This small square in downtown Reykjavik has been a public gathering place since 1930. During warm, sunny weather Austurvollur square becomes lively as the outdoor cafes fill up with thirsty visitors. Each December, a Christmas tree arrives, a gift from the city of 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 on this day ceremonies start in the square.

Jon Sigurdsson was the leader of the 19th century independence movement in Iceland. He was born  in 1811 in the Westfjords and died in Copenhagen in 1879. Jon studied grammar and history at the University of Copenhagen. He was an expert on the Icelandic Sagas and Icelandic History.

He became an influential figure in Icelandic politics, and the town of Isafjordur elected him as their MP for the Althingi Parliament in 1844. Jon Sigurdsson held on to that seat for the rest of his life. Jon was a classical liberal.  He was a protagonist of modernization, democracy, human rights and economic progress.

People often called him “Jon forseti”(President Jon) because he served as a President of the Copenhagen Department of the Iceland Literature Society. He also served as the President of Althingi several times.

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 (the city’s oldest church) and the historical Borg Hotel.

Reykjavik Cathedral is a cathedral church and the seat of the Bishop of Iceland. Since the resurrection of Althingi, each session of parliament begins with a mass at the Cathedral.

Where people gather to protest

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 gathered every weekend since October 2008 with their pots, pans and other kitchenware. They  protested against the government’s handling of the crisis. On January 20th 2009, the protests intensified with thousands of people showing up and demanding the resignation of the government. Once the government resigned, the protests stopped.