Iceland is the westernmost country located in the continent of Europe. It is located entirely on an island in the northern Atlantic Ocean, with a total land area of 100,250 square kilometers (38,707 square miles). The arctic circle passes through an islet slightly north of the country.
History & Government
The date of the original discovery of Iceland isn't certain. One theory states that Naddoddr of the Faroe Islands accidentally sailed to Iceland while en route to Norway. He originally named the new land SnÃ¦land (Snowland). Iceland was later accidentally discovered by Swedish sailor GarÃ°ar Svavarsson, who named it GarÃ°arshÃ³lmi (GarÃ°ar's Islet). Iceland's current name (Ãsland) originated from FlÃ³ki VilgerÃ°arson, who was the first sailor to intentionally travel to the island.
In the year 930, the AlÃ¾ingi (assembly for the parliament) was first established. Annually, members of the parliament met at Ãžingvellir to discuss the laws and problems being faced on the island. Iceland had no serving authoritative persons, and as a result, every citizen had the duty of enforcing the laws. After years of a problematic parliament, Iceland established a union with Norway.
In 1380, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark joined the Kalmar Union. Denmark immediately took a dominant position in the union, and did not have much to offer for Iceland. During the 1500's, Denmark attempted to impose Lutheranism on the primarily-Christian Icelanders. Opposition was defeated, leaving Iceland in a primarily-Lutheran state as it remains today.
In the late 1700's, the Laki volcano erupted, which resulted in the deaths of 80% of the island's livestock and 25% of the island's human population. When Norway separated from Denmark in 1814, Iceland still remained property of Denmark. Poor climate conditions triggered emigration to North America. In 1843, a new iteration of the AlÃ¾ingi was established.
From 1874-1944, Denmark loosened its control over Iceland, opening up more trade opportunities and diplomatic authority. Finally, following neutrality issues in World War II, Iceland became an independent republic (at the time, Denmark was under German rule).
During World War II, Keflavik Air Base had been established by the United States. Iceland joined NATO in 1949. While the United States had temporarily terminated its responsibility to the protection of Iceland in 1946, it was brought back in a 1951 agreement. The United States' military presence remained for several years, ending in 2006.
Geography & Climate
Iceland is located immediately south of the Arctic Circle, so its cold climate comes as no surprise. Relative to other locations at this latitude, it is unusually warmer due to both the North Atlantic Current and the Irminger Current.
Iceland is home to frequent volcanic activity, which is why geothermal energy is a very common source of electrical power on the island. 11% of the island's surface area is covered in glaciers. The largest of these glaciers is VatnajÃ¶kull, with a surface area of approximately 8,300 square kilometers.
Much of the inner highlands are uninhabitable. Tundra conditions have prevented extensive tree growth from taking place throughout the island. Most tree growth is artificially maintained in the cities and towns.
The current population of Iceland is about 320,000. This low number, relative to Iceland's surface area, renders it as one of the most sparsely-populated countries in Europe. More than half of the population lives in or near the country's capital, ReykjavÃk. The next most populous city outside of the Reykjavik metropolitan area is Akureyri (population 17,390). Nearly the entire population resides in urban areas of greater than 200 residents.
The predominant language is Ãslenska (Icelandic). Much of the population also speaks English.
Iceland has the one of the highest per capita number internet connections in the world. This is a result of Iceland's young and intellectual population.
Icelandic music has become popular around the world, with bands such as Sigur RÃ³s and The Sugarcubes, and singer BjÃ¶rk GuÃ°mundsdÃ³ttir. The musical style is unique to Icelandic musicians, with particular emphasis on pop and electronic roots.
The typical Icelandic diet consists largely of fish. Almost all other foods are imported, and therefore more expensive, than locally-caught fish. Puffin birds are a delicacy, hunted in the Westman Islands off the nation's southern coast.