Updated: Apr 3
Helgustaðanáma (Helgustaðir quarry) is the only place in Iceland where mining is carried out. This lack of mining is due to the younger geological age of the land. It takes millions of years to create gold, diamonds, granite, coal, or oil, for that matter. Throughout the centuries, we dug up wooden coals, a primitive stage of coal to heat the houses, but that was more of digging than mining. So Iceland as a geological phenomenon hasn't been around long enough to create minerals of value. But there is one exception in the case of a mineral, the Iceland spar. In addition, if you will, the enormous amount of water available both on the surface and in the ground with a wide range of temperatures, we have found a way to use that to provide heat to the houses and produce electricity. It is not mining, but a way to take advantages of resources in the ground.
The Icelandic spar and its contribution to science
The spar, known as Iceland spar or Iceland crystal was discovered at a remote location by the Helgustaðir farm, to the east of the small town Eskifjörður in the 17th century. The beautiful transparent glassy rocks, called silfurberg in the Icelandic language, had been visible in the rock face but simply to please those who were living in the area – or traveling from Eskifjörður to Vöðlavík cove by the shoreline. Spar is a type of calcite crystal, fully transparent and can split light into two parallel beams. It was a vital component in the early microscopes, as the Iceland spar was exceptionally clear. The Iceland spar became a commodity when this characteristic of it was discovered, and the mining began. As a result, large quantities were exported to Europe since the 17th century until the quarry was closed in 1924 due to newer microscope-making technologies. The largest piece ever removed from Helgustaðanáma weighed 220 kilos and can be found in the British Natural History Museum. The Iceland spar was also crucial in research, which led to the discovery of the wave nature of light. It also contributed to many discoveries in physics, chemistry, and geology. Most of the spars you find in museums across the world are from Helgustaðanáma quarry. So for anyone, young and old, who is interested in science, this is a great stop. It is a great place to take kids while traveling in Iceland.
A preserved mine with a fascinating history
Today, Helgustaðanáma is preserved as a nature reserve and has been since 1975. It is open to visitors, but they have to hike a 50-meter walk uphill to reach the quarry's mouth. At the quarry, you will find a cave from the days of mining. You can still see the rocks sparkling with calcite. It goes without saying that it is strictly forbidden to remove even the smallest stone or any kind of samples from the quarry. While visiting, it is also important to follow paths and guidelines. Helgustaðanáma is of great value and is reserved because of its role in the history of science and for future generations to visit. In 2017, a protection plan was implemented by the government of Iceland for Helgustaðanáma, and The Environment Agency of Iceland now administrates the quarry.
A great place to have a view over the fjords
Helgustaðanáma is easy to visit. First, you need to drive a short distance from the Ring Road in the East Region of the small town Eskifjörður. In the town, you drive east on road no. 954. When you pass by the farm Helgustaðir, you will see a sign pointing to the quarry. You might like to enjoy the uninhabited country to the north and east of the mine, with hiking trails crossing mountains and valleys while you are there. Also at the mine, you have a beautiful view over the fjords, Reyðarfjörður, and Eskifjörður, a spectacular sight.