Tinganes - a brief historical guide

Written by Arne Thorsteinsson, archaeologist and former director of the National Museum of the Faeroe Islands.

Torshavn’s central position appears to have determined, as early as in the Viking period, that the Islands’ main ting (Parliament) should be held at Tinganes. The Ting is mentioned in Færeyingasaga. At this time there were presumably no houses in Tórshavn, apart from supposedly the small farm of Húsagarður.

The Ting is presumed to have been held on the rocks of Tinganes, where a large number of carvings, mainly from the 16th and 17th centuries, were observed and published by the late Mr. Sámal Petersen, member of Landsstýrið (The Faroese Government).

The Ting met at Tinganes

The carvings are presumed to have belonged to the rightful members of the Ting and to indicate their places in the Ting (Parliament). It is, however, known that the Ting, as early as about the middle of the 16th century, was held indoors in the Council Chamber or the Banqueting Hall. The Ting met at Tinganes until the year 1816, when it was discontinued. At the re-establishment of the Ting in 1852 the present House of Parliament was built.

A trading place

One must presume that the annual parliamentary assembly, at an early date, led to an annual market being held, which in the Middle Ages developed into a permanent trading place with warehouses for the exported and imported goods. The shipping trade with the outside world took place only in the summertime and the majority of the inhabitants did their trading only once a year. The earliest trading-houses were all destroyed by an extensive fire in 1673.

As a defence of the trading place at Tinganes a fort was erected on the opposite side of the bay. This first fort was presumably erected about the year 1580. After the Turkish attack on Hvalba in 1629 a request was made for further protection of the trading place and this led to the erection of a new fort on Stangarnes around 1630. This fort was rebuilt in 1790 and is still intact. In 1645 there was built a fort right across Tinganes immediately inside Reynagarð.

Continuing alterations rendered this fort partly a nuisance to the inhabitants of Tórshavn and partly useless and it was therefore demolished as early as at the end of the 17th century. In records from the year 1709 it is not mentioned and only a small fort outside the warehouses at Tinganes appears then to have existed besides the old fort on Stangarnes. This fort was also demolished in 1749. The forts in Tórshavn must be presumed to have been in contact with the extensive system of watch -houses which are found all over the islands and are known to have been operational about the year 1700.

The formation of a small settlement

The permanent trading-place and later the fort have necessitated a permanent staff of workers and soldiers; the result being the formation of a small settlement, which in the late Middle Ages must be presumed to have been located near the place where the stream runs out into the east bay (Eystaruvág), where the town’s oldest buildings are still found. This settlement was extended towards the warehouses on Tinganes and up the slopes towards the west. Tórshavn remained a town for workers and soldiers up to the year 1800 and there is no significant element of craftsmen.

The South-Streymoy Parish clergymen have, at least since the Reformation, resided in Tórshavn, despite the fact that the rectory (glebe land) was situated in Syðradal. It must consequently be presumed that the town had a church during this period although there is no record of its existence prior to 1609, when a new church was built on Tinganes. This church was placed a little to the north of Leigubúðin until 1788, when the present church was built and the old one demolished. The Tórshavn churchyard was located between the church and the Leigubúðin. The vicarage was situated “handan Á” (on the opposite side of the stream) on the east side of the stream’s outfall into the bay, until 1630, when a new vicarage was built in Reynagarði, just beside the church, where also the Tórshavn school was built in 1628.

Buildings on Tinganes

Skansapakkhúsið (The Store) is the outermost building on Tinganes and was erected in 1749 on the site of the earlier small fort. In its original form the building consisted of a small single storey wood built house on a basement made of stone and lime-mortar, from burned seashells.

Several extensions and additional floors, the youngest one in 1907, have given the building its present multi-storey form.

Salurin (The Hall) was built in 1781 right where, “Gamla Krambúð” (The Old Store), which was mentioned in 1709, was situated. It was built after the fire in 1673. The Hall is, like most of the others on Tinganes, a wood building on a basement of stone and lime-mortar.

The warehouses called “Vektarbúðin” (The Weighmen’s Stores) which were destroyed by a fire in 1950 presumably also originated from 1673 [in 1709 called “Gámla Pakkhús” (Old Warehouse) and “Sjóbúðin” (Marine Store), (in 1709 called “Nýggja Pakkhús” (The New Warehouse)] These buildings were several times rebuilt, latest in the period 1835 -39.

Stokkastovan (The Log -Building) was erected after the fire in 1673. The building was erected by using the dovetail method - a most unusual method of construction in the Faroe Islands.

Sethúsini (The Dwelling House) the trading-post manager’s residence was also built after the fire of 1673. It consists of a wood building on a walled basement.

Bakkapakkhúsið (The Store Warehouse) was built in 1776 as an extension to the Leigubúðin. It is a wood building on a stone foundation with no basement.

Leigubúðin (The Royal Rent Collection Store) where the king’s income (rent), paid in kind, was kept, is a timber construction erected on a walled basement. First time mentioned in 1619 and it is one of the few buildings which escaped the fire of 1673. The building originally had only one floor. The upper floor of wood was built in 1732. Munkastovan (The Monk’s Dwelling) is presumed to have been built in the Middle Ages, which is substantiated by the characteristics of the method used in the construction of the walls: heavy cavity walls of stone and lime-mortar, which are more like the structures in Kirkjubø, dating from the Middle Ages, than the later basement walls on Tinganes. This building also escaped the fire of 1673, the building’s woodwork appears, however, to have been renewed about 1705.

Bryggihúsið (The Brewery) was erected in 1776. It is a wood building on a walled basement.

Portugálið was erected in 1762 as a two storey, partly stone walled building upon which an additional storey was constructed of wood at a more recent date. The crowned monogram of Christian V, and the date 1693 together with the name of the then feudal overlord F. v. Gabel are to be found carved into the wall. This building replaced a brick-built jail-house, erected in 1693. The building was used as a guard -house (the name is a distortion of Corps de Guarde) with cells in the basement.

The vicarage Reynagarður was made about 1630 as a 4-winged farmhouse built round an open paved courtyard. The lay-out must have been Danish inspired, partly like the construction method used. The recently restored west-wing was constructed in the Danish half-timbered style. The east-wing, which was demolished about 1820, was also built in this style. The north-wing was also demolished about 1820. This was a dovetail-constructed wood house with a basement. The existing south-wing was constructed in the local Faroese stave-technique with joints, not later than the 17th century. This building was most probably standing on this site before 1630 and has been incorporated in the vicarage buildings.