Turkish invasion walk

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The “Turkish” Raid 1627


There’s a story from Vestmannaeyjar which tells the story of two pirates who chased a pregnant woman who was just about to give birth. She tried to hide by Sængurkonusteinn but the men found her there just as she was giving birth. One of the pirates wanted to kill the newborn child and the mother but the other one did not want to do that. He decided that both should live and cut a piece of cloth from his cape for the woman to wrap around her baby.

For years after the Turkish invasion, islanders would sit guard up on the mountain from spring until fall to monitor the incoming ships. Around the middle of the 18th century, the islanders again set up a similar watch program, but this time in connection to an army that captain Kohl had started.

By the statue of Tyrkja-Gudda

Guðrún Símonardóttir lived with her husband, Eyjólfur Sölmundarson, in Stakagerði. She was taken captive and sold as a slave in Algeria along with her son, Sölmundur. After 10 years in Barbaria, her freedom was bought, along with other Icelanders, and she made it to Copenhagen. Sölmundur, her son, was not freed and remained in Africa. Hallgrímur Pétursson, the writer of the Psalms, was studying in Denmark at the time and was given the job of refreshing the Christianity of the Icelanders who had been on foreign soil for a long time. Hallgrímur and Guðríður fell for each other and after their return to Iceland they got married in 1638. Their first child, a son, was given the name Eyjólfur, after Guðríður’s first husband, who had drowned in 1636. Tyrkja-Gudda, as she was called, and Hallgrímur never lived in Vestmannaeyjar, they lived out mostly in Saurbær in Hvalfjarðarströnd.


A fort was raised here early in the 15th century. Skansinn was piled up with rocks and turf and during the Turkish invasion in 1627, there was a cannon there for defense. The pirates knew of this and therefore did not sail in through the harbor, but rather opted to sail south on Heimaey and took land at Ræningjatangi (Pirate’s Cove). Within the walls of the fort stood Dönskuhúsin (The Danish Houses), the houses where the businessmen and authority figures of Vestmannaeyjar lived. There, the islanders were gathered together and held captive until they were transported onboard the ships. The people who the pirates thought would not be worth much were burned alive inside the houses. In the summer of 1627, 242 people from Vestmannaeyjar were sold as slaves and another 36 were killed.


There were always 2 vicariates in Vestmannaeyjar. There used to be a vicarage at Kirkjubær but Kirkjubær got buried under lava after the eruption in 1973. The other vicarage was at Ofanleiti. Reverend Ólafur Egilsson was the residential priest here when the pirates took land. One group of pirates went to Ofanleiti and the farms around Ofanleiti. Reverend Ólafur was taken captive along with his wife, Ástríður Þorsteindóttir, who was pregnant at the time. She gave birth to a baby boy on her way to Algeria. A little after the Icelanders had been sold on the slave market, reverend Ólafur was sent to meet with King Kristján IV of Denmark, to try and find a ransom for the group. Raising the money turned out to be quite difficult and only 27 Icelanders returned home in the spring of 1637.

Ræningjatangi (Pirate’s Cove)

In the summer of 1627 a group of pirates invaded Iceland. They captivated a few Icelanders in Grindavík and then sailed to the East-fjords. From there they turned back and sailed to the southern part of the country and on July 16th, 3 pirate ships arrived at Vestmannaeyjar. As the main harbor was quite well defended, the pirates sailed toward the southern part of Heimaey and send a group of men on shore at a cove which later would be named Pirate’s Cove. A local businessman, Lauritz Bagge, had followed the ships along the shore riding on his horse. When he saw the pirates take land he fired his gun at them, which the pirates only replied to with shouts and calls. The businessman returned to town and fled on a ship to the mainland. The pirates came sailing from Algiers, the capital of Algeria in Africa. During this time, Algeria belonged to the kingdom of the Turkish sultan and therefore people refer to it as the Turkish invasion.

Lyngfellisdalur (Lyngfell valley)

After the pirates had taken land they split themselves up into three groups. One group took Ofanleiti and the farms there around. Another group went east of Helgafell to the Kirkjbær grounds. The third and largest group went directly toward the houses which stood by the harbor and took people out of their homes on their way down there. People fled the pirates as best they could, mostly into caves or steep cliffs where they thought the pirates would have trouble finding or capturing them. For example there were a lot of people who climbed Fiskhellar (Fish caves) and hid in piles of fish which had been laid out there to dry.

Fish Caves

Fish Caves

For centuries the fishermen-farmers made shelters of rock for fish in the cliffs, at Fiskhellar (Fish Caves); some of them still remain but most have been destroyed. It was a good place to dry fish because it was free of flies. Many people tried to hide from the pirates in those caves, particularly women and children and they were hoisted down there on a rope. The raiders were not deterred by the cliff. They climbed down to capture the people in shelters low on the cliff and shot those who they were unable to catch. It is not reported that they had used rope to climb down, perhaps not being particularly adept at that sport. On Thorlaugargerdishilla, a shelf high up in the cliff, people are said to have found a hiding place and the raiders were unable to get at them. Reportedly, some of the women’s skirts extended over the edge of the shelf and eighteen bullet holes were