Iceland is the land of fire, ice…and some of the best waterfalls in the world. Many visitors come to this Nordic island searching for those stunning locations they have seen in photos and glossy travel magazines. Idyllic green pastures or dark, black, volcanic rocks contrast nicely with the mighty falls. Goðafoss waterfall is the perfect example of these types of postcard-perfect shots, but there is far more to this famous Icelandic waterfall than meets the eye. Today, we will learn about the intriguing history of the Waterfall of the Gods, a story that ended up changing a nation’s destiny when it embraced Christianity.
Where is Goðafoss waterfall and what’s it like?
The waterfall is in the northeastern region of Iceland, in the Bárðardalur district. This area is quite close to Road 1 or the Ring Road, so you can visit the waterfall using a 2WD vehicle during the summer time. There is a parking area close to the waterfall, so you do not have to worry about where to park your car or motorhome. You can then hike a bit to the waterfall and enjoy your surroundings. It’s admittedly a peaceful and lovely walk.
Goðafoss is probably the most famous waterfall of the northern region of Iceland. Not surprising at all, as it is 30 meters wide (98 ft.) and 12 meters (39 ft.) tall. It has a semi-horseshoe shape, so the views are clear and striking. Cliffs surround the waterfall, and you can climb up a bit to check the spectacular views. Don’t get too close to the edge as it can be dangerous. The vistas here are perfect for any Instagram feed, but safety always comes first.
The Skjálfandafljót River feeds this impressive cascade. At the same time, the Vatnajökull Glacier ice cap is the source of water for the river. So you can imagine that the water is quite pure and cold!
The story of where Goðafoss waterfall gets its name
Its name literally translates to “waterfall of the gods.” The name comes from a period of Icelandic history in the Íslendingabók or Book of the Icelanders. This book is a compilation made by Ari Þorgilsson, and it narrates the early stories of Iceland.
Icelanders descended from Vikings. Even though they are now a Christian nation, it was not so back in the olden days. The Vikings were pagans and had a Nordic religion with a huge pantheon of gods. In their settlements in Iceland, Vikings kept their religion, their heathen gods, and their religious traditions, even though they were under the rule of the Norwegian Kingdom.
By year 998 AD, Olaf Tryggvason ascended to the Norwegian throne, and he was a converted Christian. Icelanders did not pay much attention to the new Christian religion. Some even laughed at it. As attempts to convert Icelanders failed, tensions between the island’s chieftains and the Norwegian ruler rose. The Icelandic settlement was now under pressure. They had to give up their heathen traditions and convert to Christianity or consequences would come. As Iceland’s foreign relations were limited to trading with Norway, any policy against Iceland was a lot more harmful than you think.
Finally, the main rulers and most powerful people of Iceland decided to discuss this difficult topic. After having a meeting at the Alþingi, the oldest parliament in the world, they made a decision: Iceland was to become Christian. Thorgeir, a pagan priest, took his pagan idols with him. Among them were Odin, Thor and Freyja. He traveled to Goðafoss waterfall and threw them into the waters. He did this as a way of symbolizing a new era. Iceland would leave their pagan past behind, and they would now embrace Christianity.
Goðafoss – Waterfall of the Gods and Key to Iceland’s History
As you can see, this waterfall has not only a godly beauty but also has a godly past and history. It was a living witness to the transformational shift of a whole nation. When you visit Goðafoss, you will surely enjoy the landscape, but you will also feel the pull of its history. Here, Iceland slowly started to become the great nation we know today.