Official name: Republic of Iceland
Flag: Blue with a red cross outlined in white fimbration, extending to the edges of the flag. The colors are symbolic for three of the elements that make up the island: red is for the volcanic fires, white recalls the snow and glaciers, and blue is for the skies above.
Population: 319,000 (Jan 2011). An estimated 8% (25.500) of the population is of foreign-born nationality. Median age is 35.6 years.
Capital city: Reykjavík. The largest municipalities are Reykjavík (118,000); Kópavogur (30,000); Hafnarfjördur (25,000); Akureyri (17,000); Reykjanesbær (14,000). denotes cities in the capital region.
Size: 103,000 sq. km (40,000 sq. miles), bigger than Hungary and Portugal and a little bit smaller than Cuba.
Government: Iceland is a parliamentary constitutional republic. Suffrage is universal from 18 years of age. The president is elected by direct popular vote for a term of four years, with no term limit. Most executive power rests with the Government, which is elected separately from the presidential elections every four years. Althingi is a legislative body of 63 members elected for a term of four years by popular vote. Judicial power lies with the Supreme Court and the district courts.
Language: The official language of Iceland is Icelandic, a North Germanic language derived from Old Norse. It has changed relatively little throughout the centuries. English is widely spoken and understood. .
Religion: Most Icelanders (80%) are members of the Lutheran State Church. Another 5% are registered in other Christian denominations, including the Free Church of Iceland and the Roman Catholic Church. Almost 5% of people practice ásatrú, the traditional Norse religion.
Economy: GDP = $13 billion. Unemployment rate: 7%.
Currency: The Icelandic monetary unit is the króna (plural krónur) – ISK.
Time: Iceland is on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) throughout the year, and does not go on daylight saving time.
Island /Republic of Iceland/ (Icelandic: Ísland) is a Nordic European island country situated at the confluence of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The country has a population of about 320,000 and a total area of 103,000 km2 (40,000 sq mi), which makes it the most sparsely populated country in Europe. The capital and largest city is Reykjavík, with the surrounding areas in the southwestern region of the country being home to two-thirds of the country’s population. Iceland is volcanically and geologically active. The interior consists mainly of a plateau characterised by sand and lava fields, mountains and glaciers, while many glacial rivers flow to the sea through the lowlands. Iceland is warmed by the Gulf Stream and has a temperate climate despite a high latitude just outside the Arctic Circle.
According to Landnámabók, the settlement of Iceland began in AD 874 when the chieftain Ingólfur Arnarson became the first permanent Norse settler on the island. Others had visited the island earlier and stayed over winter. Over the following centuries, Norsemen settled Iceland, bringing with them thralls of Gaelic origin. From 1262 to 1918, Iceland was part of the Norwegian and later the Danish monarchies. The country became independent in 1918 and a republic was declared in 1944. Until the 20th century, the Icelandic population relied largely on fishing and agriculture, and the country was one of the poorest and least developed in the world. Industrialisation of the fisheries and aid from the Marshall Plan brought prosperity in the years after World War II, and by the 1990s Iceland was one of the world’s wealthiest countries. In 1994, Iceland became party to the European Economic Area, which made it possible for the economy to diversify into economic and financial services.
Iceland has a free-market economy with relatively low corporate taxes compared to other OECD countries, while maintaining a Nordic welfare system that provides universal health care and tertiary education for its citizens. In recent years, Iceland has become one of the wealthiest and most developed nations in the world. In 2011, it was ranked as the 14th most developed country in the world by the United Nations’ Human Development Index, and the fourth most productive country per capita. In 2008, the nation’s entire banking system systemically failed, resulting in substantial political unrest. Iceland ranks high in economic and political stability, though it is still in the process of recovering from the crisis. Gender equality is highly valued in Iceland. In the Global Gender Gap Report 2012, Iceland holds the top spot, closely followed by Finland, Norway and Sweden.
Icelandic culture is founded upon the nation’s Norse heritage. Most Icelanders are descendants of Norse and Gaelic settlers. Icelandic, a North Germanic language, is descended from Old Norse and is closely related to Faroese and some West Norwegian dialects. The country’s cultural heritage includes traditional Icelandic cuisine, poetry, and the medieval Icelanders’ sagas. Among NATO members, Iceland has the smallest population and is the only one with no standing army.
Work and Live in Iceland
Citizens of the other Nordic countries—Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland — can move to Iceland and find employment without much difficulty. Citizens of other EEA (European Economic Area) countries are also able to move to Iceland without finding employment first (for a period of up to three months, or six months if seeking employment).
