Despite waking up to a very wet morning here in Iceland, we have enjoyed a very pleasant and dry day on the largest of the Vestmannaeyjar islands, Heimaey, just off of the South coast of Iceland. These are a group of basaltic volcanic island and submarine cones, the youngest of which is Surtsey, a new island which formed by a series of successive volcanic eruptions between 1963 and 1967.
We took a 45 minute ferry ride across from mainland Iceland to the island of Heimaey where we began our days adventures.
Heimaey is sometimes called “Pompeii of the North” which refers to events of January 1973 when the volcano Eldfell erupted. An earthquake was followed by the opening up of volcanic fissues creating lava flows. At the time 5,000 inhabitants were evacuated and half the town was destroyed with many houses being wiped out by the descending lava flows. The harbour, an essential part of Heimaey’s fishing industry was threatened and was saved only when spraying of the moving lava front with sea water, cooled it down enough to create a crust and prevent the onward succession of lava from closing the harbour.
Our first challenge of the day was to climb Eldfell giving us an opportunity to get spectacular views over the rest of Heimaey and to get a clear picture of the extent of the 1973 lava flows and the area of land destroyed.
On descending the volcano, we went straight to “Eldheimar” (meaning “Worlds of Fire”), a museum which opened in 2014 and which is built around the excavation of one of hte houses destroyed by the 1973 volcanic eruption. What archaeologists found was that below the huge amounts of ash and solidified lava, time had stood still in houses abandoned when evacuation took place and subsequently buried by the eruption itself. The museum itself is built around one such abandoned house and audio and interactive displays and exhibits gave students an opportunity to gain some understanding of Iceland’s volcanic nature.
A quick visit to a local supermarket to pick up a few goodies to take home students had a final opportunity to swim on the island, making the most of water slides and hot pots!