In a nondescript corner of an Icelandic warehouse sits what’s been called the Holy Grail of Lighthouses: A single cabinet that holds the keys to every lighthouse in the country. The keeper of these keys is a man who has dedicated his career to the mystical beacons that have been saving sailors and enticing explorers for centuries.
When Ingvar Hreinsson took the job, many of Iceland’s lighthouses were mired in disrepair. But more than two decades later, his work has been nothing short of a revelation. He’s visited every one of the country’s 104 lighthouses, tinkering and tailoring until he gets every nut, bolt, and — of course, lightbulb — working just right.
And in a line of work where no day is the same, it’s no surprise that Ingvar’s time hasn’t been evenly spread out across the country. Some lighthouses have been severely worn down by their years of exposure to the elements, requiring a bit more love and attention — and the lighthouse mason’s favorite one of all also happens to be the one he’s outfitted with a very special feature.
Ingvar has spent so much time atop the dramatic cliffs of Dyrhólaey that he decided to build an entire apartment inside the peninsula’s famed lighthouse. (And for all the eager lighthouse explorers out there, we’ll let you in on a little secret… on the days when Ingvar is out of town, this home can be rented out for a romantic night on the sea.)
But before we move on, let us pause to clarify an important point. By now, you may be imagining Ingvar’s days in solitude, as lonely as the life of a lighthouse. Instead, imagine him working alongside a team of 80 volunteers, buoyed by an elaborate, spectacular workshop loaded with all the lamps, lenses, and other lighthouse-related gear a man like Ingvar might need.
He’s anything but alone in his work, nor is he without the kind of technology that sounds more like it belongs in a sci-fi laboratory than a lighthouse repair shop. The centerpiece of Ingvar’s futuristic workshop is an indoor ocean simulator, spanning half the size of an airplane hangar and filled with a water system that can recreate the conditions of any harbor in the country.
In 2016, 21 years after starting his long and winding traverse along the Icelandic coastline, Ingvar completed his circuit, repairing the 104th and final lighthouse on his list. Many believed this would mark the end of his tenure, but for this mason, the work will never finish. Ingvar will be the first to tell you that there will always be more wind, water, salt, and sand to take their toll on the lighthouses.
But luckily for Icelanders and adventurers everywhere, Ingvar’s project has changed the way the lighthouses are used altogether. Sure, the lights will keep spinning for the occasional sailor who needs a bit of saving, but Iceland’s lighthouses have now been transformed into some of the most striking venues in the country, playing host to concerts, art exhibitions, and weddings with a heck of a view.
Iceland’s lighthouse keeper is a man with more keys than he can count, but the most magical one of all isn’t one he can hold, only one he can see. Ingvar, with his decades of dedication, has unlocked the key to a brighter future for the beloved lighthouses of his seaside nation.