Geography of Iceland
Iceland is located at the juncture of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. The main island is entirely south of the Arctic Circle, which passes through the small Icelandic island of Grímsey off the main island’s northern coast. The country lies between latitudes 63° and 67° N, and longitudes 25° and 13° W.
Although Iceland is closest to Greenland (North America), it is closer to continental Europe than to mainland North America; thus, the island is generally included in Europe for historical, political, cultural, and practical reasons. Geologically the island includes parts of both continental plates. The closest body of land is Greenland (290 km (180 mi)). The closest bodies of land in Europe are the Faroe Islands (420 km (260 mi)); Jan Mayen Island (570 km (350 mi)); Shetland and the Outer Hebrides, both about 740 km (460 mi); and the Scottish mainland and Orkney, both about 750 km (470 mi). The mainland of Norway is about 970 km (600 mi) away.
Iceland is the world’s 18th largest island, and Europe’s second largest island after Great Britain. The main island is 101,826 km2 (39,315 sq mi), but the entire country is 103,000 km2 (39,768.5 sq mi) in size, of which 62.7% is tundra. There are thirty minor islands in Iceland, including the lightly populated Grímsey and the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago. Lakes and glaciers cover 14.3% of its surface; only 23% is vegetated. The largest lakes are Þórisvatn (Reservoir): 83–88 km2 (32.0–34.0 sq mi) and Þingvallavatn: 82 km2 (31.7 sq mi); other important lakes include Lagarfljót and Mývatn. Jökulsárlón is the deepest lake, at 248 m (814 ft).
Geologically, Iceland is part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a ridge along which the oceanic crust spreads and forms new oceanic crust. This part of the mid-ocean ridge is located above a mantle plume, causing Iceland to be subaerial (above the surface of the sea). The ridge marks the boundary between the Eurasian and North American Plates, and Iceland was created by rifting and accretion through volcanism along the ridge.
Many fjords punctuate Iceland’s 4,970 km long coastline, which is also where most settlements are situated. The island’s interior, the Highlands of Iceland, is a cold and uninhabitable combination of sand, mountains and lava fields. The major towns are the capital city of Reykjavík, along with its outlying towns of Kópavogur, Hafnarfjörður and Garðabær, nearby Reykjanesbær where the international airport is located, and the town of Akureyri in northern Iceland. The island of Grímsey on the Arctic Circle contains the northernmost habitation of Iceland. Iceland has three national parks: Vatnajökull National Park, Snæfellsjökull National Park, and Þingvellir National Park. The country is considered a “strong performer” in environmental protection, having been ranked 13th in Yale University’s Environmental Performance Index of 2012.
Climate of Iceland
The climate of Iceland’s coast is subpolar oceanic. The warm North Atlantic Current ensures generally higher annual temperatures than in most places of similar latitude in the world. Regions in the world with similar climate include the Aleutian Islands, the Alaska Peninsula, and Tierra del Fuego, although these regions are closer to the equator. Despite its proximity to the Arctic, the island’s coasts remain ice-free through the winter. Ice incursions are rare, the last having occurred on the north coast in 1969.
There are some variations in the climate between different parts of the island. Generally speaking, the south coast is warmer, wetter and windier than the north. The Central Highlands are the coldest part of the country. Low-lying inland areas in the north are the most arid. Snowfall in winter is more common in the north than the south.
The highest air temperature recorded was 30.5 °C (86.9 °F) on 22 June 1939 at Teigarhorn on the southeastern coast. The lowest was −38 °C (−36.4 °F) on 22 January 1918 at Grímsstaðir and Möðrudalur in the northeastern hinterland. The temperature records for Reykjavík are 26.2 °C (79.2 °F) on 30 July 2008, and −24.5 °C (−12.1 °F) on 21 January 1918.
Foreign relations of Iceland and Accession of Iceland to the European Union
Iceland maintains diplomatic and commercial relations with practically all nations, but its ties with the Nordic countries, Germany, the US, Canada, and the other NATO nations are particularly close. Historically, due to cultural, economic and linguistic similarities, Iceland is a Nordic country, and it participates in intergovernmental co-operation through the Nordic Council.
Iceland is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA), which allows the country access to the single market of the European Union (EU). It is not a member of EU, but in July 2009 the Icelandic parliament, the Althing, voted in favour of application for EU membership and officially applied on 17 July 2009. Iceland is also a member of the UN, NATO, EFTA and OECD.
