Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Esja is Reykjavík’s mountainous jewel in the crown. Spectacularly dominating the skyline it flanks the north of Europe’s most northern capital, providing a stunning display of color, light and rock.
One feature that often takes visitors by surprise when they visit Reykjavík is its proximity to nature. It is a rare treat to have a capital city with all its modern facilities immediately at hand and yet be able to enjoy the spoils of raw, untouched nature within minutes of leaving the city. Perhaps the jewel in the crown of the countryside surrounding Reykjavík is Esja, the extensive, monolithic mountain range that stretches itself out beyond the north of Reykjavík from the edges of the Atlantic towards Thingvellir National Park in the west.
The name ‘Esja’ is said to have come from the time of the settlement of Iceland and from the saga Kjalnesingasaga which tells of a farm called Esjuberg in Kjalarnes. The story goes that a wealthy Irish widow called Esja was amongst a group of Irish immigrants who traveled to Iceland by ship. However, as is often the case regarding historic folklore, there is some debate about this story and it’s been said that the woman’s name comes from the mountain and not the other way round.
As a mountain range 914 meters high, Esja boasts some impressive statistics. To start with, to say she has been around for a while is a gross understatement, with the western part of the mountain range being the oldest, dating back approximately 3.2 million years, and the eastern part being comparatively ‘young’, having only chalked up approximately 1.8 million years. Approaching Reykjavík by sea, Esja has a magnetic majesty humbling even the biggest cruise liner by the colossal hunk of stone that stretches across the land. One can only imagine the jaw-dropping awe that the first settlers experienced centuries ago as they approached their new homeland.
Today, Esja means many things to many people. On a practical level, views of the mountains have had a marked influence on property prices in recent times; some say they can predict the weather depending on the ever-changing palette of colors the mountain range offers; and it’s a testimony to how such a natural environment has been protected that there are no high-rise hotels or fun fairs nearby, swamping and spoiling the mountain range’s beauty.
It is perhaps this natural beauty that draws visitors to it again and again. A walk at sunset by the North Atlantic Bay in the Reykjavík suburb of Grafarvogur can be quite a special experience with the backdrop of Esja rivaling any rose-tinted Hollywood sunset. At times, she can appear ethereal and enigmatic whilst at other times she can be threatening and ominous with mist creeping tenuously down the inky, black rocks. Consequently, as an artists’ muse and inspiration Esja is a paradise. In the summer months, the mountain is covered in a soft, mossy green and on the bluest, brightest and coldest mornings in winter you can almost feel the pure, chilling air that hangs over the summit.