Iceland’s famous 400-year-old government meeting table

Iceland's most recent government, 2013-16.

Iceland's most recent government, 2013-16. Photo: Iceland Monitor/Eggert

The most photographed table in Iceland is also likely one of the oldest.

The mid-16 th -century oak table located in the library of the residence of the President of Iceland at Bessastaðir has been the traditional setting for official photographs of Icelandic government ministers for decades.

The table was purchased in the 1940s in the time of Sveinn Björnsson, Governor of Iceland then first ever President of the Republic of Iceland.

The second administration of Steingrímur Hermannsson, 1988-89.

The second administration of Steingrímur Hermannsson, 1988-89.

It was bought in London under the supervision of Icelandic ambassador Pétur Benediktsson. His only guideline was that the furniture should be no younger that the oldest section of the Bessastaðir, the building known as Bessastaðastofa, built in 1761-66.

The table has been in use ever since Iceland became a republic in 1944.

The 400-year-old table is at the presidential residence of Bessastaðir.

The 400-year-old table is at the presidential residence of Bessastaðir. Photo: Iceland Monitor/Árni Sæberg

The large, bulky table was not a good fit at its first location – the small office of Sveinn Björnsson at the Alþingi parliament building. The President therefore asked for it to be removed after every cabinet meeting, despite its heavy weight. Its frequent movements between rooms at Alþingi gave it is nickname of ‘John Lackland’.

It was moved to the new library at Bessastaðir built in 1965, and has since starred in countless official photographs of Icelandic governments, with the President at the head of the table, the Prime Minister to his/her right, and the ministers along the sides.

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