Iceland hosts its first ever ceremony in honour of the French Hospital
The first ever Local Award Ceremony in Iceland took place on 28 October 2016 and celebrated the success of the rehabilitation and conversion of the French Hospital in Faskrudsfjordur into a museum in the EU Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Award 2016. Ambassador Matthias Brinkmann, Head of Delegation of the European Union to Iceland, Piet Jaspaert, Vice-President of Europa Nostra, and Pall Bjorgvin Gudmundsson, Mayor of Fjardarbyggd, acclaimed the unique value of this iconic building for Iceland’s history and the harsh human conditions that for over 300 years have accompanied the fishing expeditions from France to the Icelandic waters.
“This heritage site is in itself a unique and true European symbol, testifying for how Europeans in past centuries have been looking ahead and abroad, searching to improve their condition of life, often at peril of their own life. And exactly to help and support their fishing expeditions this hospital was built here as a place for rescue and healing,” stated Piet Jaspaert.
“What captivated and convinced the Awards’ Jury was Minjavernd’s brilliant idea of relocating the French Hospital to its original site in Faskrudsfjördur, restoring it in a highly professional way, respecting the original construction, faithful to the traditional crafts and materials and in the meantime integrating meaningful new use as hotel and museum, closely connected to the original function as hospital and recalling the hard life and fate of these French fishers who for about three centuries have been sailing to the Icelandic waters to supply their countrymen and women with the wonderful Icelandic cod,” noted the Vice-President of Europa Nostra.
Minjavernd, a dedicated Icelandic restorer’s enterprise – a joint venture of the State, the City Reykjavik and a private Partner Minjar – with credentials for over 30 years, has developed an innovative concept by relocating the dilapidated French hospital to its original site and integrating the other French houses in Faskrudsjfjördur into a harmonious multifunctional whole with a modern new purpose as hotel, museum and chapel. The effective unity of the whole project was reached by recreating the harsh fishermen’s life in a museum for which a new passage under the street has been created.
Ambassador Matthias Brinkmann congratulated Minjavernd on this remarkable achievement and welcomed this European recognition of highly qualified Icelandic heritage protection as an important step in growing European awareness within Iceland.
Mayor Pall Bjorvin Gudmunsson affirmed: “This project has a direct link with the community’s members and they are particularly proud of what has been achieved by Minjavernd. The French Hospital in Faskrudsfjordur, together with other museums and historic places in Fjardarbyggd, is a real added value for tourism”.
Trostur Olafsson, Chairman of Minjavernd, explained: “These abandoned buildings presented a brilliant opportunity to acknowledge and remember these times and those who perished at sea off this coast by developing a dynamic and informative exhibition. Such exhibitions reduce distances between countries and encourage greater understanding. It is indeed worrying to see in increasing measure political advances across the continent, which seek to encourage greater separation, focusing on differences as opposed to highlighting and celebrating the wonderful valuable aspects which unite us”.
“We truly feel it is important for all of us to understand our history and its association with the histories of other nations. Reconstruction and preservation of cultural heritage is an important aspect of this. Europe is an incredibly cultural whole in which we all feature,” he concluded.
The importance for Europa Nostra of this first presence ever in Iceland was stressed by the participation of Erik Schultz, President of Europa Nostra Norway, Axel Mikleby, member of the Awards’ Jury (Conservation category) from Norway, and Pall Bjarnason, Europa Nostra’s first individual member from Iceland.
The Europa Nostra delegation took this great opportunity to make the organisation better known and to prepare a more active presence in Iceland. The delegates had fruitful meetings at the Prime Minister’s office as well as the Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland. They also met with representatives from the Icelandic Coastal Heritage Association. The main topics on the agenda were Europa Nostra, the report ‘Cultural Heritage Counts for Europe’ prepared by Europa Nostra together with 5 European partners, the European Heritage Days and the European Year for Cultural Heritage 2018.