The second largest island in Europe is indeed a fascinating one. It is situated in the North Atlantic Ocean, just south of the polar circle. When we went there in 2004 when the cultural life in Svalbard chartered a plane from Iceland Air, we flew 2.5 hours SOUTH. Most tourists visiting Iceland will be travelling north.
As it is 12 years since my visit to the Saga-island, I do not remember all the details of the experience, so I will be reliving it with you trough pictures and facts. I do expect a lot to have changed, especially in Reykjavik (the capital). But let’s start with a quick history update:
- According to Landnámabók (book of Settlements), Norwegians were the first settlers on the island from year 874 when Ingolf Arnarsson (a lawless Norwegian, shunned) claimed land there (he was not the first to set foot on the island, but the first to permanently settle there). However, other sources claim that one of the Swedish Viking explorer Garðar Svavarsson’s men decided to stay behind with two slaves, and were thus the first permanent settlers. Garðar Svavarsson was the first to circumnavigate Iceland in 870 and thus established that it was an island.
- However that might be, this was the start of the Landnåmstiden, when Iceland was settled and colonized by Scandinavians and people from the British Isles. Most of them are Norwegians who fled Norway after Harald Hårfagre (Fair hair) gathered the many Viking Kingdoms into one country. Iceland is divided up between the first families.
- In 930 Alltinget (national parliament) is constituted and marks liberation from Norway. Iceland prospered greatly the first years after Alltinget, before big family feuds break out. Many of which you can read about in the Sagas – fascinating reading!
- In 1262 the Icelandic farmers accept the Norwegian King as overlord with the right to collect taxes. However Iceland is not a part of Norway, but has a Norwegian Governor.
- In 1397 Norway enters the Kalmar union, and with it the “four hundred year night” (as Norwegians call the period, I have a feeling the Danes strongly disagree). Iceland, being governed by Norway also joins – despite massive protests. Plague, volcanic eruptions and the small ice age devastates Iceland, and all government is moved to Copenhagen, Denmark, and Danish merchants are given monopoly on all trade.
- From 1662 the Danish King tightens the grip. Volcanic eruptions and an epidemic of small pox devastates Iceland, and the Danes wishing to give up on Iceland and move the entire population to the Danish mainland (in 1786 there were only 300 inhabitants in Reykjavik), but luckily this didn’t happen.
- In 1874, Iceland achieves a limited form of self-governance, and from 1918 the Danish powers are reduced to defence and foreign affairs.
- When the German troops invaded Denmark in April 1940, the Alltinget declared that the Icelandic Government would take responsibility for all Icelandic politics. 17th June 1944 Iceland declared its independence, and the Republic was born.
- Iceland joins NATO in 1949, and the Americans build a base in Keflavik, and are given the responsibility for Iceland’s defence in 1951. Fishery is modernized and centralized in big companies that greatly influence Icelandic politics. Gaining control of the Icelandic exclusive fishery zone was so important that it resulted in the Cod Wars against United Kingdom in the 1970s.
Reykjavik is Iceland’s capital, and about two thirds of the country’s inhabitants live in there and the surrounding areas. As you can see below, the city is nice and airy, and not a skyscraper in sight.
More posts from Iceland will be coming, so check back!