Location/Culture Reports

Location Report – Reykjavik, Iceland

Full of natural beauty, the city is framed by Mt. Esja, the clear waters of Faxafloi Bay, and the Snaefellsjokull glacier on the western horizon.
Setting: Inspired by the steam coming from hot springs in the area, the first settlers named the area “reykjavik,” which means “smoky bay.” Full of natural beauty, the city is framed by Mt. Esja, the clear waters of Faxafloi Bay, and the Snaefellsjokull glacier on the western horizon. The many active hot springs support inexpensive geothermic power that makes the city a lot less “smoky” than it once was.

History: The country was first settled in the 9th and 10th centuries by Celtic monks and Viking travelers. Icelanders discovered and colonized Greenland under the leadership of Erik the Red, and in about the year 1000, they became the first Europeans to arrive in North America. Ultimately, the settlements in North America failed, however. For many centuries after that, Iceland was largely a rural, thinly settled country used primarily as a trading post for whichever Scandinavian country ruled it at the time. Iceland became an independent country after WWI, when the Danes relinquished control. Occupation by the Americans and British during WWII brought jobs and industry to the struggling city of Reykjavik, and many Icelanders began moving from the countryside into the city. Today over half the people in Iceland live in the capital city of Reykjavik and the country is modern and progressive, with a high standard of living. The majority Icelanders live in a town or village, with only 10 percent living in rural areas.

Climate & Nature: The Gulf Stream provides warmer water from the Caribbean, making the climate more moderate than one might expect, given Iceland’s proximity to the Arctic Circle. Iceland enjoys a very moderate climate, with average highs in the low 70s in the summer and in the low 30s in the winter. Due to its northern latitude, sunlight is very seasonal, with 20 hours or more of daylight in the summer, and 4 hours or less of daylight in the winter. The long winter nights are one explanation for why Iceland has the highest per capita rate in the world for writing, publishing, and reading books in the world.

Despite being the size of the state of Virginia, Iceland is very sparsely populated, with only 3 persons per km_ (that’s approximately 8 people per square mile for you metric-phobes). Most of the population resides along the southern coast, leaving the interior of the country largely unoccupied by humans. It is largely an arctic desert, interrupted occasionally by interesting geology in the form of mountains, glaciers, volcanoes, and waterfalls. The country has few trees and is mostly sparsely covered by low shrubs, lichens and moss.
Iceland is a modern European country with high levels of education and technology, and universal access to education and health care.
The People: Iceland is a modern European country with high levels of education and technology, and universal access to education and health care. It was among the first democracies in the world to elect a woman as head of state (Vigdís Finbogadottír) in 1980. The culture is largely influenced by its Scandinavian roots, and in general the people are friendly and hospitable. Icelanders are generally well-informed about world affairs and eager to embrace new technologies.


Interesting fact: Iceland is the only country that has retained the traditional Scandinavian system for last names. Both daughters (“dottír”) and sons (“son”) take a last name based on the first name of their father. So a man named Sven Haraldson would give his children the last name “Svensdottír” for girls and “Svensson” for boys. The next generation would then have a new last name based on the father in the 2nd generation. Generally Icelanders do not change their name upon marriage. Just to make things extra-confusing, a law was passed recently that allows Icelanders to take the name of their mother rather than their father.

For further reading:
lonelyplanet.com
iceland.org
icelandculture.com