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Sólfarið - Sun Voyager

“The sun ship symbolises the promise of new, undiscovered territory.” Those are the exact words of the artist who created Sólfarið – Sun Voyager’s sculpture on the Sæbraut road in Reykjavik.

Photo by Yanshu Lee

Sólfarið – Sun Voyager is the most visited piece of street art in Reykjavik, and its design has been interpreted in many ways. The steel sculpture resembles a ship skeleton; hence people interpreted it as a sculpture dedicated to the ships that Vikings used to visit Iceland.

Of course, art can be interpreted in many ways, so there is no wrong and right about what you see and feel about art. But the real story behind the sculpture is different. 

The author of the sculpture is Jón Gunnar Árnason, and during an interview, he told the story behind his artwork. The idea started from the origins of the Icelandic nation when Vikings from Scandinavia sailed on the sea following the sunset and landed on new land. 

Photo by Globe City Guide 🌎

The idea of the sculpture came to his mind during a trip to Finland when he took part in the Saari-Vala Environmental Art Action.

He said that what he saw there made him experience the feeling of deja vu, and he felt like he was in Iceland, hundreds of years ago when he travelled from Mongolia to Iceland.

Photo by Freysteinn G. Jonsson

He stated in the interview “As you know, there have been speculations that Icelanders as a race originated in Mongolia. I have discovered the history of their migration to Iceland, which runs as follows: Many centuries ago, a mighty warlord, let’s say it was Alexander the Great, was living in the centre of the known world.

He dispatched his bravest and most experienced warriors, along with some women, scribes and other followers, on an exploratory expedition to the cardinal directions, the north, west, south, and east, to discover and conquer new, unknown territories.

Those who headed east followed the rising sun until they reached the steppes of Mongolia. There they settled down and lived in comfort.

Those scribes who accompanied the warriors were expected to document the expedition for the king. Several centuries later, when the documents written by the scribes eventually came to be examined, the people discovered that they had another fatherland in the West.

They, therefore, decided to gather together their belongings and head back west towards the setting sun. We followed the sun for days and years, walking, riding and sailing.

We enriched our experience, and our determination grew in strength as our journey progressed, and we recorded everything that we saw and experienced.

I remember endless pine forests, mountains and waterfalls, lakes, islands, rivers and seas before we eventually reached the ocean.

We then constructed huge ships and sailed westwards towards the setting sun. Some of us settled on a small island in the middle of the ocean while others sailed on further, always towards the sun…

As a result of this vivid experience of my participation in this expedition while on the island of Bockholm in the Finnish archipelago, I carved a picture of a sun ship into a granite rock by the sea.  The sun ship symbolises the promise of new, undiscovered territory.” (Sunvoyager.is)

Sculpture of a viking ship at dawn.

This experience made him create the Sólfarið – Sun Voyager, “an ode to the sun”. The position of the sculpture was hardly chosen because there were other options to position it, but in the end, they put the sculpture on a small headland on Sæbraut.

What stories have you heard of Sólfarið – Sun Voyager? Is it on your bucket list? Visit and learn about the history behind it on a Reykjavik tour.

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