“Far out in the ocean that gleams and glitters like quicksilver may be found a small leaden-colored land. In proportion to the immense ocean the size of the tiny mountainous land is like a grain of sand to a ballroom floor. But viewed through a magnifying glass this grain of sand is an entire world, with mountains and valleys, inlets and fjords, and houses with tiny human beings. At one place there is even a complete little old town, with jetties and piers, warehouses, streets, crooked lanes and steep alleyways, gardens and market-places and cemeteries. There is also an old church situated high above the town; from its steeple there is a view out over the roofs of the houses and beyond—far out over the almighty ocean.”
(William Heinesen, “The Lost Musicians”, 1950.)
Tórshavn (Faroese pronunciation: [ˈtʰɔurʂhaun]) is the capital and largest town in the Faroe Islands. The town is named after the hammer-wielding Norse god of thunder, Thor, giving it the meaning: Thor’s harbour. Tórshavn is situated on southeast coast of Streymoy, which is the largest of the 18 islands. With a population of about 20,500 people, Tórshavn is one of the smallest capitals in the world.
Tórshavn is a cosmopolitan municipality, where history and 21-century modernity meet to create the city’s unique charm and appeal. It is the place where old stories are narrated and new ones are written, where the traditional Faroese ballads are still chanted (and danced to) and contemporary music is composed; a place where the traditional Faroese attire is proudly used on special occasions and designer woolen clothing is created.
In Tórshavn picturesque old emerald-turfed houses and modern buildings stand side by side, and traditional and international cuisines satisfy a variety of tastes. The city offers a rich cultural life, impressive art exhibitions, recreational activities, traditional experiences, excellent hotels and restaurants, and European-style cafés and bars; all nested in a beautiful landscape.
Tórshavn is the home town of William Heinesen (1900–1991). He was celebrated poet, novel and short story writer, children's book writer, composer and painter. The Faroese capital is the centre of Heinesen's writing and famously called by him "The Navel of the World". Heinesen’s house, Williamshús, is open for visitors and remaines unchanged since his passing in 1991. The museum offers displays of artwork and curiosities from his time.
Tinganes and Reyni
Reyni is the old and historic part of Tórshavn, that covers the small peninsula in the centre of the capital. The peninsula divides the Tórshavn harbour in two parts, Eystaravág and Vesteravág.
The old town in the capital is well-preserved and has maintained its original historic style and the old city is one of the most popular attraction in the Faroe Islands.
Nearly all other timber-built towns in the world have at some point over in history been destroyed by fires, but over the centuries Tórshavn fortunately has escaped that fate and never fell prey to such a disaster. The oldest houses in Reyni date back to the Middle Ages and many of the houses are built in the 16th and 17th centuries, but are still in use today as private homes and administrative offices. The old town is full of buzz of daily life. Narrow streets and lanes weave around the old black-tarred houses with turfed roofs and bright white windows creating a miniature maze full of surprises and charm. Rich stories and history dwell in the old town and on a quiet early morning or late evening you can almost sense history whispering tales from the past.
The iconic red buildings on Tinganes, the outermost point on the small peninsula of Reyni, are home to the Government of the Faroe Islands. The Vikings, who settled in the Faroe Islands, established their parliament Løgtingið on the Tinganes peninsula in about AD 825 and it was here, on the big flat rocks, that the original parliament, or thing, would meet every summer to pass new laws, resolve disputes and conflicts and pass judgements. It is one of the oldest parliamentary meeting sites in the world, along with Tynwald hill in the Isle of Man and Þingvellir in Iceland.
In the Viking age, Tórshavn became a centre of trade and over time grew into the main trading port of the Faroe Islands. From the Middle Age until 1856 the Danish Crown had monopoly on trade in the Faroe Islands and rights of trade were granted to the overlords of Faroe Islands and merchants. Tinganes developed into a trade station and was the administrativ, political and trade center of Faroe Islands and the buildings that stand today are original warehouses, stores and offices.
In 1856, the Royal trade monopoly was abolished, and this marked the start of a new era in Faroese history with progress when also the capital began to flourish. Two hundred years ago, Tórshavn counted a population of merely 600 people and today population of the Faroese capital stands at 21000 people.
In 1870 Løgtingið moved from Tinganes when a new Parliament House was build north of the city. Løgtingið is still located here, but the location that in 1870 was outside the city is today part of the city centre – and this is an illustration of how the capital has expanded the last 150 years. When the Home Rule was established in the Faroe Islands the Faroese Government, acquired the builds and the government is today situated on Tinganes. Over the years the building in Tinganes have been reconstructed for Government offices but at the same time conservated and preserved as historic cultural heritage.
University of the Faroe Islands
The University of the Faroe Islands, Fróðskaparsetur Føroya, is a small but vibrant hub of learning and research in the North Atlantic. The University offers degrees in Faroese Language and Literature, Science and Technology, Biology, Software Engineering, Law, Education, Nursing, History and Social Sciences. In the autumn of 2015, a new Master's program, called West Nordic Studies, Governance and Sustainable management opened its doors to Faroese and international students. The program is a collaboration of five universities - University of the Faroe Islands, University of Iceland, University of Akureyri, University of Greenland and Nord university in Norway - and it is taught in English.
The Nordic House is the most important cultural centre in the Faroe Islands, and a centre for cultural exchange between the Faroe Islands and other Nordic countries. Inspired by local folklore, the Nordic House was built to resemble an enchanting hill of elves. The flexible architecture of the house lends itself to a large variety of events making it possible to rent facilities for congresses, meetings and receptions. The house opened in Tórshavn in 1983. Many consider it one of the most beautiful architectural achievements in Scandinavia. The Nordic House is organized as a cultural organization under the Nordic Council of Ministers.
The Faroese Museum of History, Føroya Fornminnissavn, has exhibitions of artefacts from the Viking Age through the Middle Ages, telling the story of the maritime and farming life on the Islands.
The Museum of Natural History focuses on the Islands' animal life and geology.
The National Gallery, Listasavn Føroya, is located in beautiful surroundings and has on display an impressive collection of paintings, drawings, sculptures, and graphics by Faroese artists.
The Fort Skansin was built in 1580 by the local hero Magnus Heinason, to protect the trade and market in Tórshavn against pirates. During the British occupation of the Faroe Islands in World War II, Skansin was used as the headquarters of the Royal Navy Command and two 5.5-inch guns used aboard HMS Furious before World War II were deployed. They still stand on Skansin together with Danish bronze guns from 1782.
Tórshavn Cathedral, Havnar Kirkja is the second oldest church in the Faroe Islands. Painted white and roofed with slate, it was inaugurated in 1788. The church is located on the north part of Tinganes.
Many sculptures and memorials adorn the capital city of Tórshavn. A large monument in the city park stands tall in memory of the fishermen who were killed during the Second World War. The statue “Tarira” is one among several statues in the park area close to the Art Gallery. The elf girl, Tarira, is one of William Heinesen’s fantasy figures; the legendary and alluring young girl, half dream and half reality, dancing, free, capturing the spirit of Torshavn – half dream half reality; simply enchanting!
Public transportation in Tórshavn is free of charge and the city buses have free Wi-Fi. The twin goal of this initiative was to reduce traffic in the town’s center and lower fuel oil use and CO2 emissions. As a result, Tórshavn Municipality received the national Faroese Environmental Award in June 2008 for having sponsored the best event designed to promote environmental protection, sustainable development, and sustainable tourism.