Imagine soaking in a warm lagoon overlooking the North Atlantic Ocean. Your body relaxes, your mind is at ease. Storms brew in the distance. It's a scene rich in rejuvenation and relaxation. It's taking time for oneself and contemplating the natural theatre of the skies above.
Here at Sky Lagoon, we have been deeply inspired by our Icelandic heritage and the strong connection we Icelanders have with bathing in naturally-warm waters. It’s a relatively simple act that has deep roots in our heritage.
On a warm summer afternoon, on a stormy spring morning or on a blisteringly-cold and dark winter night, you can find Icelanders gathering in hot pools to connect and relax. It's a tradition that goes back centuries, one that appeals to young and old.
At Sky Lagoon, we're welcoming you to experience the rich bathing culture of Iceland. Here, we'd like to introduce you to the key moments in this evolving story.
When a small group of Norwegian noblemen arrived on what is today Iceland in the 9th Century. They made a home in this unsettled land without challengers. Within decades, they'd set up the Icelandic Commonwealth at Thingvellir. Shortly after, we know they discovered the subtle joys of this landscape, including the healing powers of the warm geothermal waters. Early literature from this era includes mention of geothermal waters for bathing and clothes washing.
Iceland's famous 12th century historian Snorri Sturluson built himself a thermal pool for relaxation with geothermally-heated water from the Skrifla hot springs. Soon, another dozen pools were built by medieval Icelanders including one at the Snorralaug historic landmark. Since it was mentioned in Landnáma, the influential Book of Settlements that was written around 1200 and is a hallmark piece of literature here, there's some debate if Snorralaug actually dates back even further than Sturluson's time!
Settlers eased the harsh challenge of surviving the Icelandic winters by maintaining cultural standards for cleanliness. Pools modelled after Snorralaug were found in many farms throughout the countryside, where residents could bathe, warm up and strive for healthiness. Old farm houses or crofts often featured small shacks over steaming water for simple hygiene and wellbeing.
When he'd become very sick and frail, the great Viking poet Egill Skallagrímsson's last words are said to have been, "I want to go to the pool." It is believed that both Snorri Sturluson and Egill suffered from arthritis and frequently went to hot pools to reduce their symptoms and to generate both physical and mental wellbeing. In his last moments, Egill's yearning for the warmth tells all we need to know.
Icelanders also have a rich heritage of saunas or "dry baths." Huts were built over steaming natural sources and men would sit inside sweating profusely as an act of health. A 16th Century story tells of people crawling into a hut built above a hot lava crack. In areas without such cracks, hot stones were used to heat enclosed turf huts. Cool water on the fiery rocks created heat.
For many decades in the early 20th Century, Icelanders were determined to find gold in their hills. But when drills came up empty, the gold rush that never was dwindled and those same drills were used to access geothermally-heated water. Suddenly, unlimited hot water, coupled with a new fascination with learning to swim, meant that many modern swimming pools were constructed in the 1940s and 1950s. Today, there are more than 200 public pools in Iceland, probably more than in any other country per population.
With a deep reliance on the sea for the economy, and a strong presence of seafood and fishing in their cuisine, fishing has always been essential in Iceland. Fishermen in Iceland began learning to swim in the 19th Century for their own survival. Today, swimming lessons are mandatory in Iceland in elementary schools, and so people of all ages go regularly to the pools to relax and also to build strength for the deep waters.
The culture of enjoying the benefits of a warm soak are at the core of contemporary Icelandic culture and community. People gather in pools to exercise, chat, gossip, debate, relax and reconnect with themselves and one another. Lagoon.
These elements have all contributed to a culture that appreciates the naturally-sourced bounties of geothermal water. Experience the rich heritage of Icelandic bathing culture yourself at Sky Lagoon.