Manuscripts and Special Collections

Dramatic Landscapes

  Illustration showing a ship sailing past Mount Hekla

Mount Hekla illustration from Travels in Iceland (1805)

Volcanoes, geysers, glaciers and earthquakes have shaped Iceland, and, from the Middle Ages, have attracted scholars and scientists, adventurers and tourists. Iceland is still subject to earthquakes - the last, measuring 6.5 on the Richter scale, was in June 2000. Not surprisingly, the actions of gods in mythological tales provided early explanations for the phenomena associated with volcanoes and earthquakes.

Iceland's most active volcano is Mount Hekla (1,491 m), about 70 miles east of Reykjavik. Known to Icelanders in the Middle Ages as 'The Gateway to Hell', it has had 167 recorded eruptions since 1104, the most recent in 1991. There are many depictions of it, including a view from the sea by Ólafsson and Pálsson in Travels in Iceland (1805).

No illustrated account of the country is complete without images of geysers and detailed reports of their jets. Sir George Steuart Mackenzie supplied a number of splendid colour plates in his Travels in the Island of Iceland (1812), including the 'Cauldron of boiling mud on the Sulphur Mountains' and the 'Great Jet of Steam on the Sulphur Mountains'. The New Geyser in his engraving dwarfs the watching men.


Black and white drawing of great clouds around a huge jet of steam

The New Geyser Travels in the Island of Iceland

Colour illustration showing a couple of men standing near a jet of steam rising from the ground

'Great Jet of Steam on the Suphur Mountains' Travels in the Island of Iceland



Book cover of 'A Visit to Iceland' showing an illustration of the landscape

Cover of A Visit to Iceland by Ida Pfeiffer, 1852

Ida Pfeiffer (1797-1858), an Austrian, achieved fame as an intrepid female traveller and writer. Her adventures took her to all parts of the world. The account of her 1845 expedition to Iceland was translated into English in 1852. She describes how she spent a night alone in a tent awaiting the eruption of the Great Geyser.


Next: An Artist in Iceland


Manuscripts and Special Collections

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