Iceland: A European country with a distinctive culture

Iceland

Iceland (Iceland Island) – island state located in the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean. Its territory consists of the island of Iceland and small islands around it. The name of the country literally means icy country. The northern point of Iceland reaches the Arctic Circle, while the southern point, 306 km away, is located at latitude 63 degrees 24 minutes N. The length of the island from west to east is 480 km.

The area of the country is 103 thousand sq km.

The highest point – mountain Hvannadalshnukur (2119 m).

Population 317,900 (2010).

Population density is 2.6 people per square kilometer.

The proportion of urban population – 91%, the rural population – 9%.

The capital is Reykjavik (118,427 people).

The official language is Icelandic.

The state religion is Lutheranism.

The administrative divisions consist of eight sisla: Austurland (administrative center – Eaglstadur), Vestfirdir (Isafjordur), Vesturland (Borgarnes), Nordurland Vestra (Stadur), Nordurland Eystra (Akureyri), Sydurland (Selfoss), Sydurnes (Keblavik), Hofudborgarsvaedi (Reykjavik).

Currency: Icelandic Krona

Phone code +354

Geography of Iceland

The Republic of Iceland is an island state located in the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean (northwest of Great Britain). The territory of the state consists of the island of Iceland and small islands near it.

On the island there are more than 120 glaciers, a large number of lakes and rivers. Iceland is also characterized by a large number of volcanoes, craters and hot springs. Of the more than 100 volcanoes, 25 have erupted in the last thousand years. The most famous among them are Hecla (1491 m) and Laki, which have about 100 craters.

Climate

Contrary to its name and the presence of glaciers, Iceland is by no means an Arctic country. Its climate is tempered by the warm waters of the North Atlantic Current (an extension of the Gulf Stream), which runs along the southern and western coasts of the island. The average annual temperature on the southwestern coast in Reykjavik is 4 ° C, the average temperature in January -1 ° C, July 11 ° C. The corresponding figures on the north coast in Akureyri are 3° C, -2° C and 11° C. The coastal waters are ice-free all year round. The exception to this is when the polar ice drifts to the north and east. Due to a significant improvement in climate since the early 1920s, the polar ice drifted to the shores of Iceland only once in 1965. The weather in this country varies dramatically, sometimes within a day, depending on the passage of cyclones eastward across the Atlantic Ocean. The average annual rainfall is 1300-2000 mm on the south coast, 500-750 mm on the north, and over 3800 mm on the south-open slopes of Vatnajökull and Mirdalsjökull.

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History

The settlement of Iceland occurred in the ninth century as a result of the unification of Norway under King Harald I. Many families in conflict with Harald were forced to flee in search of a new place to live. As settlement in Iceland took place, a state system developed. Each province had an Althing (an assembly similar to a vecha) where courts were held and disputes were solved; to solve the most important questions, the representatives of the regions met in early summer for an Althing under the guidance of a special person – a lawmaker. For the first time Althingi was convened in 930, and from this date the era of the people’s government starts. In 1262 Iceland was forced to sign the so-called “Old Pact” with Norway, which recognized the supreme power of the Norwegian kings, who in turn were obliged to send Icelanders several ships per year with timber, grain and other goods. The dynastic migration of power in the Scandinavian countries changed Iceland’s subordination accordingly.

On February 23, 1551 a rebellion broke out in Iceland against Danish rule. The uprising was sparked by the execution of Iceland’s last Catholic bishop, Jon Aransson and his sons. The rebel Icelanders massacred all the Danes on the island. However it was not difficult for the punitive expedition of the Danish King Christian III to bring “order” to the small country. In 1567 the Icelandic peasants were stripped of their arms and had to resign themselves to foreign domination for a long time. After the dissolution of the Danish-Norwegian Union in 1814, the island possessions of Norway, including Iceland, were left as part of Denmark. In 1845 the parliament was reconstituted as a legislative body. It received the ancient Icelandic name “Althing”. As a result of more than one hundred years of peaceful struggle for independence, on December 1, 1918, Iceland was declared an independent kingdom in a personal union with Denmark. During World War II, the German occupation of Denmark on April 9, 1940 severed the link between Denmark and Iceland. In May 1940, Great Britain takes over Iceland and in 1941 transfers the right of occupation of the island to the United States. On June 17, 1944 Iceland gains full independence and becomes a republic.

