Monday, 2 May 2011

Saga Tourism in the 21st Century

Krumskelda in Mýrar
In lieu of a pending report on a couple of the northern sagas -- Ljósvetninga saga and Valla-Ljóts saga -- that I was working on over easter in between milking cows in Eyjafjarðarsveit, I thought a few remarks on 'saga tourism' in 21st-century Iceland might be of interest to those following this blog. This is something I've become increasingly aware of since beginning my project to read all of the sagas in situ around Iceland over the course of this year -- and I've been interested to see how local organisations have and are working hard at presenting 'their' saga to visitors to the area by marking sites or places connected to these sagas with information boards or monuments of various kinds. Around Mýrar, for example, a number of cairns have been set up at important places in Egils saga (e.g. the photo above -- the cairn at Krumskelda, where Skalla-Grímr is said to have buried his silver...watched over by some hardy horses when I was there in March). 

Parchment being prepared
at Gásir's Miðaldadagar
(photo from their gallery
Last Friday, at a one-day annual conference hosted in Reykjavík by the 'Icelandic Saga Trails Association' ('Samtök um sögutengda ferðaþjónustu'), I had the chance to meet a number of people involved in the saga tourism business (and gave a presentation outlining my project). The Saga Trails Association comprises about 30 saga-related local museums and heritage sites around the country which engage with and present medieval Icelandic history and culture to tourists. A map showing the location of each of the members of the Association can be found here as part of the STA website. At some of these sites, medieval-themed re-enactment festivals are held in the summer -- and visitors can observe and participate in recreations of aspects of medieval life. 

Iceland has typically been a destination for those attracted by the prospect of fire-and-ice-related adventure, but saga tourism is a growing business -- and the potential in Iceland to build on locally-based cultural projects and initiatives already established is Inga Hlín Pálsdóttir (from the 'Promote Iceland'  marketing division Íslandsstofa), emphasised in her opening presentation. 'Because the sagas remain a part of how Icelanders view rural landscapes, and indeed how Icelanders view themselves as a nation, saga-related travel is a way of meeting the local culture through environment' writes Kári Gíslason in a post on literary tourism in Iceland on his blog (the full post, from 27th August 1020 is here). Kári lectures in creative writing and literary studies at Queensland University of Technology in Australia and publishes on the Icelandic sagas; his book The Promise of Iceland comes out in August this year...and will no doubt address the subject of saga tourism in Iceland amongst other lines of enquiry and reflection. 

Detail from the Krumskelda cairn
(see photo top right)
But it is crucial that the development of saga-related tourism in Iceland must be done in a sensitive, informed, and responsible way however. Coming from the other academic 'side', I enjoy the different perspectives that re-enactment, for example, can bring to the study of history and culture but draw the line at attending 'Genuine Viking Feasts' and enforced communal horn-drinking feel and break out in a cold sweat thinking about the extreme manifestation of saga tourism -- Iceland being turned into one huge medieval theme park...not that this seems to be on the cards, thank goodness. One of the strengths of the Saga Trail Association, it seems to me, is the autonomous and local nature of the individual participating members: I have enjoyed seeing the different approaches and emphases at the museums/sites I have visited so far and look forward in the coming months to seeing what the sites I haven't yet made it to have to offer.

The Promise of Spring in Iceland has seemed something of a vain hope for much of the past couple of weeks. Though buds are visible on trees and the occasional daffodilly and crocus are valiantly unfurling their bright petals -- the 'first day of summer' (an official public holiday) was about 10 days ago -- several inches of snow fell in Reykjavík on Saturday night and into the early hours of Sunday morning -- by which time it was the First of May. Hmm. I'm off to the West Fjords on Thursday for some Gísla saga action and a spot of filming which promises to be great fun...the Ljósvetninga saga report will come soon, and then an update from the Wild West... gleðilegt sumar to all reading meanwhile!

1 comment:

  1. I think saga-tourism will be a great hit to travelers specially the ones who love reading history. This is a good idea and I hope the Saga Trails Association can pull this off.

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