Transport in Iceland
Iceland has a high level of car ownership per capita; with a car for every 1.5 inhabitants, it is the main form of transportation. Many of these can be found abandoned in rural areas. Iceland has 13,034 km (8,099 mi) of administered roads, of which 4,617 km (2,869 mi) are paved and 8,338 km (5,181 mi) are not. A great number of roads remain unpaved, mostly little-used rural roads. The road speed limits are 50 km/h (31 mph) in towns, 80 km/h (50 mph) on gravel country roads and 90 km/h (56 mph) on hard-surfaced roads. Iceland currently has no railways.
Route 1, or the Ring Road (Icelandic: Þjóðvegur 1 or Hringvegur), was completed in 1974, and is a main road that runs around Iceland and connects all the inhabited parts of the island, with the interior of the island being uninhabited. This paved road is 1,337 km (831 mi) long with one lane in each direction, except near larger towns and cities and in the Hvalfjörður Tunnel (also the site of a toll) where it has more lanes. Many bridges on it, especially in the north and east, are single lane and made of timber and/or steel.
The main hub for international transport is Keflavík International Airport, which serves Reykjavík and the country in general. It is 48 km (30 mi) to the west of Reykjavík. Domestic flights, flights to Greenland and the Faroe Islands, and business flights operate mostly out of Reykjavík Airport, which lies in the city centre. Most general aviation traffic is also in Reykjavík. There are 103 registered airports and airfields in Iceland; most of them are unpaved and located in rural areas. The biggest airport in Iceland is Keflavík International Airport and the biggest airfield is Geitamelur, a four-runway field around 100 km (62 mi) east of Reykjavík, dedicated exclusively to gliding. There are a number of international airlines that fly to and from Iceland regularly.
Education in Iceland
The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture is responsible for the policies and methods that schools must use, and they issue the National Curriculum Guidelines. However, playschools, primary schools, and lower secondary schools are funded and administered by the municipalities. The government does allow citizens to Home educate their children, however under a very strict set of demands. Students must stick to the government mandated curriculum, the parent teaching must acquire a government approved teaching certificate.
Nursery school, or leikskóli, is non-compulsory education for children younger than six years, and is the first step in the education system. The current legislation concerning playschools was passed in 1994. They are also responsible for ensuring that the curriculum is suitable so as to make the transition into compulsory education as easy as possible.
The main building of the University of Iceland
Compulsory education, or grunnskóli, comprises primary and lower secondary education, which often is conducted at the same institution. Education is mandatory by law for children aged from 6 to 16 years. The school year lasts nine months, beginning between 21 August and 1 September, ending between 31 May and 10 June. The minimum number of school days was once 170, but after a new teachers’ wage contract, it increased to 180. Lessons take place five days a week. All public schools have mandatory education in Christianity, although an exemption may be considered by the Minister of Education.
Upper secondary education, or framhaldsskóli, follows lower secondary education. These schools are also known as gymnasia in English. Though not compulsory, everyone who has had a compulsory education has the right to upper secondary education. This stage of education is governed by the Upper Secondary School Act of 1996. All schools in Iceland are mixed sex schools. The largest seat of higher education is the University of Iceland, which has its main campus in central Reykjavík. Other schools offering university-level instruction include Reykjavík University, University of Akureyri, Agricultural University of Iceland and Bifröst University.
The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture (Mennta- og menningarmálaráðuneytið)
University of Iceland (Háskóli Íslands)
Reykjavík University (Háskólinn í Reykjavík)
University of Akureyri (Háskólinn á Akureyri)
Agricultural University of Iceland (Landbúnaðarháskóli Íslands)
Bifröst University (Háskólinn á Bifröst)
The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
Media & Cinema of Iceland
Iceland’s largest television stations are the state-run Sjónvarpið and the privately owned Stöð 2, SkjárEinn and ÍNN. Smaller stations exist, many of them local. Radio is broadcast throughout the country, including some parts of the interior. The main radio stations are Rás 1, Rás 2, X-ID977 and Bylgjan. The daily newspapers are Morgunblaðið and Fréttablaðið. The most popular websites are the news sites Vísir, Mbl.is and Ohmygossip (in English/Estonian/Norwegian/Swedish) for entertainment news.
Iceland is home to LazyTown (Icelandic: Latibær), a children’s television programme created by Magnús Scheving. It has become a very popular programme for children and adults and is shown in over 100 countries, including the UK, the Americas and Sweden. The LazyTown studios are located in Garðabær.
