Hellarnir við Hellu

Caves of Hella - Caves of Ægissíða


Useful Information

Location: Located at Route 1 (the Ring Road), Farm Ægissíða near the village Hella. (N63° 50' 16.127" W20° 24' 25.551")
Open: AUD to 16-AUG daily 12, 14, 16.
17-AUG to AUG Sat, Sun 12, 14, 16.
[2020]
Fee: Adults ISK 2,900, Children (0-15) free.
Groups (+): Adults ISK , Children (5-15) ISK .
[2020]
Classification: SubterraneaCellars
Light: electric
Dimension: Barn Cave: L=150m.
Lamb Shed Cave: H=1.5m.
Guided tours: D=45min.
Photography:
Accessibility:
Bibliography: Yrsa Sigurðardóttir (2005): Þriðja táknið (Last Rituals).
Address: Caves of Hella, Ægissíða 4, 851 Hella, Tel: +354-620-6100. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1199 first written mention of a man-made sand cave in Jarteinabækur Þorláks Helga.
1270 name of Ægissíða farm first written mentioned.
18th cty first written mention of the caves in Ægissíða in a poem.
1818 a priest in Oddi writes about the caves.
1913 cave discovered by a horse stepping into one of the chimneys in the field above the cave, subsequently used to house livestock,
1936 Ahnenerbe organised an expedition to Iceland to investigate ancient temples and visited the caves.
1960s caretakers give tours to Icelandic school groups.
2016 caves restored and made accessible for tourists by locals.
2017 discovery of a 12th cave.
18-JAN-2020 four of the twelve caves opened to the public.

Description

The Hellarnir við Hellu (Caves of Hella) are named after nearby town Hella. As they are located at the farm Ægissíða, they are also called Caves of Ægissíða. The caves were dug artificially and have been used by Icelandic farmers as sheep sheds, barns and, food storage. But their origin and original use are unknown, the local lore tells they were dug before the Viking settlement, most likely by Papar.

Those Papar were Irish Christian monks. But the existence of those Irish visitors is still unclear, while St. Brendans voyage is documented, there is no archaeological evidence. The oldest Scandinavian source mentioning the existence of the Papar is the Íslendingabók (Book of the Icelanders) by Ari Þorgilsson. It was written some 250 years later, between 1122 and 1133, and was thus based on legends. The legendary Papar lived on Iceland when the first Norsemen began settling in 874, and they soon left Iceland because of their dislike of the 'heathen' Norse. According to this book they were leaving behind numerous books, bells and crosiers, but none survived. Archaeological research can never disprove the existence of the Papar but there is no tangible evidence to prove that they existed. But Ægissíða gives another twist to the story: Ægissíða means by the sea in Icelandic, but is nowhere near the sea, in Gaelic Aes Sídhe is pronounced identically and is the name of fairies or hidden people which live in man-made caves.

The first written mention of a man-made cave in Jarteinabækur Þorláks Helga tells about bulls inside a cave that collapses. However, the saga focuses on the bulls and not the cave, and unfortunately it is not clear which cave is meant. The first written mention of the caves in Ægissíða are in a poem, which names eighteen caves at Ægissíða. In 1818 a priest in Oddi writes about the caves at Ægissíða and emphasizes that the caves are very old.

There are over 200 man-made caves in the southern part of Iceland. The caves at Ægissíða are not the biggest, but there are 12 caves which makes this the biggest group of caves. The most famous cave is Fjóshellir (Cow Shed Cave) which is the biggest cave. A cross was embossed in one of the walls but the origin and meaning of the cross is unknown. Another cave is named Kirkjuhellir (The Church), the Barn Cave and Lamb Shed Cave are connected by an unusual 25 meter long tunnel. The caves feature drawings which are restored supervised by the Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland. There are also engravings and carved seats in the walls.

The riddle of the caves and their beauty made them a very popular tourist attraction during the 1970s and early 1980s. They were mentioned in any guidebook of the island. The caves were visited by scolars, poets and priests, who were speculating about the origin and age of the caves. Matthías Jochumsson held a mass in Kirkjuhellir. The Icelandic poet and lawyer Einar Benediktsson had his friend and painter Jóhannes Kjarval sketch the cave murals. The caves are a location in Yrsa Sigurðardóttir's first crime novel Last Rituals.

The caves were reopened in 2020 and are guided by historians. The entrance fees for the four open caves are used for the restoration of other caves. The caves are also open for special events like weddings. concerts, surprise trips, ghost stories, scientific explorations, midsummer festival, christmas adventures, and writers nights.