Hallgrímskirkja

Visible for over twelve miles, the beautiful church of Hallgrímskirkja towers above the center of the Icelandic capital of Reykjavík. This 73-meter tall structure is the largest church in the country and is named after Hallgrímur Pétursson, the poet who wrote the Passion Hymns. The Lutheran church, finished in 1986, is an icon of the city and stands as a prominent example of modern religious architecture. Perhaps appropriately, it sits at the top of Skolavordustigur Street, the central art and design shopping street of the capital.

Spectacular design

The first designs for this incredible place of worship were submitted in 1937, well before the Brutalist movement of the 1950s that many compare the design to. It was designed by architect Guðjón Samúelsson, the State Architect of Iceland at the time, who saw this project as an opportunity to develop an "Icelandic aesthetic." Sadly, Samúelsson would not live to see this grandiose building completed, as it took 41 years to complete. Many thought the church an eyesore when the nearly 250 foot tall tower was raised in the 1940s, but it's now considered one of the world's most beautiful buildings. The design of the church is said to be inspired by the cooling lava columns made of basalt that line many areas along Iceland's coast.

Magnificent views over Reykjavík

Pay a modest price to enter the church and explore its many features. Hallgrímskirkja's organ is an enormous instrument that was installed in 1992. Weighing 25 tons and standing at nearly 50 feet tall, it was built by the German artisan Johannes Klais. The church holds weekly services where visitors can hear the organ being played, and it also hosts an international festival of organ music every summer. Take the elevator to the top of the bell tower, the country's second tallest building, to be rewarded with unmissable panoramic views over Reykjavík and the surrounding area. Don't set your watch by the large clock on this tower; it is often inaccurate as the strong Icelandic wind frequently knock the hands out of position! The church's front courtyard boasts a statue of Leif Erikson, the Norse voyager, in a dynamic action pose. He can be seen striding confidently forward with his axe. Erikson is believed to be the first European explorer to land in North America, beating Columbus to the "new world" by nearly 500 years. The statue was gifted by the United States in 1930 to honor the thousand-year history of the Icelandic parliament.

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