Official Name: Iceland
Established: 930 (Icelandic Commonwealth), 1262 (Union with Norway), January 1874 (Limited Home Rule), 17 June 1944 (Republic)
Population: 364,134 (2020 estimate)
Religion: 63.5% Church of Iceland, 7.6% Protestant, 4% Roman Catholic, 21.5% No religion
Order of Visit: Fortieth
First Visit: 15 October 2012
Last Visit: 19 October 2012
Duration: 5 Days
Visit Highlights: Ásmundur Sveinsson’s Museum, the Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral, the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), ATV riding on the Reykjanes peninsula, Swimming and relaxing at the Blue Lagoon, Þingvellir National Park (former home of a Viking Parliament), hiking on the Langjökull glacier, observing lava fields, enjoying the waterfalls at Barnafoss, watching the world’s largest hot springs boil.
Places Visited: Reykjavik
Iceland Journal Entries
History and Geography
Covering an area of 103,000 square kilometres Iceland is a remote sparsely populated Nordic island country located in the North Atlantic Ocean. Iceland is volcanically and geologically active which provides 99% of it’s energy needs.
A small group of monks, known as the Papar, are believed to have lived in Iceland before Scandinavian settlers arrived. 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.
Swedish Viking explorer Garðar Svavarsson was the first to circumnavigate Iceland in 870 and establish that it was an island. He stayed during the 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 874. Ingólfr was followed by many other emigrant settlers, largely Scandinavians. By 930, most arable land on the island had been claimed; 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.
The Icelandic Commonwealth lasted until the 13th century, when the political system devised by the original settlers proved unable to cope with the increasing power of Icelandic chieftains. The internal struggles and civil strife of the Age of the Sturlungs led to the signing of the Old Covenant in 1262, which ended the Commonwealth and brought Iceland under the Norwegian crown. Possession of Iceland passed from the Kingdom of Norway (872–1397) to the Kalmar Union in 1415, when the kingdoms of Norway, Denmark and Sweden were united. After the break-up of the union in 1523, it remained a Norwegian dependency, as a part of Denmark–Norway.
The Black Death swept Iceland twice, first in 1402–1404 and again in 1494–1495 killing roughly 50% of the population each time.
In 1814, following the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark-Norway was broken up into two separate kingdoms via the Treaty of Kiel but Iceland remained a Danish dependency. Throughout the 19th century, the country’s climate continued to grow colder, resulting in mass emigration to the New World. An Icelandic independence movement took shape in the 1850s under the leadership of Jón Sigurðsson, based on the burgeoning Icelandic nationalism inspired by the Fjölnismenn and other Danish-educated Icelandic intellectuals. In 1874, Denmark granted Iceland a constitution and limited home rule. This was expanded in 1904, and Hannes Hafstein served as the first Minister for Iceland in the Danish cabinet.
The Danish–Icelandic Act of Union, an agreement with Denmark signed on 1 December 1918 and valid for 25 years, recognised Iceland as a fully sovereign and independent state in a personal union with Denmark.
During World War II, Iceland joined Denmark in asserting neutrality. After the German occupation of Denmark on 9 April 1940, the Icelandic government would take control of its own defence and foreign affairs. A month later, British armed forces occupied the country, violating Icelandic neutrality. In 1941, the Government of Iceland, friendly to Britain, invited the then-neutral United States to take over its defence so that Britain could use its troops elsewhere.
On 31 December 1943, the Danish–Icelandic Act of Union expired after 25 years. Beginning on 20 May 1944, Icelanders voted in a four-day plebiscite on whether to terminate the personal union with Denmark, abolish the monarchy, and establish a republic. The vote was 97% to end the union, and 95% in favour of the new republican constitution. Iceland formally became a republic on 17 June 1944, with Sveinn Björnsson as its first president.
On 5 May 1951, a defence agreement was signed with the United States. American troops returned to Iceland as the Iceland Defence Force, and remained throughout the Cold War. The US withdrew the last of its forces on 30 September 2006.
What I experienced
While I was only in Iceland for a very short time what I saw was a fiercely independent country with a harsh but beautiful landscape and environment. At times, outside the capital, it felt like I was on another planet so different was Iceland especially when I went ATV riding on the Reykjanes peninsula.
Iceland is a very good place to view the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), which while not strong when I visited, were nonetheless impressive. It can be difficult to get to Iceland but a change to see such a remote and beautiful country which almost 100% renewal energy, stunning and unique architecture makes it worth the effort.