Updated: Jan 15
Skólavörðustígur, Reykjavik, Iceland.
This street with an unpronounceable name, "Skólavörðustígur" is the center of all the going's-on in Downtown Reykjavik. Usually I'm drawn to vast landscapes vs. cities and skylines, but this little street is an absolute must see, must experience, must hear my story about it so you can be convinced, yourself.
I haven't been shy about my obsession for Iceland, but SURPRISE it's not just because she's pretty. Iceland has a truly remarkable and fascinating History. Seeing how this unique little island, in the middle of nowhere, has progressed over the recent centuries (bypassing some other modern day societies BY FAR in my educated and humble opinion). Nonetheless, let's dive into what makes this little street so important, to me, and to the history of Iceland.
A Brief History of Skólavörðustígur:
The year was 1793. Reykjavik had only been considered and recorded in the history books as a small fishing/trading town for a mere 7 years at this point. The hill itself had not yet been constructed upon, back then this area, where the church now sits, was registered as a bird reservation at the time. Given Reykjavik’s relatively short history, it is hard to imagine that, only two centuries ago, a group of schoolboys collected rocks and stones from the area, hiked up the subtle hill and proudly raised a cairn to honor their newly built school nearby. The first buildings started rising around Skólavörðuholt in the mid-19th century, some of which are still standing and preserved by the city. The surrounding area has evolved from a rock quarry with a cairn on top, into a lively and colorful neighborhood, where Reykjavik’s top chefs, designers, and artists all congregate.
The picture above was taken in 1877 from the Skólavarða, a stone observation tower on Skólavörðuholt. It was later torn down.
Pretty amazing how things change over the years, isn't it? This center street, arguably Reykjavik's "Main Street" as some tourists call it, really peaked my interest when I started learning more about the city's culture and early beginnings. Fast forward a bit, from that quick historical tidbit... knowing what this street means to me, and to Iceland, is downright heartwarming. Not only does this street act as an enormous tourism profit trap for the country's economy, it also acts as the center for a lot of movements that changed the country's history. Iceland itself has set some pretty high standards when it comes to equal rights and pride, bringing me to our next little history lesson. UNFORTUNATELY we arrived a month too late to experience the full celebration, but Iceland has one of the most impressive Prides in the world. If this puts anything into perspective, in 2019, the year we visited, the population in the city is about 125,000. Over 100,000 revelers showed up for the epic 20th Pride in Reykjavik that year. If that doesn't give you chills, you're heartless.
"Even when pride isn’t in full swing, Iceland has long since held a reputation for being an especially queer-friendly nation. Same-sex sexual activity in Iceland was decriminalized in 1940, whereas such relations weren’t fully decriminalized in the United States until 2002. Later, in 2010 Gay Marriage was officially legalized. The first organized Pride celebration in Iceland was held in 1999. 21 Years of equal rights, rainbows, and all the fierceness you’d expect from this impressive country." -GoMag
Being a member and supporter of the LGBTQ+ community, this was an especially important shot for me to capture, for obvious Pride reasons, but also because of my overall marvel at how this area has transformed in such a short time. It was a perfect, partly cloudy day; late in the afternoon as the waves of tourists became thicker and harder to avoid, we arrived at the center of the city, with perfect lighting. First of all, let me give a short lesson on proper tourist etiquette. The most important rule you should always remember is BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS. I mean, for safety reasons obviously, (not everybody can call Liam Neeson to come rescue them), but also because being aware and respectful of your environment, local culture, other human beings, and overall surroundings, is what makes you an A-List tourist in my book. If I can be completely frank, as a Photographer there's nothing worse than spending 30 minutes trying to avoid every disrespectful person who obliviously jumps into your shot. I get it, some people are just in the moment, but for the love of Odin, don't ruin it for other people.
My second tip while traveling is, when you can't avoid other tourists who are probably there for the exact same reason you are, is learn to incorporate them instead! As long as you're not being creepy or including too many "faces", adjusting to an ever-flowing tourist population is really essential for a trip to Iceland. I'm sure you've seen a ton of Photography from Iceland that looks hella (lol) remote, but in reality they probably angled it just right to block out the crowd of people there during the tourism seasons. Sometime's there's actually a line for certain photographic vantages, which takes some of the luster away, but don't let that cheapen your trip. Iceland is magical, other people wanna see it too! So, as the afternoon was growing late, along with my patience, I reminded myself of the above mindset, and tried to find a way to use the crowds in my composition. After a few people figured out what I was doing, with my tripod, posted up in the middle of the road (foot traffic only), the tourist sea parted, and I had a split second to take advantage. As you can see, another Photographer took advantage of this same instant to crouch right in my shot... but I just smiled, and hit the shutter anyway.