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Desolate then and desolate now. The site of the only known mass murder in Iceland. PIC

Desolate then and desolate now. The site of the only known mass murder in Iceland. PIC

S uppose you live in the remotest of locations. Then suppose one day gale force winds throw large foreign ships upon your shores, break the ships to pieces but 80 people survive. One would be very hard pressed to imagine the very first thing the locals would do was to start slaughtering the survivors. But that is exactly what happened in Iceland in the year 1615.

We cannot begin to tell you how much it pains us to know and reveal that a number of our forefathers were nothing but the most horrible of brutes. Let us put aside horrible things done by the Vikings but to systematically start slaughtering survivors of a shipwreck for no apparent reason is far removed from the sphere of common sense.

Except not for locals in the Westfjords of Iceland in the year 1615. According to written history no fewer than 30 Basques were hunted down and killed in cold blood in three different places right after their ship had been demolished by raging storm. It is, to our knowledge, the only mass murder that ever took place in Iceland.

the only mass murder that ever took place in Iceland

What brought Basques from Northern Spain to Iceland in 1615 is no surprise. The Basques were for a long time quite avid whale hunters and that brought them far, far away to the North. Indeed, at the peak of the industry over 30 whale hunting ships manned by Basques were scouring the North Atlantic ocean.

As to the reasons for locals in Iceland cruelly killing the Basques none can be found that make sense. However, it is thought the killers were following a book of law from the year 1201 stating simply that all foreigners should meet their maker as soon as possible.

Therefore, we contend, you should spare a thought for the victims if your travels in Iceland take you to the Westfjords area and particularly in or around Isafjardardjup. The killings are thought to have taken place at Aedey island and Sandeyri bank and some at Fjallaskagi.

Should you have more interest in the matter do see this page.

How to get here: The largest town in the Westfjords of Iceland, Isafjordur, is found here and makes a nice base for exploring the area. Daily flights are to here from Reykjavik but driving time for the capital would be four to sex hours depending on the route. Do not hesitate to write for more info if need be.