IT LOOKS like something from sci-fi classic The Abyss or Aquaman’s Atlantis – an ethereal glowing structure in the ocean’s watery depths. But this is no flight of fancy, no CGI special effects trickery.
It’s a road traffic island 620 feet BELOW the North Atlantic, and it opens to the public today, linking two of the Faroe Islands.
The new Eysturoyartunnilin links the remote islands of Streymoy and Eysturoy, right in the geographical heart of the 18 isles north of Scotland.
And although the 11-kilometre tunnel has been designed with practicality in mind, a sprinkling of magic looks set to make it a big tourist attraction when we can travel again.
Completed ahead of time – it was scheduled to open in January 2021 – it boasts the world’s first underwater roundabout.
But that’s just half of the story. The roundabout features a remarkable illuminated centrepiece hewn from rock, along with an 80-metre steel sculpture representing a traditional Faroese ring dance.
The figures are holding hands, gazing inwards – exactly as you do in a ring dance, apparently – seemingly transfixed by the powerful blue lights.
Some already say the sculpture looks like an enormous jellyfish, but the artist, Tróndor Patursson, says the figures are walking from the darkness into the light, and symbolise the Faroese concept that, “by joining hands and working together, we achieve great things.”
Patursson, 76, in no stranger to ambitious marine projects. In 1976, he signed on for Tim Severin’s voyage recreating the journey of Ireland’s Saint Brendan, who is thought to have reached Newfoundland long before Christopher Columbus.
Crossing the Atlantic in a leather-hulled curragh is an experience that he says influenced his art and fuelled a fascination with the ocean.
When travellers return, they will find it easier to reach the less-visited northern islands, many of which are connected by car ferries subject to the whims of Mother Nature.
“We think people will drive through the tunnel just for the experience,” says Teitur Samuelsen, boss of the Faroese tunnel company that raised the €360 million for the Eysturoyartunnilin and another, of similar length, which will connect Streymoy with the southerly island of Sandoy in 2023.
The public enjoyed a special sneak peek at the tunnels last night via Visit Faroe’s innovative remote tourism project.
Like all other countries, the Faroe Islands have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, and politely asked tourists to refrain from visiting until further notice.
“Early on in this global crisis, we sat and wondered how we could recreate a Faroe Islands’ experience for those who had to cancel or postpone their trip,” says Visit Faroe, “and for everyone else stuck in insolation around the world.
“We had an idea. What if we could allow people anywhere in the world to explore the islands as virtual tourists through the eyes of a local? Even better, what if the virtual tourists could control the movements of the local in real time?
“A couple of weeks later, our idea became reality. We have created a new remote tourism tool, the first of its kind.
“Via a mobile, tablet or PC, you can explore the Faroes’ rugged mountains, see close-up its cascading waterfalls and spot the traditional grass-roofed houses by interacting – live – with a local Faroese, who will act as your eyes and body on a virtual exploratory tour.
“The local is equipped with a live video camera, allowing you to not only see views from an on-the-spot perspective, but also to control where and how they explore using a joypad to turn, walk, run or even jump!
Streymoy pictured by Faroese photographer Eileen Sandá
“Just like a real-life computer game, you – the main player – will control the moves of the Faroese islander, who will not only explore locations on foot, but also take to the skies by helicopter, giving virtual visitors a bird’s eye perspective on our beautiful island nation’s steep grassy slopes, our 80,000 sheep and our unspoilt, wild and natural countryside.
“During the virtual tours, our team at Visit Faroe Islands will be online in real time to answer any questions that you or others may have, providing both inspiration and expert knowledge about places to visit and things to see.”