Iceland Facts

Iceland Facts and History


Iceland – land of the Vikings, trolls and elves

The Republic of Iceland, located in the North Atlantic close to the Arctic Circle, is the largest volcanic island in Europe. There are around 140 volcanoes on the island, 30 of which are still active. There are also 300 glaciers here, which cover about 11% of the country. Iceland is the land of geysers, elves and trolls and the land of the Vikings. There is even a state commissioner for the Elven, who should, for example, make sure that the elves and trolls are not disturbed during construction work. And on clear winter days you can enjoy the Northern Lights.

Around 72% of the total energy consumed in the country comes from renewable sources – the average in the EU is around 7%. Iceland is a country that you should definitely visit. It is interesting that the last names of brother and sister are usually different within a family.

The country belongs to NATO but neither to the EU nor to the euro area. Despite its NATO membership, the country has no armed forces of its own – with the exception of a coast guard of around 120 people.

Name of the country Lýðvelðid Iceland(German Republic of Iceland)
Form of government Parliamentary republic
Head of state President Dr. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson (since August 01, 1996, last re-elected on August 01, 2008)
Geographical location Island state in the North Atlantic
National anthem Lofsongur
Population Around 319,000 (Credit: Countryaah: Iceland Population)
Ethnicities Europeans
Religions 80% belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Icelandic State Church,2.4% of Icelanders are Catholics.
Languages Icelandic
Capital Reykjavik
Surface 103,000 km²
Highest mountain Felsea Hvannadalshnukur with a height of 2,119 m
Longest river Thjórsá with a length of around 230 km
Largest lake Thingvallavatn with an area of 85 km²
International license plate IS
National currency Icelandic krona = 100 aurars
Time difference to CET – 1 h
International phone code 00354
Mains voltage, frequency 230 volts and 50 hertz
Internet Top Level Domain (TLD) .is

Iceland: history

Early days


There are many myths about the history of Iceland. For the first time the world of the Arctic Ocean in the North Atlantic was described as Antiqua Thule in ancient times. Iceland was the last country in Europe to be settled. In 432 Iceland was settled for the first time by Irish monks who were looking for undisturbed meditation. Another immigration of Irish monks probably occurred in the eighth century. However, these monks probably only stayed during the summer months. It can be assumed that they fled from the first Vikings.

According to Abbreviationfinder website, the Viking Floki Vilgerdarson was also one of the first settlers around 870. He and his family settled in the northwest of the island. A total of about 430 people came to the island at this time. They lived there as fishermen, cattle breeders and bird catchers. With the exception of the fox, all mammals were brought to the island by the Vikings. The horses played a special role in this, as they became almost indispensable for people in this impassable region. The land covered by snow and glaciers was called ice land by you. At the time of the Vikings, large parts of the forests – especially the hard oaks – were cut down for boat building.

The history of the founding of Reykjavik goes back to a legend. In 874, Ingólfur Arnason is said to have thrown a piece of wood into the sea in search of permanent residence, according to the custom. He was to settle where the wood was washed ashore. He called this place Rauchbuch (Reykjavik) because smoke rose from geysers or volcanic openings at this point.

The founding of the state of Iceland boasts of being the first democracy in the world. In 930, the so-called Althingi in Þhingvellir, which is about 45 km east of Iceland’s capital Reykjavik, was convened for the first time. Thing is the word for “assembly”, “meeting” or “court” in all Scandinavian languages, at which legal and administrative matters are negotiated. The Althing took place every two weeks at the summer solstice. There was no king. The area was owned by 39 Goden managed. These were a kind of right-speaking tribal elders and representatives of the villagers. The Althingi took place once a year around the solstice for two weeks. In the Althingi, the Goden passed a uniform law for all people living on Iceland, thus creating the Icelandic nation state. The system of godliness lasted until the 11th century. However, power was concentrated in a few, leading to civil wars. Eventually the Norwegian king got power over Iceland.

In the year 1000, two parties in the Althingi voted on the introduction of Christianity. A compromise was agreed. Christianity was declared the state religion and the pagan customs could continue to be practiced except for certain rites such as eating horse meat and abandoning unwanted children. The first bishopric was founded in Skalholt. The first monastery was built in Thingeyri in 1133.

Discovery of America and Greenland

Under Erik the Red’s leadership, Greenland was discovered and settled. The meager life on Greenland moved Leifur Erikson, Erik’s son, to look for other settlement areas under better conditions. So he set off on one of the most spectacular expeditions in history. In the year 1000 he sailed west from Greenland and came across the American continent south of Newfoundland, the so-called Vínland. The name “Vínland” came about because they supposedly found grapes. However, the Vikings did not colonize America. The discovery of America by Leif is impressively reproduced in the Greenland saga.

