Iceland is a Nordic island country in the North Atlantic Ocean. It’s population is approximately 333,000 and the nations land mass is 103,000 km2. or 40,000 sq mi. Iceland is the most sparsely populated European nation. Iceland’s capital and largest city is Reykjavík. with over two-thirds of the population living in the city or surrounding area.
Iceland is seismically active. The interior consists of a plateau characterized by sand and lava fields, mountains, glaciers, and many glacial rivers that flow through the lowlands to the sea. Iceland is warmed by the Gulf Stream and has a temperate climate, despite being situated near the Arctic Circle. However, the high latitude keeps summers a bit chilly, with most of the archipelago having a tundra climate.
According to Landnámabók, the settlement of Iceland began in the year 874 AD when the Norwegian chieftain Ingólfr Arnarson became the first permanent settler on the island. In the following centuries, Norwegians and other Scandinavians immigrated to Iceland, bringing with them thralls of Gaelic origin. The island was governed as an independent commonwealth under the Althing, one of the world’s oldest functioning legislative assemblies. Following a period of civil strife, Iceland acceded to Norwegian rule in the 13th century. The establishment of the Kalmar Union in 1397 united the kingdoms of Norway, Denmark and Sweden. Iceland followed Norway’s integration into the Union and came under Danish rule after Sweden’s secession from that union in 1523.
In the wake of the French revolution and the Napoleonian wars, Iceland’s struggle for independence took form and culminated in independence in 1918 and the founding of a republic in 1944. Until the 20th century, Iceland relied largely on subsistence fishing and agriculture, and was among the poorest in Europe. Industrialization of the fisheries and Marshall Plan aid following World War II brought prosperity, and Iceland became one of the wealthiest and most developed nations in the world.
Iceland has a market economy with relatively low taxes compared to other OECD countries. It maintains a Nordic social welfare system that provides universal health care and tertiary education for its citizens. Iceland ranks high in economic, political and social stability and equality. In 2013, it was ranked as the 13th most-developed country in the world by the United Nations’ Human Development Index.
Iceland runs almost completely on renewable energy. Affected by the ongoing worldwide financial crisis, the nation’s entire banking system systemically failed in October 2008, leading to a severe depression, substantial political unrest, known as the Icesave dispute, and the institution of capital controls. Many bankers were jailed, personal debts forgiven, and the economy has made a significant recovery. The recover was in large part due to a surge in tourism.
Icelandic culture is founded upon the nation’s Scandinavian heritage. Most Icelanders are descendants of Germanic and Gaelic settlers. Icelandic, a North Germanic language, is descended from Old Norse and is closely related to Faroese and West Norwegian dialects. The country’s cultural heritage includes traditional Icelandic cuisine, Icelandic literature and medieval sagas.
According to both Landnámabók and Íslendingabók, Celtic monks known as the Papar lived in Iceland before Scandinavian settlers arrived, possibly members of a Hiberno-Scottish mission. Recent archaeological excavations have revealed the ruins of a cabin in Hafnir on the Reykjanes peninsula. Carbon dating indicates that it was abandoned sometime between 770 and 880. In 2016, archaeologists uncovered a longhouse in Stöðvarfjörður that has been dated to as early as the year 800.
Swedish Viking explorer Garðar Svavarsson was the first to circumnavigate Iceland in 870 and establish that it was an island. He stayed over winter and built a house in Húsavík. Garðar departed the following summer but one of his men, Náttfari, decided to stay behind with two slaves. Náttfari settled in what is now known as Náttfaravík and he and his slaves became the first permanent residents of Iceland.
The Norwegian-Norse chieftain Ingólfr Arnarson built his homestead in present-day Reykjavík in the year 874. Ingólfr was followed by many other emigrant settlers, largely Scandinavians and their thralls, many of whom were Irish or Scottish. By 930, most arable land on the island had been claimed and the Althing, a legislative and judicial assembly, was initiated to regulate the Icelandic Commonwealth. The period of these early settlements coincided with the Medieval Warm Period, when temperatures were similar to those of the early 20th century. At this time, about 25% of Iceland was covered with forest, compared to 1% in the present day.
Iceland has the smallest population of any NATO member and is the only one with no standing army, its lightly armed coast guard being in charge of defense. Iceland joined the European Economic Area in 1994, after which the economy was greatly diversified and liberalized.
With tourism increasing year after year, Iceland’s tourist infrastructure has improved and expanded. Being an island nation the only means by which visitors can reach Iceland is by sea or air.
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