inhabitants / km²
Post Code: 900, 902
Community number 8000
Mayor: Elliði Vignisson
Location of Vestmannaeyjar municipality

Coordinates: 63 ° 26 ′  N , 20 ° 17 ′  W

View of Vestmannaeyjar from the mainland

The Vestmannaeyjar ( dt. Westman Islands ) are an archipelago of volcanic origin 10 to 30 kilometers south of Iceland , the coastline of 14 islands , 30 archipelago and 30 rocks exist.

The area, which is located in the Icelandic region of Suðurland , forms the municipality of Vestmannaeyjabær with 4301 inhabitants (as of January 1, 2019).


The land acquisition book reports on the two befriended clan heads Ingólfur Arnarson and Hjörleifur Hróðmarsson , who, according to this source, were among the first settlers in Iceland. Accordingly, Hjörleifur first settled on Mýrdalssandur near the island mountain Hjörleifshöfði . But shortly afterwards he was slain by two of his Irish slaves. They took a boat and fled west along the coast and there to islands that they saw lying in the sea. Ingólfur pursued the slaves and found them on the largest of the islands, today's Heimaey Island , while they were eating. Some he killed on the spot, others escaped to the surrounding cliffs.

View of Heimaey

Since the Norwegian settlers now referred to the people from the British Isles as Vestmenn (English people from the west ), the islands have been called Vestmannaeyjar ever since . However, historians have questioned this story, arguing that the term Vestmenn in Old Iceland, on the contrary, referred to people of Nordic, i.e. Viking, origin who had settled in the British Isles. In this context, this could lead to the conclusion that the Westman Islands were occasionally used by Vikings, for example from Norway, as a temporary place of residence before the actual settlement. B. on fishing excursions.

View of the Westman Islands from Landeyjar

Geography: The Vestmannaeyjar island chain

Topographic map of the Westermann Islands

It is a volcanic chain of islands in southern Iceland with its own volcanic system , which extends south of Eyjafjallajökull in a south-westerly direction into the Atlantic. The largely submarine volcanic system measures around 38 km in length and 30 km in width - which roughly corresponds to the length and width of the island chain.

Ellidaey with Eyjafjallajökull in the background
Scheme drawing of the Eldfell eruption on Heimaey in 1973 with the different coastlines

The chain of islands includes 15 to 18 islands and around 30 skerries, depending on the author.

Heimaey [ ˈhɛi̯maɛi̯ ] is by far the largest and the only permanently inhabited island with an area of ​​14.5 km². The city of the same name is located on it.

In Surtsey is the second largest island with an area of 1.41 square kilometers (2004), which was created in a volcanic eruption in 1963 and is located 15 km southwest of Heimaey. Smaller islands are Elliðaey with an area of ​​0.45 km², Bjarnarey with an area of ​​0.32 km², Álfsey with an area of ​​0.25 km², Suðurey with an area of ​​0.20 km², Brandur and Hellisey with an area of 0.1 km² each, Súlnasker with an area of ​​0.03 km², Geldungur with an area of ​​0.02 km², Geirfuglasker with an area of ​​0.02 km².

The islands of Hani (Eng. Hahn ), Hæna (Eng. Hen ) and Hrauney and the Grasleysa archipelago are called Smáeyjar (small islands). Surtsey is the southernmost and Elliðaey the northernmost island. Upstream in the northwest are the shallows around Þrídrangar , which the shipping route to Heimaey passes by.

The Vestmannaeyjar volcanic system

The Westman Islands are part of an independent volcanic system named after them.


The associated and mainly submarine volcanic system covers an area of ​​about 30 × 40 km in the Atlantic off the southern Icelandic coast with islands and submarine volcanic phenomena such as craters and submarine lava fields, which z. B. form well-known shallows at Stóra-Hraun . The volcanic system forms the southern end of the eastern volcanic zone of Iceland (in the English-language scientific literature: EVZ - Eastern Volcanic Zone ).

Eruption story

Heimaey: View from the Eldfell to the Helgafell

The oldest rocks are approx. 70,000 to 100,000 years old, from which the age of the volcanic system can be deduced. It is one of the youngest in Iceland. Only about 10 post-glacial series of eruptions in this system are known. For obvious reasons, they are documented to varying degrees.

The Háin tuff cone owes its formation to explosive eruptions with pyroclastic currents in the northwest of Heimaey about 8,000 years ago. About 7,500 years ago, the Norðurklettar cliffs were also formed in the northwest of Heimaey. The islands of Alsey , Brandur , Suðurey and Hellisey formed about 6,000 years ago in eruptions similar to those of Surtsey . The ash crater Stórhöfði on Heimaey was formed about 4,600 years ago .

