Our Beautiful World

Gullfoss, Iceland

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Gullfoss (The Golden waterfall) is Iceland's most famous waterfall, and one of the natural
wonders of the world.Gullfoss is also by far Europe’s most powerful waterfall.
On a sunlit day, the mist clouds surrounding the hammering falls are filled with dozens of
rainbows, providing an unparalleled spectacle of color and motion.

It is in the mighty glacial river Hvita (White river), just a few kilometres from another natural wonder, the world-famous Geysir. The enormous white glacial cascade drops 32 metres into a narrow canyon which is 70 metres deep and 2.5 kilometres long. In winter it has an unusual appearance when it is garbed in ice and snow.

Hvítá - The river

The river system of Hvítá, Sogið and Ölfusá extends from the mountains to the beaches
and from the glaciers to the sea, connecting Kerlingarfjöll, Gullfoss, Geysir, Skálholt,
Ármannsfell, Thingvellir and Eyrarbakki. For thousands of years the rivers have followed
their courses, delighting Sigríður of Brattholt with their beauty and power, while posing
a threat to travellers, rich and poor alike.

Many people received a soaking, others were even drowned, and there were people who
claimed that mysterious monsters dwelt in these streams. Today the waters still flow from the mountains to the sea, a continuing source of wonder and mystery.

The watershed of the Ölfusá river region covers some 6100 square kilometres, or about one seventeenth of the entire area of Iceland. With each passing second they empty some 440 cubic metres of fresh water into the ocean, amounting to a total daily flow of 38 million tons.

Gullfossgjúfur - the canyon

The canyon below Gullfoss extends for some 2.5 kilometres and reaches a depth of 70 metres.Geologists have
suggested that it may have been formed in torrential floods
caused by so-called jökulhlaup (glacial outbursts),
occurring near the end of the last ice age.

Gullfoss is an example of a waterfall forming where
the water has followed a fissure in thelava and carved
a passageway through it.

Gullfoss - the Golden falls

Gullfoss is actually two separate waterfalls, the upper one has a drop of 11 metres and the lower one 21 metres. The rock of the river bed was formed during an interglacial period.

Water flows over Gullfoss at an average rate of 109 cubic metres per second. The heaviest
floods jökulhlaup (glacial outbursts) have recorded a flow of 2000 cubic metres per second. During the summer the flow is 130 cubic metres per second, which would take only 3 seconds
to fill the building nearby showing tourists the history around Gullfoss.

People were eager to exploit the power
potential of Gullfoss and manyplans for hydroelectric developments
on the river Hvítá have been proposed.

The map shows one proposal for an HEP
project from 1977. It would have produced
2444 gigawatt hours of electricity annually and doubled Iceland's production of HEP at the time. The remaining water flowing over Gullfoss would have been approximately one-quarter of
the normal summer flow.


Sigurður Thórarinsson, geologist:

These days men are prone to make the claim, and not without good reason,
that our country's waterfalls hold much of the nation's potential for the future,
Based upon values measured in kilowatt hours.
But it is also essential for our nation's welfare in the future
that we remember that the country's waterfalls also hold a potential
on which we cannot place monetary value,
that of hours of pleasure

See also: Gullfoss photo gallery

Heiðarland - Heathland

The land surrounding Gullfoss is about 200 metres above sea level. Vegetation is typical of Icelandic heathland and many of its characteristic forms are visible here. Lichens grow on the rocks, forming irregular patches of varying colours. Wooly willows are widespread in the dry moorland and are easily recognised by their light green leaves covered with grey fuzz.
Other common small shrubs are blueberry and dwarf birch. Lady smock is found in
the marshy, low-lying areas. Those with a keen eye for different types of plants will
see holy grass along the edges of the paths. In former times holy grass was picked to line
chests and drawers as it gave a fine scent to clothes and linens.

Sigríður Tómasdóttir of Brattholt

Sigríður was born at Brattholt on February 24, 1871, and
lived there all her life. Brattholt wasan isolated farm;
the few visitors were usually travellers on their way to Gullfoss. Sigríður andher sister often accompanied visitors
to Gullfoss, and laid the first pathway down to the falls.
The attitudes of these people, many of whom had travelled great distances to catch sight of Gullfoss, must have had considerable effect on Sigríður.

Sigríður had no formal schooling but read widely. She did
her share of farm work both indoors and out, and had
artistic talents: was good at sketching and handicrafts,
and drew and embroidered figures of flowers and animals.

Sigríður often went on long journeys, both to gather sheep
in mountain pastures and to visit trading towns for supplies, either on horseback or on foot. She died in Hafnarfjörður
in 1957 almost 87 years of age and was buried in Haukadalur. She is known first and foremost for her
efforts regarding Gullfoss, and a monument to her was erected there in 1978.

Baráttan um fossinn -Struggle for the falls

At the turn of this century efforts began to acquire the rights to waterfalls and rapids in Iceland
for industrial and hydroelectric purposes, often by agents for foreign enterprises. Early in 1907
an Englishman sought to purchase Gullfoss. He offered to pay a price of ISK 50 000, a sum
equal to fifty times the assessed value of the farmhouse at . Brattholt. Tómas, the farmer of Brattholt and Sigríður's father, replied "I won't sell my friend."

In the autumn of 1907 a law was passed to ensure that only individuals and organisations
resident in Iceland could acquire the country's waterfalls without seeking special permission
and fulfilling certain conditions. After the law was passed, surveillance was relaxed, but hydropower speculators managed to gain control of many of the country's largest fallsnonetheless.

When Gullfoss came into the possession of men who were agents for foreign
parties Sigríður, the farmer's daughter from Brattholt rose up to fight against several of the
richest and most powerful men in Iceland and have the agreement concerning Gullfoss revoked. She put every ounce of effort she could muster into the struggle, made one long journey after another, crossing mountains and fording rivers, in all seasons. In Reykjavík she went from one official to another, but all in vain. The court handed down its verdict against her.

In 1928, however, when the agreed rental for the falls was not paid, the rental agreement
became null and void. Einar Guðmundsson was born on November 4, 1904, and fostered by the family at Brattholt from an early age. He purchased the Brattholt property from Sigríður
Tómasdóttir in 1939. In 1975 he wrote the Icelandic Nature Conservation Council a letter
offering to make them a gift of all the land surrounding the falls which the Council wished to
declare a nature reserve.

In December of 1976 Einar turned over part of the Brattholt property to the Nature Conservation Council, stipulating only that the land was to be fenced before the end of 1977 and that it would be thenceforth used as provided for by the nature conservation act.

The Ministry of Culture and Education signed an agreement creating a nature reserve around
Gullfoss on March 9, 1979.

and on it goes on its long way to the ocean...

See also our other pages about Iceland. Click here

Text mostly from a paper by the Nature Conservation Agency
Skulagata 21- 101 Reykjavik
E-mail: natturuvernd@natturuvernd.is

all pictures: © www.vulkaner.no


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