Öndvegissúlur – Selfoss, Iceland - Atlas Obscura
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Selfoss, Iceland

Öndvegissúlur

A replica of the decorated wooden pillars Viking sailors threw overboard when finding new places to establish a settlement. 

An Öndvegissúlur is a pair of ornately decorated pillars arranged on either side of the high-seat (throne) used by the head of a household in ancient Viking communities. When traveling large distances in their long ships, the Viking leaders would take their high-seats along as a mark of their position. The larger and more ornate the pillars, the higher the status of the owner.

It’s traditionally held that when approaching a coastline to start a new settlement, the Viking leaders would have an Öndvegissúlur pillar thrown overboard. Where it washed ashore is where the settlers would establish the new community, with the blessing of their gods.

The process of following the currents to establish the best place to settle wasn’t always straightforward. It’s a widely believed tradition in Iceland that the site of the capital, Reykjavik, was the first place in Iceland to be established in this way, but that it took the Viking chieftain Ingólfur Arnarson three years to find the pillar after landing.

The Öndvegissúlur pillar at Selfoss is clearly a reproduction, but the locals will talk with pride about the tradition if you ask them about it. The pole is set in a small park at the side of the river and carved in a stylized fish design. Its age is uncertain, but old photographs show it was not there in the 1940s.

Know Before You Go

If traveling to Selfoss from Reykjavik, the pillar is next to the Subway restaurant, which is just after the suspension bridge over the Ölfusa estuary at Selfoss. You can see the pillar on Google Streetview by looking roughly N from Hotel Selfoss toward the suspension bridge.