Submarine eruptions belonging to the same series of eruptions could also be detected. The ash cone of Sæfell on Heimaey, on the other hand, was formed in a very explosive eruption around 4,300 years ago, which in turn also generated pyroclastic currents. An effusive phase followed, as well as submarine eruptions. About 4,000 years ago an eruption with explosive as well as effusive phases took place on the Helgafell on Heimaey, origin of lava flows and ash layers .

Presumably, a submarine eruption also took place southwest of Heimaey in 1637 and lasted about 70 days. The submarine eruption was probably explosive. There are also eyewitness reports of an underwater volcanic eruption 3.8 nautical miles southeast of Geirfuglasker and 3.6 nautical miles south of Súlnasker in 1896, which were published in the journal Ísafold 3 in October of the same year. The last series of eruptions in this system took place in 1963–67 when Surtsey was formed and in 1973 BC. a. on Heimaey (eruption of the Eldfell ) instead. In both cases, submarine eruptions were found at other locations in the same volcanic system within the series of eruptions.

Overall, it is noticeable that the majority of the detectable activities are concentrated on Heimaey, and therefore one suspects the magma chamber of the system and thus a central volcano forming under this island.

Climate and Weather

Climate diagram of Vestmannaeyjar

There is an ocean climate on the Westman Islands. The coldest months (January, February) have an average temperature of 1.5 ° C, July and August reach 10.5 ° C. The annual fluctuation around the annual mean temperature of 5.5 ° C is therefore low. The difference between the absolute observed temperature extremes of −14 ° C and +19 ° C is also small. The islands are rich in rainfall, with an average of 1,600 mm per year. On average there is precipitation of at least 0.1 mm on 240 days per year. Storms are common. Especially in winter, these storms can rage very violently with wind speeds of over 150 km / h. This is measured at the Stórhöfði weather station . Furthermore, you will find the highest waves in the coastal area of ​​Iceland here. In January 1990, waves up to a height of 23.3 m southeast of Surtsey were detected (see Monster Wave ).



Vikings landing in Iceland

More recent excavations in Hérólfsdalur on Heimaey from 1971–81 indicate very early settlement of the islands, probably even earlier than on the main island of Iceland, i. H. before the end of the 9th century. This would also explain the naming. According to this, Vikings who initially settled on the British Isles would have traveled from there to Iceland and established branches on the Westman Islands.

On the other hand, the land acquisition book reports on the clan chief Hérólfur Bárðarson , who only founded the first farm on the Westman Islands after the official land seizure by Ingólfur Arnarson. This would have been in Herjólfsdalur.

In the sagas, e.g. B. the Brennu-Njáls-Saga , trips to the islands are mentioned repeatedly to pursue fishing, but also seal hunting, catching birds or collecting eggs.

Trade on the Westman Islands in the late Middle Ages and in the early modern times

During the Middle Ages one finds evidence of more or less lively trade relations, especially with the English, who were quite influential in Icelandic trade until the 14th century, and with the Hanseatic League in the 15th century . However, trade on the Westman Islands was taken about 50 years earlier than on the mainland by the King of Denmark, who obtained a monopoly there through his devoted merchants.

The Turkish attack

In 1627 a fleet of Algerian corsairs reached the islands and used them temporarily as a base. On July 16, 1627, the homes of the local residents were set on fire and many residents were killed. The approximately 300 here and in other places on the south coast, e.g. B. in Berufjörður , captured Icelanders were then offered for sale and sold on North African slave markets. Only a small number of the enslaved - after the Danish government or others had raised a ransom for them or they had ransomed themselves - were able to return home after years. Among these freedmen was Guðríður Símonardóttir , who later became the wife of the psalmist Hallgrímur Pétursson , who was very popular in Iceland . Since these parts of North Africa belonged to the Turkish Empire at the time , people in Iceland still speak of the Turkish attack (isl. Tyrkjaránið , literally robbery by the Turks ).

Life by and with the sea

Fishing grounds around Iceland, Westman Islands in the south
Heimaey Harbor

As early as the Middle Ages and up to the beginning of the 20th century, rowing boats were used to go to the fishing grounds that were often particularly rich around the islands. Before the Turkish attack, the islands were a special attraction for poor people from the nearby districts, who found work and bread there. However, the Turkish attack had a significant negative impact on the population structure on the islands, which continued into the 19th century. The first Icelandic census in 1703 found a total of 318 inhabitants on the islands. The 18th century turned out to be particularly harsh for the Icelanders as well as for the inhabitants of the Westman Islands, not least because of the eruptions of the Laki craters and their consequences. This explains the fact that around 1800 only 173 inhabitants were found on the islands. This development was reversed in the 19th century, the islands prospered, not least because of fishing and the population had grown to 499 in 1860.

Towards the end of the century, however, another difficult phase followed, when the schools of fish became smaller over the years and finally almost 20 men drowned at the same time in a storm in the winter of 1869. However, positive developments were also noticeable in these years. They fought for general education and as early as 1862 an island library with 600 volumes was founded. At the same time, the first insurance company for ships in Iceland was established. Around 1890, the islanders' financial situation improved again with the start of trawling. The number of inhabitants rose to 607.