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Culture of Iceland

Among all the other European cultures Icelandic culture is justly considered the most distinct and unique. This is due both to a certain isolation of the island nation, and to the personal qualities of the Icelanders themselves, who are characterized by conservatism and adherence to national traditions. A considerable contribution to the formation of the cultural traditions of the state have contributed to a rather harsh weather conditions, a solid duration of polar days and nights, cut from the mainland as a result of frequent floods and snow drifts.

Language and Names

Because of its remoteness and isolation from the rest of Europe, the language of the Icelanders has retained its special resemblance to the ancient Scandinavian dialects. To keep their language pure, the Icelanders do everything they can to prevent foreign words and neologisms from getting into it. Due to its ancient roots Icelandic language is considered one of the richest in the world.

Icelanders have preserved interesting traditions regarding names. The natives of the country do not have last names, and there are only first and patronymic names, and until a few years ago a person who did not have an Icelandic name could not become a citizen of the country.

An important part of Iceland’s culture is literature, which has its roots in the ancient Scandinavian folklore tradition. The main works that have come down to us since Viking times are the sagas, or clan prose tales. These told of both royal dynasties and famous warriors. Modern Icelandic literature introduces the reader to the works of H. K. Laxness, who received the Nobel Prize for his work.

Nordic architecture

Traditional culture in Iceland favored the construction of houses made of peat blocks. The roofs of the squat buildings were covered with turf, making it cool and dry inside in summer and warm in winter. Medieval craftsmen were famous for woodcarving, which decorated the utensils and furniture.

The main attractions of Irish architecture are churches and cathedrals:

  • The Cathedral of the capital, erected in the mid-18th century, famous for the baptismal font by B. Thorvaldsen.
  • Hadlgrimskirkja Lutheran Church in the center of Reykjavik, which has become a trademark of the city. The mechanical organ of the church weighs more than 25 tons, and its height is 15 meters. By the way, it is from the observation deck of the church you have the most magnificent view of the capital of Iceland.

Icelandic cuisine

The main products of Icelandic cuisine – fish, meat, vegetables, dairy products, cheese.

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We advise tourists in Iceland to try the following traditional local dishes:

  • Hangikjöt – smoked lamb;
  • Harðfiskur – dried fish;
  • Saltkjöt – salted lamb;
  • Bjúgu – smoked sausage;
  • Þorramatur – marinated meat or fish (including shark meat);
  • Lax, a dish of salmon.

The traditional Icelandic non-alcoholic drink is Skyr (skir), which is made from sour milk, reminiscent of yogurt.

As for alcoholic beverages in Iceland, the inhabitants of this country prefer beer and the local potato vodka with cumin Brennivín.

Attractions of Iceland

Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal basin known worldwide. Moreover, it is really unique. The lagoon the color of the sky is the true symbol of the northern country and one of the favorite Scandinavian resorts. Due to the unique composition of the water, bacteria simply do not survive in the Blue Lagoon.

Tingvellir

It was in Tingvellir that the assembly place of the parliament, the so-called Althingi, was located, which was decided more than a thousand years ago in 930 by the first settlers to begin the formation of a new nation, the Icelanders. It is believed that after that the warring Viking descendants united into one nation.

Imagine World Tower

One of the most moving monuments dedicated to a loved one is the brainchild of Yoko Ono, the famous widow of the legendary Beatle John Lennon. But like everything the couple did, the monument can’t be called just a lump of stone – it’s a global work of art in its intent and message to the world.

