Turf houses, Iceland's architectural jewels

  • Friday 19, April 2019 03:19 PM
Sharjah24 – AFP: In the Thjorsardalur valley in Iceland's southern highlands, the first green shoots are starting to sprout up from the browned grass, until recently covered by a thick blanket of snow.
Soon, a carpet of lush green turf will cover the ground and envelop the sides and roof of the large farmstead and its stone-encircled chapel, located in the middle of a vast field not far from the Hekla volcano.

Iceland's turf buildings, which blend in perfectly with their natural surroundings, are pristine examples of a local architectural tradition introduced by the first Nordic settlers in the ninth century.

Because of the lack of trees in Iceland, turf was a popular building material and thick turf walls were useful to ward off the cold.

Cut from nearby marshlands, the turf was sliced into slabs and used to create thick outer walls on a structure typically made of timber either driftwood or obtained through trade.

Here four homes clustered together are snugly wrapped in a thick layer of grass.

A 19th century farmstead which now serves as a museum bears a sign across the door reading: 'Where Nature is Part of the House'.

With Iceland's inclement weather, turf homes needed to be rebuilt about every 20 years, though some could last for up to 70 years.

In 1910, there were around 5,500 turf homes of these rustic and basic farmsteads in Iceland, accounting for more than half of all residences, according to historians.

Today, only a small fraction of the 249 homes registered in 1960 still exist, uninhabited and preserved as cultural heritage sites and museums.

The building tradition is still practiced in Iceland, although only by a few craftsmen trained in the techniques used by older generations.

Maintaining the homes is tedious business.

Since 2011, Iceland has placed 14 turf homes on the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage sites, meaning they could be eligible for nomination in the future.