The inhabitants of the Vestmannaeyjar did not own sailing ships, and at the beginning of the 20th century it was not possible to use trawlers on the islands . The reason for this was to be found in the lack of a suitable port, which the residents of the Westman Islands did not get until the middle of the 20th century despite years of efforts. However, this resulted in a significant economic boom for the area. Fishing and processing brought money and other residents, so that the archipelago - now only Heimaey - had a population of 4,142 in January 2011.

Since the seas around the islands can get very stormy, especially in winter, there have been considerable numbers of human lives in the vicinity of the islands over the centuries. Many people fell overboard when embarking and disembarking ships lying in the roadstead and fishing with rowboats. Numerous ships also sank around the islands.

1973 volcanic eruption series

Houses buried under ash and lava on Heimaey, 1973

(See: main article Eldfell )

A particularly decisive event in the history of the islands was the eruption of the volcanic fissures near Eldfell on Heimaey in 1973, which made the evacuation of all residents necessary and fundamentally changed the appearance of the island.

Most of the residents - over 5,000 - had already left the islands before this volcanic eruption. It had done immense damage, but only cost one human life. After the lava flows were stopped in good time with the help of seawater, the safety of the port in storms from the east and southeast was considerably improved by a 40 m high lava wall.


Herjólfur (III) ferry from 1992

The transport links between the islands were relatively difficult for a long time, until the middle of the 20th century. It only improved when a port was finally built on Heimaey around this time (from 1942). Before that, larger ships - if they got past at all - had to be disembarked in roadsteads and passengers were disembarked first in rowing boats and from the beginning of the 20th century in motor boats, which could prove to be quite difficult in heavy seas. The journey on the Herjólfur III ferry from Þorlákshöfn (until summer 2010) also took about three hours.

The area across from the islands on the mainland has long been considered unsuitable for ports. Only in 2010 a port called Landeyjahöfn was completed there. Since July 20, 2010, the Herjólfur ferry has been commuting around five times a day between the islands and the port, which is near Seljalandsfoss in southern Iceland, every half hour . By August 12, 2010, 40,000 passengers had already been carried across the Sound. However, you have to struggle with sand accumulations in the harbor, especially after winter storms.

It was also considered to tunnel under the sound, which is only approx. 15 km wide here, but this idea was dropped again due to the special geological conditions (submarine volcanic system, very water-permeable rock layers, risk of earthquakes).

The Vestmannaeyjar can also be reached by air from the domestic airport in Reykjavík or from Bakki .

The main street on the island is the Dalavegur S22 . It is 2.5 km long and connects the ferry terminal with the airport. The other two national roads, the Eldfellsvegur T239and the Stórhöfðavegur, T240are secondary roads and not directly connected to the Dalavegur.


Landakirkja (1778)
  • Skansinn with the Norwegian stave church ( Stafkirkjan ) (2000) and Landlyst (1847)
  • Landakirkja : one of the oldest church buildings in Iceland (1778)
  • Pompeii of the North : excavation site in the district buried by the Eldfell in 1973
  • Cemetery of Houses : memorial
  • Stórhöfði : southernmost tip of Heimaey , breeding place for puffins , windiest place in Europe
  • Gaujulundur : gardens in the middle of lava fields
  • Eldheimar - Vulkanmuseum : Museum of the history of the 1973 volcanic eruption
  • Landlyst wooden house : Iceland's first maternity ward


The islanders' sports club is the ÍBV (Íþróttabandalag Vestmannaeyja), which, as usual in Iceland, has various sub-departments for various sports.

The football club ÍBV Vestmannaeyjar was Icelandic football champion three times (1979, 1997, 1998) and won the national cup four times (1968, 1972, 1981, 1998). In a total of 36 international games (European Champion Clubs 'Cup, Cup Winners' Cup and UI / Intertoto Cup) the result is: 4 wins, 7 draws and 25 defeats. In 2006 they rose as the bottom of the table from the first division (Landsbankadeild) and played in the second class until 2008. The financially well-off club managed to get back to the first division in the 2009 season.

In handball, too, the ÍBV has produced excellent players who were part of the Icelandic team in international competitions such as the handball world championship.

A well-known golf course is in the north of Heimaey in Herjólfsdalur, where the famous summer folk festival is held every summer on the 2nd weekend in August.


See also


Stave church at Skansinn on Heimaey donated by the Norwegians
Baptismal font in the stave church

Non-fiction books on the Vestmannaeyjar in general

  • Guðjón Ármann Eyjólfsson: Vestmannaeyjar. Ferðafélag Íslands, árbók 2009. ISBN 978-9979-9675-8-3
  • Carl Küchler: Between the Westman Islands. With seven illustrations after photographs by Lárus Gislason. In: Reclams Universum: Moderne Illustrierte Wochenschrift 27.2 (1911), pp. 777-780.

