Built with Fish: History Lessons at the Museum of Hafnarfjörður (Museums in Strange Places S01 E09)

How do you keep history fresh at a municipal history museum, even when many people in your audience have lived in that small town their entire lives? How do you best serve your local audience while still offering something interesting for tourists? These are the challenges the Hafnarfjörður Museum is trying to solve. The museum is housed in seven historic buildings in this old harbor town in southwest Iceland, and in the latest episode of Museums in Strange Places, Museum Director Björn Pétursson gives me a tour of the main building, Pakkhusið, and shares some of the museum’s recent successes and challenges.

Music in the this episode is by FÚNI, a duo playing Icelandic folk music on traditional instruments. The song in the beginning is “Bar svo til í byggðum – Once upon a time” and the song at the end is “Æskustöðvarnar / My childhood home.” (Follow the links for lyrics in English and the story behind each song.)

For more information on Hafnarfjörður, “The Town in the Lava,” and its history, check out the town’s excellent website.

Signage outside Pakkhúsið, the main museum building.

How to Listen to Museums in Strange Places

The Museums in Strange Places podcast is available on your favorite podcast listening platforms (Did I miss one you like? Let me know!):

Museum Director Björn Pétursson.

About the Museums in Strange Places Podcast

Museums in Strange Places is a podcast for people who love museums, stories, culture, and exploring the world. This year, the podcast focuses on museums in Iceland.

Subscribe to Museums in Strange Places and you can expect fascinating conversations with Icelandic museum professionals, world class exhibitions, private museums in gas stations, an introduction to Icelanders and their knack for storytelling, and a unique window into the inner workings of museums on this strange but wonderful little island.

The podcast is hosted by Hannah Hethmon, an American Fulbright Fellow living in Reykjavík. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @hannah_rfh.

Photos of the Hafnarfjörður Museum

Sívertsens-husið, the oldest house in Hafnarfjörður.
Beggubúð, one of the museum’s buildings.
Exhibit in Beggubúð.
Signs outside the museum pointing to its seven different historic buildings.
Signs outside the museum pointing to its seven different historic buildings.
The different buildings of the Hafnarfjörður Museum.
The back of Pakkhúsið, the museum’s main building (a historic warehouse).
A temporary exhibit on the first public schools in Hafnarfjörður.
An exhibit on Hafnarfjörður’s first church within the town limits.
WWII in Iceland exhibit. The image on the hanging linens is a movie showing historical clips.
The exhibit on Hafnarfjörður’s popular early cinemas.
The toy exhibit on the top floor of Pakkhúsið, the main museum building.
The toy exhibit on the top floor of Pakkhúsið, the main museum building.
The toy exhibit on the top floor of Pakkhúsið, the main museum building.
The toy exhibit on the top floor of Pakkhúsið, the main museum building.
Stairs between the three levels of Pakkhúsið, the main museum building (a historic warehouse).
A typical fisherman with his boat.
The historical image of Hafnarfjörður discussed in the beginning of the episode.

Photos of the town of Hafnarfjörður in Southwest Iceland

I share more photos of the town in last week’s post about my interview with the director of Hafnarborg, the art museum in Hafnarfjörður.

Historical Photos of Hafnarfjörður

You can see more photos by searching “Hafnarfjörður” on the website of the Reykjavík Museum of Photography.


18th of August 1932. Funeral of Kristinn Vigússon (1872-8.8.1932), the chairman of the Parish Council of Hafnarfjörður Church.
©Ljósmyndasafn Reykjavíkur
Around 1953-1958, a sailor with his boat, probably at Hafnarfjörður harbor.
Photo by Gunnar Rúnar Ólafsson.
©Ljósmyndasafn Reykjavíkur
On February 7, 1972, an accident in the fish plant in Hafnarfjordur caused the walls of the factory to give way and about 2,000 tons of capelin fish flooded out.
© Ljósmyndasafn Reykjavíkur

Hafnarfjörður in 1920

Hafnarfjörður in 1972.

Independence day celebrations (not sure what year).

Behind the museum, present day.

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