The Old Settlement at Selatangar

  • Throughout the centuries, Icelanders built about 140 fishing stations around the coast.
  • The Old Settlement at Selatangar

Selatangar is an old fishing stations and one of the few around the coast of Iceland that is remaining, although only as ruins.  Throughout the centuries, from the early 14th century and up until the late 19th century, fishing stations were essential for most farms and families in Iceland in their effort to sustain. For many farms, it was part of their livelihood. Even though Iceland was an agricultural society, many families and farms needed to add fish to their meals to sustain because the farms did not always have the capacity to feed them and the farms could not grow grain. Also, fish was one of two commodities Icelanders could give merchants who came to Iceland from Europe and offered interesting products otherwise unavailable. Products like corn, alcohol, coffee, and a variety of textile, to name a few.  But life at a fishing station was probably one of the most challenging ways to make a living throughout the history of the country.   

The many fishing stations around the coast

Throughout the centuries, Icelanders built about 140 fishing stations around the coast.  Early on in the Commonwealth time and the 13th and 14th century, most fishing stations were at Reykjanes Peninsula and the Westfjords.  Fishing stations were usually built near rich fishing grounds and also required a good landing place.  Since all of the fishing was done on rowing boats, so called six-oar rowing boats, the distance to fishing grounds had to be near the shore. Not until the beginning of the 20th century did fishing posts develop into hamlets or villages.  Up until that time fishing stations were mostly provisional and “homes” to farmers and workers from the beginning of February until the beginning of May.  During that period the fishing station was the home and workplace and the place where men took their rowing boats out to the open sea to catch fish. One reason that this was not done during summer was the fact that every individual and every hand was needed at the farm to collect hey and prepare for winter.  The downside was the fact that the time from February to May is the most difficult time of year in Iceland as it is the time of our worst weather and winter storms. This often made life at the fishing post a living disaster.

A very difficult life at Selatangar and most other fishing stations

Visiting Selatangar one cannot help but be amazed at the hardship, and severe circumstances people had to endure at these fishing stations. Set on the south coast of the Reykjanes Peninsula, a short distance from Grindavík, Selatangar was an important fishing station for centuries until the 1880s. The cluster of shacks and huts built into the black lava, often little more than caves is nothing less than incredible.  All that remains today are the foundations of the shore-side dwellings, but enough to give you a good idea of the terrifying way of life and conditions the fishermen had to withstand. Living in haphazardly structured stone cottages, by the raging Atlantic Ocean, with no electricity, limited access to water and ruthless weather conditions. To make thanks even worse it was mostly at a time when daylight is shorter and the dark is longer.  So it did not take a lot of imagination to give wings to stories of ghosts like Tanga-Tómas, who used to harass the fishermen at Selatangar, and probably still does. It wouldn’t surprise us if the ghost has teamed up with its neighbor, Gunna at Gunnuhver to scare people traveling at the Reykjanes Peninsula.  They are both still at large, so be aware and careful when visiting Selatnagar.