Non-fiction on Surtsey

  • Sturla Friðriksson: Surtsey: evolution of life on a volcanic island . London, 1975, ISBN 0-408-70700-3
  • Kathryn Lasky: Surtsey: The Newest Place on Earth . New York, 1992, ISBN 1-56282-300-0
  • Carl H. Lindroth: Surtsey, Iceland . 1973
  • GH Schwabe: Surtsey, Iceland: natural first settlement (ecogenesis) of the volcanic island . Kiel, 1970
  • Sigurdur Þorarinsson: Surtsey: birth of a volcanic island in the northern sea . Zurich, 1968.


Web links

Photos and videos

Commons : Vestmannaeyjar  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Scientific contributions to geology

The eruption on Heimaey in 1973

Tourism in the Westman Islands

Wikivoyage: Vestmannaeyjar  - travel guide

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Guðjón Ármann Eyjólfsson: Vestmannaeyjar. Ferðafélag Íslands, árbók 2009, p. 6f.
  2. a b Guðjón Ármann Eyjólfsson: Vestmannaeyjar. Ferðafélag Íslands, árbók 2009, p. 7
  3. HUSchmid: Dictionary Icelandic - German. Hamburg (Buske) 2001, p. 103
  4. HUSchmid, ibid., P. 116
  5. ^ Guðjón Ármann Eyjólfsson: Vestmannaeyjar. Ferðafélag Íslands, árbók 2009, p. 11
  6. cf. z. B. Ísland Vegaatlas. Ed. Ferðakort. 2006, p. 5
  7. Vestmannaeyjar in the Global Volcanism Program of the Smithsonian Institution (English)
  8. cf. Freysteinn Sigmundsson: Iceland's Eastern Volcanic Zone - Fieldtrip. 2003, p. 1 Accessed: February 5, 2011
  9. ^ Guðjón Ármann Eyjólfsson: Vestmannaeyjar. Ferðafélag Íslands, árbók 2009, p. 14
  10. Accessed: February 5, 2011
  11. ^ Guðjón Ármann Eyjólfsson: Vestmannaeyjar. Ferðafélag Íslands, árbók 2009, p. 260
  12. ^ Ingvar A. Sigmundsson, Sveinn P. Jakobsson: Jarðsaga Vestmannaeyja. In: Guðjón Ármann Eyjólfsson: Vestmannaeyjar. Ferðafélag Íslands, árbók 2009, p. 15
  13. cf. SURTSEY ICELAND ( Memento of January 25, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) p. 2 Accessed: February 5, 2011
  14. see e.g. newspaper article from January 2009 in Morgunblaðið : Here we are talking about mean wind speeds over 40 m / sec. and gusts of over 50 m / sec. Accessed: February 5, 2011
  15. cf.
  16. ^ Guðjón Ármann Eyjólfsson: Vestmannaeyjar. Ferðafélag Íslands, árbók 2009, p. 20
  17. ^ Guðjón Ármann Eyjólfsson: Vestmannaeyjar. Ferðafélag Íslands, árbók 2009, p. 120
  18. ^ Guðjón Ármann Eyjólfsson: Vestmannaeyjar. Ferðafélag Íslands, árbók 2009, pp. 120f.
  19. cf. z. B. Guðjón Ármann Eyjólfsson: Vestmannaeyjar. Ferðafélag Íslands, árbók 2009, pp. 130ff.
  20. ^ Guðjón Ármann Eyjólfsson: Vestmannaeyjar. Ferðafélag Íslands, árbók 2009, p. 122ff.
  21. ^ Hagstofa Islands Accessed February 13, 2011
  22. cf. Guðjón Ármann Eyjólfsson: Vestmannaeyjar. Ferðafélag Íslands, árbók 2009, pp. 146–150
  23. ^ Guðjón Ármann Eyjólfsson: Vestmannaeyjar. Ferðafélag Íslands, árbók 2009, p. 73
  24. cf. Guðjón Ármann Eyjólfsson: Vestmannaeyjar. Ferðafélag Íslands, árbók 2009, p. 152f.
  25. cf. z. B. Picture in Morgunblaðið July 20, 2010: Accessed: February 8, 2011
  26. Morgunblaðið , August 12, 2011
  27. cf. Morgunblaðið from October 31, 2010 Ekki tókst að ljúka sanddælingu , accessed on February 8, 2010
  28. cf. z. B. Expert opinion (civil engineer Ísleifur Jónsson) in Morgunblaðið ; Accessed February 8, 2011
  29. cf. v. a. P. 5 Accessed February 8, 2011
  30. cf. z. B. . Accessed February 5, 2011