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Only minutes from Hotel Rangá, the Caves of Hella is a new attraction that has recently opened to the public. We interviewed Dóra’s Steinsdóttir, Project Manager, to learn more about these mysterious caves. Ask about the caves in our reception, and we can help you to book a tour of these fascinating structures.
How old are the caves of Hella?
The exact age of the caves has not been confirmed scientifically. However, there are indications that the caves were already here when the Vikings came to Iceland around 850 A.D. More recently, the caves have belonged to the same family for almost 200 years, since 1840.
What was the purpose of the caves of Hella?
We know that the caves of Hella are all man-made. The exact purpose of the caves is unconfirmed, though we do have our theories. You can see that some caves might have a distinction from others. One cave has elevation in the floor and a small altar, perhaps indicating Christian services of worship. There is another cave that has something that we can guess is an old stove, where perhaps people used to cook.
Throughout the years, the caves have taken on a variety of uses. Some caves were certainly used by people as a place to live. In more recent history, farmers have used the caves as storage or to hold animals.
One theory is that Irish monks built these caves and had some kind of society. When you are sailing from Ireland, the location of the caves is exactly where you would land. What’s more, the sandstone offered the conditions to create a dwelling and a base for the Irish monks.
Though we do not have scientific or academic proof, we have many theories. But there are very few historical places that have this element of mystery. You are left with questions and things to wonder about. You are free to make your own assumptions.
How many caves are there?
There are 12 caves that belong to the great Ægissíða farmland. Only four of them are currently accessible to people. The caves must be maintained; if the forecourt (cave’s entrance) is not maintained, then the caves can gradually fill up with sand and dirt.
When the farmers stopped using the caves of Hella during the last century, they stopped maintaining the caves. With the remaining caves we need to excavate, redo the forecourt, make chimneys and do other maintenance. The walls of the cave are made of sandstone which is very fragile and must not be touched. It is some work to get the cave into a presentable form.
We try to keep true to our roots and to the caves’ history. In fact, we maintain the forecourts as they should be traditionally. We are trying to preserve the history of the caves and their traditional materials of turf and rocks.
Why do we find caves in this part of Iceland?
Number one, we have sandstone. In the ice age, volcanic activity produced fine sand to create the sandstone. To create this kind of cave, we need this specific material.
Are there any marks on the cave walls?
There are many etchings and carvings on the walls. However, we cannot date these carvings because the walls are made of sandstone. There is no carbon dating or anything indicating time. If I were to make a scratch on the wall today, it would have the same surface as carvings made many years ago. Therefore, nothing can help us to date these carvings.
Some carvings are certainly more recent but some are more mysterious. For example, there are Viking runes carved onto the walls of the caves of Hella, though there is no way to know if the Vikings actually made these carvings.
Can you tell us more about the tour?
Guests will meet their guide at the Caves of Hella reception, which is located just outside the town of Hella. However, private and luxury tours can be booked at any time. A guide will bring the guests through the caves and share stories about the caves and theories about their origins.
The temperature of the caves is always about 4 degrees Celsius / 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Visitors should wear a light jacket in the summer and a warmer coat during the winter. It is also important to wear good hiking shoes. The floors are uneven, so you need a good grip. There is a short walk outside from the reception area to the caves’ entrance, so it is important to dress for the weather.
What is special about the luxury tours?
Our luxury tours offer guests a special whisky and beer tasting inside the caves. We served these excellent drinks with smoked and cured goose. The whisky is Icelandic and we offer five different types. We also offer excellent beer made from potato peel. All of these products are locally produced.
What’s more, the goose is from the butcher Villt og alið in Hella, and the beer is made from potato peel grown in the nearby village of Þykkvibær. The whisky is made from barley that is grown in Landsveit. There are even some whisky and beer barrels that are aging in one of the caves. Visitors can book our luxury tours at any time of the day. This could be an amazing way to celebrate a special moment, perhaps even an engagement or birthday.
Do you host weddings inside the caves?
Yes, we love to host cave weddings. We prepare the cave and decorate it with candles and seating. If you have any special requests, we will honor them. Couples can have any kind of ceremony – Christian, pagan, civil ceremonies or humanist. The caves are a great place to take photos. The lighting is magical and makes everyone look good. Wedding couples can also set up some fun activities outside the caves. We have had parties with a Viking theme and set up axe throwing and archery for guests.
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Do other events take place inside the caves of Hella?
Throughout the years, we have held concerts, lectures, stand-up comedy and this summer we will even host a play. We are more than happy to share the space with the community.