The time up to the Middle Ages

The Saga Era

The 13th century was, literarily, the “golden age” of Iceland. The sagas contain some classics from medieval literature. Icelandic was the ancient language of the Vikings. One of the best-known characters from these texts is the troll (ghosts in giant or dwarf form).

Civil War

Period The period between 1220 and 1260 was also known as the “Period of the Sturlungs”. The Althing system was doomed. During this period of civil war, new powers formed. The Norwegian king tried to rule over Iceland. The church also tried to win over believers. At the end of the wars, Norwegian bishops consolidated Christianity, so that even Rome received the church tithe. At the head of the state was the Norwegian king. With the establishment of the Kalmar Union in 1397, in which the three-state union, consisting of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, was proclaimed, Iceland was assigned to the Danish crown in 1380.

Early modern times to 1600

The English century

In the 15th century there was a lively exchange between England and Iceland. England’s fleet sailed into Icelandic waters for fishing and trading. The Icelandic trade was determined more and more by German and English powers. The fishing did not benefit the Icelanders, but the foreign powers like Denmark, England and the Hanseatic League. Between 1402 and 1404, the Black Death killed half of the population. Denmark was now an absolute colonial power over Iceland. In the course of the Reformation of the Danish Church in 1550, Protestantism became the state religion with the Danish king at the head of the church. As a result of the further centralization of Danish power in the course of the state reform between 1660 and 1665, all economic forces were withdrawn from Iceland to Copenhagen.

1600 until the First World War

With the Danish trade monopoly (1602) imposed on Iceland, Icelanders were no longer allowed to trade with merchants from other nations except Denmark. The generated capital flowed entirely to Denmark.

The 18th century can be seen as the most tragic era in Iceland. During this time, famine and natural disasters broke out in the country. The greatest historical natural disaster, a gigantic volcano eruption, occurred in 1783 on the 25 km long Lakis fissure in southern Iceland. The Lakis crack is a 25 km long “crack” through Iceland. Here Europe and America move a little further apart every year. During a period of eight months, around 15 km³ of basaltic lava flowed out and covered almost 600 km2 of the land.

Gigantic amounts of fluorine-rich volcanic gases leaked and contaminated large parts of the fertile southern region. 20% of the population lost their lives. Evacuation of Iceland was even considered. The Althing disappeared for good and the old episcopal seats of Skalholt and Holar were abandoned. The Danish monopoly trade prevented the infrastructural development of Iceland. This encouraged the Icelanders to strive for independence. The revolutionary ideas that spread across Europe also found their way to Iceland. The Icelanders were able to prevail against the Danes and re-established the Althing in 1845. The monopoly trade was lifted in 1854. But unfortunately a strong volcanic eruption shook the island again, which resulted in a wave of emigration to America.

To celebrate the millennium in memory of the first permanent settlement, Iceland received its own constitution and sovereignty over the financial administration in 1874. In 1903 the Icelanders were granted their own constitution by Denmark, in which the system of olding was partially continued. Many technical innovations were introduced at this time. For example, it was possible to connect the island in the North Atlantic to mainland Europe via telegraphy.

First World War to this day

Eventually Iceland became independent in 1918. However, the government was still linked to the Kingdom of Denmark through the personal union. Foreign policy in particular was still under the direct control of the Danish government. However, this changed with the occupation of Denmark by German troops in April 1940. In May 1940, British military occupied the island against the will of Iceland. Iceland wanted to avoid a military reaction from the German troops. Finally, American units were stationed in Iceland in 1941 in exchange for British troops.

On June 17, 1944, Iceland finally received its own constitution, which from then on was completely detached from the Danish government. Iceland joined the UN in 1946 and NATO in 1949. This led to the deployment of American military bases in 1951, which was controversial among the population.

The main economic source of income was still fishing. In 1952 Iceland extended its fishing limit from 3 to 4 nautical miles and in 1958 to 12 miles. In 1972 and 1975 the conflict escalated into a fishing war with Norway and England. Eventually Iceland was awarded an economic zone of 200 nautical miles.

Since the Icelandic language hardly developed due to its isolation and was less exposed to external influences than other Germanic languages, Icelandic enjoys special attention among linguists. The ancient theory of forms has survived to this day, and there were no other grammatical changes. So Icelandic is seen as the basic language of Scandinavian studies. It is comparable to Latin for the Romanists.

Iceland today

Although Iceland can now be reached by plane in a few hours, it remains a special and legendary country for many. Numerous hot springs, smoking crevices, next to huge glaciers in uninhabited inhospitable areas result in a fascinating and delightful mixture. As a travel destination, Iceland is a special experience, especially since the country can be viewed as very stable economically and politically. As a result of the global economic crisis, the Left Greens (21.5%) and the Social Democrats (30.5%) won a majority in the parliamentary elections in April 2009 for the first time since the state was founded in 1944. The new Prime Minister was Johanna Sigurdardottir of the Social Democrats. The Independence Party only received 23.7%.

Iceland Facts