Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat
You won’t see too many military statues when wandering around Reykjavik, or any other part of Iceland for that matter.
Maybe one of Leif Erikson or a Viking of some sort, but not so much a more modern-day soldier. There’s a simple reason for that, Iceland doesn’t have a standing military.
So maybe it shouldn’t come as all that big of a surprise to see they do have the Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat.
The statue kind of looks like the sculptor got halfway and then stopped. From the waist down it depicts a suited man carrying a briefcase. From the waist up it’s a solid block of stone, more specifically a slab of Icelandic volcanic basalt.
Created by sculptor Magnús Tómasson in 1994, its interpretation seems to be left up to the viewer.
Some might interpret as a tribute to the faceless bureaucrats who devote their lives to helping the public. For others, probably most others, it’s more of a satiric comment on bureaucrats being, shall we say, blockheads.
The statue overlooks the Reykjavik City Pond, Tjörnin, which is technically a lake and, at least on my visit there, is extremely popular with ducks and swans.
Fishing in Tjörnin is prohibited, which may or may not have anything to do with Icelandic folklore that tells of two elderly ladies, living on opposing sides of the pond. While washing their stockings one day an argument ensued regarding who had the rights to fish the lake.
As the debate became more and more heated, both women walked into the water, approaching each other. Instantly, all of the fish magically turned into bugs and crustaceans.
There’s been no fishing there since.
The lake is a beautiful area, though I’m sure more so in the summer when the icy winds aren’t blowing off it. I even saw people walking on it while I was there.
Althingi and Alþingishúsið
Nearby the statue is Alþingishúsið, the Icelandic Parliament House.
Althingi, the Icelandic Parliament, is the oldest surviving parliament in the world. Meetings of the elected assembly, founded in 930, were originally held outdoors in open fields.
There’s a lot of Icelandic history from 930 to 2023 I won’t go into, including a lengthy period of time when Iceland was under the authority of the Norwegian king. If you’re interested in a deeper dive, here’s the Wikipedia link.
Alþingishúsið was designed by a Danish architect and built in 1880 and ’81. If you look closely, above four of the upper windows are reliefs representing the four Icelandic Landvættir, spirits of the land, dragon, vulture, giant and bull.
Though many offices and meeting rooms have been moved to other buildings, the Alþingishúsið debating chambers are still in use today.
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