In 1992 the Icelandic film industry achieved its greatest recognition hitherto, when Friðrik Þór Friðriksson was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for his film, Children of Nature. Actress Guðrún S. Gísladóttir, who is Icelandic, played one of the major roles in fabled Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1986 film, The Sacrifice. Anita Briem, known for her performance in Showtime’s The Tudors, is also Icelandic. Briem starred in the 2008 film Journey to the Center of the Earth, which shot scenes in Iceland. The 2002 James Bond movie Die Another Day is set for a large-part in Iceland.
On 17 June 2010, the parliament passed the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, a resolution proposing greater protection of free speech rights and the identity of journalists and whistleblowers, the strongest journalist protection law in the world. According to a 2011 report by Freedom House, Iceland is one of the highest ranked countries in press freedom.
CCP Games, developers of the critically acclaimed EVE Online and Dust 514, is headquartered in Reykjavik. CCP Games hosts the third most populated MMO in the world, which also has the largest total game area for an online game.
Iceland has a highly developed internet culture, with around 95% of the population having internet access, the highest proportion in the world. Iceland ranked 12th in the World Economic Forum’s 2009–2010 Network Readiness Index, which measures a country’s ability to competitively exploit communications technology. The United Nations International Telecommunication Union ranks the country 3rd in its development of information and communications technology, having moved up four places between 2008 and 2010.
RÚV (Sjónvarpið) TV channel
Stöð 2 TV channel
Skjár Einn TV channel
ÍNN TV channel
Rás 1 Radio station
Rás 2 Radio station
X-ID977 Radio station
Bylgjan Radio station
Morgunblaðið (Daily newspaper)
Fréttablaðið (Daily newspaper)
Ohmygossip English news
Ohmygossip Swedish news
Nordenbladet (Nordic link directory)
DV (Dagblaðið Vísir) news
The history of Iceland is one of survival and prosperity. Settled by Norsemen from Scandinavia and Celts from the British isles settled in the 9th and 10th centuries, Icelandic history has always been shaped by events on the larger politicla stage of the Nordic Countries.
~7-8th centuries: Celtic monks sail to Iceland.
~860s: Norsemen discover Iceland.
~871: Ingólfur Arnarsson, a Norse nobleman, settles in Reykjavík.
930: The Althing, a judiciary and law-making body of chieftains, convenes for the first time at Thingvellir. Population in Iceland estimated at 30,000–40,000.
~982: Erik the Red discovers and names Greenland after being banned from Iceland.
999 or 1000: Christianity adopted in Iceland.
1000: Leifur Eiríksson discovers what is now known as North America.
1120s–1230s: Most of the Icelandic Sagas—tales of family feuds and heroics—are written.
1262–1264: Chieftains in Iceland accept the sovereignty of the King of Norway.
1402: The Black Plague infects Iceland. Over 33% of the population is wiped out.
1387: The Kalmar Act of Union unifies Iceland and Norway with Denmark.
1540s–1550s: Reformation in Iceland.
1584: The Bible is translated into Icelandic.
1703: First census is conducted; population 50,358.
1707: Bubonic plague; one third of the population dies.
1783–86: Volcanic activity destroys Icelandic farmland and leads to widespread starvation.
1800: The Danish King orders the closure of the Althing.
1843: The Althing is re-established.
1874: A new constitution is introduced by the Danish King (Christian IX).
1870s–1890s: Mass emigration to North America.
1904: Home rule is granted.
1915: Women receive the vote.
1918: Union Treaty grants Iceland full sovereignty in a royal union with Denmark.
1926: Population reaches 100,000 for the first time.
1940: Iceland is occupied by British troops.
1941: US-Icelandic defence agreement signed; US troops stay in Iceland for duration of WWII.
1944: The Republic of Iceland is formally established.
1949: Iceland becomes a founding member of NATO.
1951: Defence treaty concluded with the US; US troops return to Iceland.
1958–1961: Dispute over fishing limits, first ‘cod war’ with Britain.
1960: The number of Icelanders in Reykjavík and surrounding areas surpasses the number of habitants in the countryside for the first time.
1966: Icelandic state television begins broadcasting.
1968: Population reaches 200,000.
1970s: Two further ‘cod wars’ with Britain (and West Germany).
1980: Vigdís Finnbogadóttir elected president, the first democratically-elected female head of state.
