The Peculiar Rútshellir Cave in South-Iceland

In South-Iceland by the beautiful Eyjafjöll mountains several man-made caves can be found. One of them is amongst the most noteworthy caves in Iceland, as the Nazis believed that it was an old heathen temple. 

The cave It is located in a peculiar, big tuff pillar of rock. There are ancient habitations in the rock and a cave called Rútshellir cave or the Cave of Rútur

There are some structures in front of the cave, an old sheepcote, first built in around 1917, so it looks like somebody lives in the rock. Recently these structures have been rebuilt, so they look a little different now from my photos in this travel-blog.

The Peculiar Rútshellir Cave in South-Iceland

When I visited it once I found a dead sheep inside and the smell was overwhelming. When we passed it on our way back 2 days later a ram was standing proudly on the top of the sheepcote. It was quite a magnificent sight.

There are 2 man-made caves in the rock. The main cave is arched and at least 20 meters long and 2.5 meters high on average. It was used as an outhouse, for storing hay and at a certain time, stockfish was stored in this cave. People might also have lived in the cave.

The smaller cave is called Stúkan. The floorage is 8.05 x 2.40 m2.  It might have been a heathen temple, but it might also have been a smithy. An opening connects the two caves.

In one place you will find a cross carved into the sandstone. It wasn't until my 3rd visit to the cave that I noticed the cross. Can you spot it in my photo below? You will see in on the upper level above the "bed".

The Peculiar Rútshellir Cave in South-Iceland

The story goes that the man Rútur lived in the man-made cave, some say he was an evil troll, others say he was a looter and still other people say he was an evil chieftain. The people in this region attacked him and killed him by making a hole in the cave underneath his bed. They then ran him through with spears, while he was in bed. 

Others say that they made a hole in the cave from outside and ran him through that hole with spears and killed him. They were too afraid of him to want to meet him outside in the field.

After killing him they were still afraid of him even though he was dead and one of his killers, Björn, ran away up to the mountain, Bjarnarfell, which bears his name ever since, and yet another fled into the wilderness of Iceland. 

(Translated into English from Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar - the Folklore of Jón Árnason)
The Peculiar Rútshellir Cave in South-Iceland

But on the website of Katla Geopark, I found another version of this legend: "One such legend involves a man called Rút and his slaves who wanted to kill him. They proceeded to carve a hole under the ledge where Rút slept, so they could, later on, kill him with spears while he was sleeping.

One night after arriving home, as he prepared to sleep he discovered their plot to kill him. He chased the slaves into the mountains and killed them all; Sebbi by Sebbasteinn rock, Högni by Högnaklettur rock, Ingimundur by Ingimund rock, Björn by Mt. Bjarnarfell, but these are all known names in the vicinity of the cave. The last slave, Guðni was killed on the Eyjafjallajökull glacier and this place is called today Guðnasteinn or Guðni's stone".

I wonder which one of these 2 legends is more accurate? 

The Peculiar Rútshellir Cave in South-Iceland

In 1936 Nazis from the SS-troops, Ahnenerbe, investigated Rútshellir thoroughly.  Ahnenerbe was a science academic wing in Nordic science under the command of Heinrich Himmler. They were very much into the crazy idea of the strong, pure Nordic race and were looking for ruins of old temples in Iceland. They thought that there might have been such an old temple in Rútshellir.

A thorough description of the cave was made by the Nazis and they liked to believe, true or false, that the cave had indeed been an advanced heathen temple. They came up with the idea that the large cave had been the banquet hall, where the Vikings had sat by the longfire. And that the smaller cave had been used for the rites and offering of animals. 

Rútshellir cave might be the first man-made dwelling in Iceland and there seems to have been a forge here. Some people have seen light in the rock, leading us to believe that Hidden People live here.

The Peculiar Rútshellir Cave in South-Iceland

The rock is preserved and is listed on the Natural Heritage Register.

One can stop to take photos here and enter the cave Rútshellir. There is an information sign by the road and a gate through which one can pass. The cave is covered in sheep droppings so don't wear your best shoes while exploring the cave ;)

The Peculiar Rútshellir Cave in South-Iceland

The rock is located ca 3 km west of Skógafoss waterfall by ring-road 1. GPS: N63° 31' 35.245" W19° 33' 3.601". 

To reach this area you can either rent a car in Reykjavík for a day or two or check out these self-drive tours:  

Also, check out the most popular guided tours of the South Coast of Iceland!

Close to Rútshellir cave, just a little further east, you will find another similar rock called Drangurinn in Drangshlíð, on which I have written another travel-blog, as there are elves in that rock!

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