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The Saga of the Icelanders, by Sturla Thordarson, is the first source to mention Bessastadir. There it is said to be the property of the powerful chieftain and author Snorri Sturluson. After his murder in 1241, Bessastadir became the first property of the kings of Norway in Iceland. It soon became the seat of the most powerful officials of the kings and served as such until the end of the 18th century.

This parish is on the peninsula Alftanes just south of the capital. The presidential residence in houses dating back to the early 19th century along with the late 18th century church are beautifully situated in the open landscape at Bessastadir. The church is open for guests and is well worth visiting, bearing in mind not to cross the small square between it and the residence behind it. On and around the lagoons is one of the many birdwatchers' paradises of the country.

The settlement has been expanding rapidly during the last few decades. The first recorded information on Bessastadir dates back to the turn of the 12th century, when the farm was the property of the renowned chieftain and author Snorri Sturluson. After his murder in 1241 the property was seized by the Norwegian king, thus becoming the first such to fall into the hands of the kings. Soon after that Bessastadir became the seat of the governors of the country and their mansions stood there until the end of the 18th century.

Early in the 20th century, a director in the capital bought the property and donated it to the state in 1941 on the condition that it would become and remain the seat of the Icelandic presidents. It remained the seat of the governor until 1944, when the first president was elected by parliament.
Ever since the year 1000 there have been churches at Bessastadir. The present one was consecrated in 1796 and last renovated in 1998. It is among the oldest houses made of stone in the country.


From 1867, Bessastadir became private property again until a Reykjavik businessman, Sigurdur Jonsson, donated it for the future residence of the Icelandic presidents in 1941. It is assumed, that Bessastadir has been a site of a church since the year 1000 and the first documented sources mention a church there in the year 1200. It took about 20 years to finish the construction of the present church, which was consecrated in 1796.

It is among the oldest buildings made of cemented stones in the country. The construction of the steeple was not finished until 1823. The church possessed one third of the Bessastadir property in the 15th century, when the first governors of Norway made their seat there. The church and its possessions were confiscated by the Norwegian crown. Christian VII of Denmark decided in 1773 to have a new church constructed. It is not quite clear, who designed it, but most likely it was G.D. Anthon. 

The construction material, stones from the Gallow Lava field east of Bessastadir, was transported on open boats. In 1841, The Bessastadir School came into possession of Bessastadir and the church became a county church in 1867 and remained as such until 1941. The church was decorated with its stained windows in 1956 to commemorate the 60th birthday of the second president of the country, Asgeir Asgeirsson.

The altar rail depicts the apostles and remind of the protecting spirits of the country. The large, carved crucifix on the north wall was the altarpiece before. The present one shows Jesus healing the sick. The altar cloth is made of flax, grown at Bessastadir. A thorough restoration of the church was carried out in 1998.


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