1986: The Reykjavík Summit between US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Secretary-General of the Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev takes place in Höfði, Reykjavík.
1994: Iceland joins the European Economic Area, an economic arrangement with the EU.
2006: US troops leave Iceland.
2008: Economic crisis, near total collapse of Iceland’s banking system.
2009: Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir becomes the country’s first female prime minister (and the world’s first openly gay prime minister).
2010: Residents in Iceland number 318,200, Icelandic citizens 296,700.
Traditions and seasonal customs (holidays / festicals)
6 January is celebrated as the last day of Christmas. The occasion is marked by various fireworks displays and bonfires.
The first day of the ancient Norse month of Thorri begins with bóndadagur, or ‘husband’s day’. On this day, which usually falls in late January, women give gifts to any significant men in their lives, and often feed them traditional food, related to the Thorri festivites.
Roughly coinciding with mid-January to mid-February in the modern calendar, the ancient month of Thorri is the time for Thorrablót, or Thorri feast. Traditional foods, conserved in the traditional manner, are consumed and most Icelanders attend at least one Thorrablót feast, where there is much merriment and drink. The cuisine is definitely an acquired taste; delicacies include smoked lamb, seared lamb’s head, putrefied shark, ram’s testicles and flatbread, all washed down with Icelandic spirits.
The month of Thorri comes to an end with ‘wife’s day’, a day to celebrate women. This time men do the treating, buying flowers or other traditional gifts for the significant women in their lives.
The tradition of culinary excess during winter continues with bolludagur – literally, bun day – which occurs two days before Lent and symbolises the feast before the fast. Bakeries and home chefs prepare sweet cream puffs filled with cream and jam and drizzled with chocolate. It’s impossible to eat just one.
Following the indulgence of bun day comes sprengidagur – bursting day. It is celebrated on Shrove Tuesday when heavily salted lamb is consumed with a side serving of pea soup. Traditionally, Icelanders were encouraged to eat to bursting point, during what would be their last proper meal before Lent.
Ash Wednesday is mostly celebrated by children in Iceland. Traditionally ashes were collected into small ash bags. The challenge was to then pin the bag onto innocent passersby. Today children celebrate the day by dressing up in costumes and singing in shops for sweets and treats, a little like Hallowe’en celebrations.
A religious holiday in Iceland and marked by the giving and receiving of large chocolate eggs filled with sweets. There are national holidays on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday. Most Icelandic children in their 14th year are confirmed during the Easter period.
In First Day of Summer is celebrated in Iceland with a holiday on the third Thursday in April. Traditionally, the weather is anything but summery.
This holiday is dedicated to Iceland’s seamen and is celebrated on the first Sunday in June with displays of fish and fun and games for the kids in most communities around the country.
Icelandic Republic Day
Iceland’s national day, 17 June, commemorates the creation of Iceland as a republic in 1944. The day is the birthday of the country’s independence hero, Jón Sigurdsson.
Midsummer Night, The longest day of the year, is endowed with great mystical powers. According to Icelandic folklore cows gain the power of speech for the night, and seals can take a human form. Surely a treacherous time agical things are said to take place on this evening, including rumours that cows can speak!
This bank holiday, the first Monday in August, celebrates shopkeepers and other merchants. Numerous outdoor festivals take place around the country, and many people leave the capital area for a weekend at their summerhouses or camping.
Dagur Íslenskrar tungu
The Icelandic language day is celebrated on 16 November, the birthday of 19th-century writer Jónas Hallgrímsson, to symbolise the importance of protecting the Icelandic language.
Not to be confused with the official Independence Day on 17 June, this is celebrated on 1 December, to recognise Iceland’s declaration of independence from Denmark in 1918. It is not an official holiday.
23 December is St. Þorlákur’s Day, when Icelanders eat putrefied skate to symbolise what was traditionally the end of the Christmas fast. Shops are also open very late for the many who leave their Christmas buying frenzy until the last minute. For many, this signifies the beginning of Christmas.
Christmas is celebrated on 24 December promptly at 6pm in the evening. Traditional dishes include ptarmigan, smoked lamb or smoked pork and pickled red cabbage. Presents are opened after Christmas dinner, which is a fairly formal affair. Icelanders decorate the interior and exterior of their houses extensively, in an effort to brighten up the dark winter days and nights.
New Year’s Eve
This is celebrated with the gathering of family and friends at home and visits to the local bonfire. Most Icelanders buy their own fireworks and set them off at midnight to welcome in the New Year.
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