- General facts and history -
The district of Bessastadahreppur, which is almost exactly 600 hectares in size, had on December 1, 2002, a population of about 1780, living in somewhat over 560 dwellings. Situated on a low-lying, scenic peninsula, Álftanes, Bessastaðahreppur is quite near the capital city of Reykjavík.
Beautiful shorelines, clear ponds and abundant birdlife characterize the community, creating its countryside image of fairly dense settlement in the peace of nature with all the advantages of being near Reykjavik.
Jobs are generally located in the capital or other nearby towns. Inside the district of Bessastaðahreppur itself, however, there is a great variety of clubs, with active participation in sports and social life.
Álftanes is a low-lying peninsula joined to the mainland by the isthmus Bessastaðagrandi, which leads between the inlets Skógtjörn to the west and Lambhúsatjörn to the east. Lambhúsatjörn is bordered on the north by the long arm of land Bessastaðanes (Nes is a cognate of the English word "nose."). The hill that the traditional farm Sviðholt is named for is the highest point of the area, 15 m in altitude. Community land can be roughly divided into the following four sections: farthest east is Bessastaðanes between the inlets Bessastaðatjörn and Lambhúsatjörn ("tjörn" meaning pond); the flat, sparsely settled Norðurnes extends north past the west side of Bessastaðatjörn; the broad spaces where most residents of Álftanes live lie between Kasthúsatjörn and Skógtjörn; finally there is Hliðsnes just south of Skógtjörn.
The only municipality with land bordering Bessastaðahreppur ("hreppur" being for centuries the local governmental unit of Iceland) is Garðabær.
Famous for its beautiful nature, with a variety of flora and fauna that is unsurpassed in the vicinity of the capital city, Álftanes and indeed the entire community Bessastaðahreppur present clean sea shores with clear water. Their biological diversity helps them fulfill their important role as a stopover for migratory birds.
A short history
Ingólfur Arnarson, known as the first settler of Iceland, claimed Álftanes as part of his possessions, so that its history extends back to the very beginning of the country’s settlement. A nephew of Arnarson, Ásbjörn Össurarson, soon acquired land in what was later known as Álftaneshreppur.
It was not long until Álftaneshreppur became a political entity, because population rose quickly during the earliest centuries of settlement. In all likelihood the borders remained unchanged from their origins until in 1878 when the territory was divided along parish lines, creating the two districts of Bessastaðahreppur and Garðahreppur.
Late in the 19th century, fishing was the main source of living, with agriculture in second place. At the end of the century, catches suddenly declined, hurting the populace so severely that the number of residents, which was 600 in 1870, was halved to 300 by 1930. During the first decades of the 20th century this countryside of tiny, densely spaced farms changed into a prosperous agricultural area; however, around 1960 farming too began to decrease, at the same time as demand increased for land and spacious building lots, leading to the modern suburban aspect of the peninsula.
Through the ancient farm Bessastaðir, this community has long been inseparable from the history of the entire nation. A great deal of information and traditions exist on people and events, because for centuries Bessastaðir served as a seat for the leaders of the country and its administration.
The traditional farm Bessastaðir stands somewhat apart from the remainder of the community, providing a residence for the President of Iceland. Owned by the state, the property contains only buildings which are connected to the President’s home and the farm.
During the 19th century the population of the district reached its highest total, 670, in 1880. After the turn of the century, citizens decreased once more to a low of 117 in 1940. On December 1, 2002, on the other hand, the number of residents had climbed to 1780, which is about 1,5% of the total in the capital city area. It is clear that Bessastaðahreppur has not had significant influence on the
overall growth of the area although in fact new construction is proceeding
at a fast pace.
The district government of Bessastaðahreppur is organized into four main parts, listed here with their principal functions:
Administration and finance: Salaries and related payments, bills and accounting, employee affairs, industrial development, public buildings
Social services: Family matters and child security, household assistance, affairs of the elderly
Education and culture: Matters of the kindergarten and of the elementary and music schools, sports and recreation, the library
Environmental services: Direction of planning and construction, environmental matters, water and sewage control, district machinery and works.
The community of Bessastaðahreppur is governed by a council of seven representatives, assisted by the district manager.
Throughout history, the principal employment was in fisheries and agriculture, while today these branches have largely disappeared. Most modern residents work outside the district.
There are not many paid jobs inside the district other than in public services, such as at the district office which is open at Bjarnastaðir. In addition, the local kindergarten cares for around 100 children, the elementary school educates about 220 pupils in grades 1-7 and the community sports centre provides recreation including a centre for children and adolescents.
Residents travel to other areas for shopping and various private services, though it is not unlikely that this situation will change in the next few years, since it is expected that shops and other businesses will begin to open their doors at the district centre, the isthmus Bessastaðagrandi.
Education, culture and sports
The district elementary school, Álftanesskóli, takes in pupils of grades 1-7, while grades 8-10 attend Garðaskóli in the municipality of Garðabær. Other educational institutions include the kindergarten, music school and library, as well as a sports centre containing a gymnasium, meeting rooms and a swimming pool. Bessastaðahreppur owns a share in the secondary school Fjölbrautaskóli Garðabæjar, providing access to ongoing education in modern, attractive facilities.
Cultural and sports activities are abundant. Through the youth club Ungmennafélag Bessastaðahrepps, numerous possibilities are open to the young for sports and recreation. There is a women’s club, a men and women’s choir, a society for art and culture and an equestrian organization, along with the local Scouts and Lions.
In closing, it may be asserted that the main goal of the district is to support a prosperous society in a fairly rural setting, providing the appropriate services, while preserving and even improving the area as one of nature’s jewels.