About the museum
Árbær was an established farm well into the 20th century, and the museum opened there in 1957. Árbær is now an open air museum with more than 20 buildings which form a town square, a village and a farm. Most of the buildings have been relocated from central Reykjavik.
Árbær Open Air Museum tries to give a sense of the architecture and way of life and lifestyles of the past in Reykjavík and during summer visitors can see domestic animals. There are many exhibitions and events held at the Museum which highlight specific periods in Reykjavik's history. These include craft days, vintage car displays, Christmas exhibitions and much more. There is something for everyone at Árbær Open Air Museum.
The history of Reykjavik starts with the settlement of Iceland. Written sources tell that the first settler, Ingolfur Arnarson, claimed land at a site in what is now the city centre. Reykjavik was an agricultural holding through the years, both a church estate and a manor farm. Around the middle of the 18th century, a village grew up there in connection with a wool factory founded by the sheriff Skuli Magnusson. The town received its municipal charter in 1786. During the 19th century, Reykjavik became a trading and administrative centre for the whole country, and its population of craftsmen, fishermen and labourers grew. During the 20th century, dramatic changes took place in employment and living conditions, bringing the town into the modern world.
The beginning of Árbær Open Air Museum
Around the middle of the 20th century, there was growing concern that "old Reykjavik" was disappearing forever. The first efforts to found a museum came in 1942, when the city council was presented with a petition to that effect. The request was well-received, and forwarded for comment to The Reykjavik Society, a group concerning itself with local history. The systematic collection of documents on the town's history began about this time, laying the foundations for the city's archives.
The next development was the city's purchase in 1945, of 118 paintings and drawings of the town by Bishop Jon Helgason. In 1947, the city council decided to found the Reykjavik City Museum and hold an exhibition on the city's history. This event took place in the newly-built National Museum in 1949, and was the occasion of the first campaign to collect artefacts related to local history.
In 1954, the Reykjavik Archives and Historical Collection was officially founded and premises secured at Skulatun 2. Larus Sigurbjornsson was hired as director, and he set about collecting artefacts of many kinds. The old farm Arbaer, which had long been a popular rest stop and inn for people on the way to and from Reykjavik, had been abandoned, and the farm buildings were in poor condition due to weathering and vandalism. In 1957, the City Council agreed that an open-air museum with old houses of historical value should be created there, and it was opened the same summer.
The development of the museum site
The museum's first task was to rebuild the Árbær farm buildings. The first house to be moved to the site was the Blacksmith's House, which came in 1960. Dillon's House from Sudurgata 2 followed in 1961, and the others then arrived in rapid succession. In 1968, the Reykjavik Historical Museum and the Árbær Open Air Museum were consolidated under the name Árbær Open Air Museum.
In the same year, the city council voted to establish the office of municipal curator. The first city curator was Nanna Hermansson (1974-1984), followed by Ragnheidur Thorarinsdottir (1984-1989), Margret Hallgrimsdottir (1989-2000) and Gudny Gerdur Gunnarsdottir (2000-2014).
When the museum was founded in 1957, it was located a short distance outside the built-up areas of Reykjavik. Since then, the city has grown considerably, and now reaches far beyond the museum area. But in spite of the highway Höfðabakkabraut to the east and the residential area to the north, there is still plenty of land around the museum. The museum also benefits from its proximity to the Ellidaar valley, an extensive outdoor recreation area with beautiful groves of trees. One cannot help but admire the foresight of those who chose this site for the museum, as there appears to be sufficient space for expansion for quite some time to come.
The Reykjavík City Museum
On the 1st of June 2014 Árbær Open Air Museum became a part of the Reykjavik City Museum.