Gullfoss Falls: Sigríður’s Legacy to the World
It’s a marvel of nature to see the waters of the Hvítá river (Hvítá means White River in Icelandic) cascading down in a crescendo of powerful sounds to thrill one and all. ‘Cause Iceland’s most famous waterfall is indeed Gullfoss. The falls are located in a canyon in southwest Iceland.
The waters emanate from the Hvítárvatn glacier lake at Langjökull glacier nearly 40 km north of the waterfall. Gullfoss means ‘Waterfall of Gold’, as the glacial waters glean a lot of sedimentary rock and carry them forward. On a bright day one can actually see the water falling down shining golden brown, as it comes down the three-step stairway and rumbles into a two-step medley down an opening of 32 meters.
As you approach the falls, the opening of the crevice is not visible and it appears as though the Hvítá River has just disappeared into the bowels of the earth, as in a magician’s trick.
Tourists today are lucky to be able to enjoy the beauty of nature at Gullfoss, thanks to the bravery and determination of Sigríður Tómasdóttir, the daughter of Tómas Tómasson who owned the waterfalls in the first half of the 20th century. She lived and worked on a farm near the falls and was deeply attached to it.
Save the Waterfall !
During that time, there were plans to build a hydro-electric plant at the falls by some foreign investors. Seeing that such a move by the authorities would destroy the waterfall forever, Sigríður decided to launch a protest movement to prevent such a calamity.
She told the authorities that if they went ahead with the plans to allow the foreign investors build the plant, she would commit suicide by throwing herself into Gullfoss. As part of her struggle she marched barefoot for nearly 120 kms from Gullfoss to Reykjavik and expressed her sadness at the plans. Icelanders were moved by her total resolve and seeing her bleeding feet and her complete exhaustion, shed tears. Or so the story tells.
The impact of her struggle was such, that the electric plant was never built. Gullfoss is Sigríður’s legacy to the world to enjoy and is still a symbolic slogan announcing loud ‘Iceland is not for Sale’.
We still pay respect to Sigríður at her memorial based at the top of the falls.
Gullfoss also has its pop glory and appears on the album cover of Porcupine by the British band “Echo and the Bunnymen”.
The falls are featured in the music video for the single “Heaven” by the band Live. Together with Thingvellir National Park, and the geysers of Haukadalur, Gullfoss forms the classic Golden Circle route, which is the most sought after day tour in Iceland.