This small square in downtown Reykjavik has been a public gathering place since 1930. During warm, sunny weather Austurvollur square becomes particularly lively as the outdoor cafes lining the square fill up with thirsty Icelanders and visiting travelers. In December, a Christmas tree arrives, a gift from fellow Scandinavians in Oslo.

The statue of Jon Sigurdsson

In Austurvollur you will find a statue of the leader of Iceland’s independence movement, Jon Sigurdsson. Iceland’s Independence Day is held on June 17th, Jon Sigurdsson’s birthday, and morning ceremonies in Reykjavik begin in Austurvollur square.

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Jon Sigurdsson was the leader of the 19th century independance movement in Iceland. He was born 1811 at Hrafnseyri in Arnafjordur, in the Westfjords, and a son of a local pastor. Jon studied grammar and history at the University of Copenhagen but subsequently he started working for Arnamagnæan Institute. Sigurdsson was an expert on the Icelandic Sagas and Icelandic History, though he never graduated from university.

He became an influential figure in Icelandic politics and was elected to Alþing in 1844, as an MP for Isafjordur. Sigurdsson held on to that seat for the rest of his life. He published an annual magazine called Ný félagsrit (New Association Writing) which he used to communicate with the Icelandic nation from Denmark. Jon was a classical liberal and was rather devoid of the 19th century romanticism, unlike many nationalists of that time. He was a protagonist of modernization, democracy, human rights and economic progress.

Jon was often referred as Jón forseti (President Jón). The main reason for this was that he served as a President of the Copenhagen Department of the Iceland Literature Society and also served as the Speaker of the House or President of Alþing several times.

Jon died in Copenhagen in 1879.

The cathedral and other landmarks at Austurvollur Square

Many landmarks important to the city’s cultural history line Austurvollur square including the Parliament building, Reykjavik‘s cathedral Domkirkjan – which is also the city’s oldest church – and Hotel Borg.

Reykjavik Cathedral is a cathedral church and the seat of the Bishop of Iceland. The Cathedral also serves as a mother church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland, as well as the parish church of downtown Reykjavik. Since the resurrection of Alþing in 1845, each session of parliament begins with a Mass at the Cathedral.

Where people gather to protest

Because of the Parliament building being located here, Austurvollur has seen its share of protests throughout the decades. The square played a huge role in the protests that followed in the wake of the Icelandic financial crisis in 2008. Protesters had been gathering every weekend since October 2008 with their pots, pans and other kitchenware (and were aptly named the Kitchenware implement or Pots-and-pan revolution), and protested against the government’s handling of the crisis. On January 20th 2009 the protests intensified with thousands of people showing up, demanding the resignation of the government. Once the government resigned the protests for the most part stopped.