An architectural tradition dating to the 9th century, Iceland's turf houses are an enduring inspiration.
Take it from animals that hibernate in dens surrounded by earth and roots, turf makes for a cozy home in cold climes – a fact not lost on Northern Europeans dating back to at least the Iron Age. Building from turf has been embraced in many places, over many spans of time – Norway, Scotland, Ireland, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, the Netherlands and even in the American Great Plains. But while in these areas the practice was used to build dwellings for those with few means, the turf houses in Iceland differ. Iceland's turf farmsteads developed from the long house – a tradition brought to Iceland from Nordic settlers in the 9th century, the first of which were Vikings. And according to the UNESCO World Heritage List, for which Iceland’s turf house tradition is nominated, the turf-building technique in the island nation is unique in that it was used for all economic classes and for all types of buildings. (And for elves too, right? It's Iceland after all.)
A sweet church at Stong
In celebration of these early green roofs and the employment of humble earth as construction material, here are some of Iceland's super picturesque turf buildings. First up, the turf-clad stave church, above, based upon the foundation of a small medieval chapel which was uncovered during archeological excavations at Stong in Thjorsardalur valley. More about Stong on the next page.