Mount Esia

A volcano that has been erupting for 2 or 3 million years, the guardian angel of Reykjavík and one of the most common names of blond Icelandic girls, all this is Mount Esja, 10 km from the capital, to the delight of all panorama lovers.

Hövdi House

The amazing story of a small mansion that appeared on the northern lands of the capital of Iceland without the knowledge of the authorities, makes the crowds of tourists every day to approach the albeit closed to visitors Hövdi house, look through the windows and take the traditional “selfies” in front of it.

Whale Fjord

Hval Fjord means “whale fjord” in Icelandic. It is located off the western coast of Iceland between the towns of Mosfelsbjær and Akranes and is named for the fact that there are indeed many whales that can periodically be seen from the shore.

Harpa concert hall and convention center

A new jewel in Reykjavik’s collection, which appeared on the city map not long ago, is the Harpa Concert and Congress Center, which won the prestigious Mies van der Rohe Architecture Prize in 2013. The striking building resembles a spaceship from the future.

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Cultural Center Perlan

It’s no accident that the avant-garde, extravagant and eccentric Björk was born in Reykjavik. Where else in the world could this fragile young lady with her crazy ideas and brilliant voice have grown up if not in Iceland, where they turn a city boiler-room into a cultural center?

Landakotskirkja

You can’t say that Iceland in general, and Reykjavik in particular, can boast a wealth of architectural sights. And they do not need it, because it is more than offset by the amazing colors of life and, of course, nature.

Videi Island

Videi Island is a unique place, but little known even to those tourists who venture out into the frozen expanses of this ancient and beautiful as an elven saga of the country. And no wonder: the beauty of national parks, thermal geysers and waterfalls overshadow the seemingly inconspicuous island of land.

Sun Voyager Monument

One of the most elaborate and brilliant sculptures in the world, “The Sun Voyager” or “The Sun Traveler”, is a Russian translation of this monument. Created from sketches by the talented Icelandic artist Jon Gunnar Arnason, the Sun Voyager was installed on the waterfront of Reykjavik.

Reykjavik City Hall

One of the most controversial landmarks of the capital of Iceland, located in the heart of the city and still causing much discussion and sometimes condemnation by locals. Of course, we are talking about the City Hall of Reykjavik.

Arbaejarsafn Folklore Museum

The largest open-air museum in Iceland, which is housed in 30 buildings and introduces visitors to “Reykjavik leaving” is Arbaejarsafn, a real treasure trove of original folklore, amazing traditions and ancient architecture of this northern country.

Hadlgrimskirkja

Powerful, utterly futuristic, and rudely piercing the skies, the Lutheran church of Hadlegrimskirkja would look more organic in Babylon 5 than in the middle of one of the Old World’s capitals. Most orthodox tourists are confused by the church’s appearance.

Skaulholt Church

Skaulholt Church is located in the town of the same name in the south of Iceland, on the banks of the river Hvytau. It used to be the very rich farmstead of Gitsur White, one of the first Christian priests. Gitsur himself was a very educated and respected man, and he built a church here.

The capital of Iceland

The capital of Iceland is Reykjavik. It got its name, which means “smoke bay” in Icelandic, because of a pair of hot springs located in its vicinity. Half of the country’s population lives here – 180 thousand people. Reykjavik is a city with no squares, their role is performed by parking lots, which are traditionally huge – most Icelanders drive jeeps or “big futas,” and drive them in the city, which thus begins to resemble the northern prairie, Mexico in the snow. There is a seafront the size of a highway, a port where cruise ships come from the “big land” and a legible grid of narrow “country” streets.

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Reykjavik is a very old city. Its founding dates back to the year of the discovery of Iceland itself. Old Icelandic sagas say that Reykjavik was founded on the site where the first permanent settler Ingolfur Arnarson built his home in 874. For a long time this settlement was a simple fishing village inhabited by Danes. But no historical monuments remained here. Stone protective fortresses were not built originally – no one would have reached this part of the world.

For the tourist

Cities and resorts

The largest cities in Iceland are Habnarfjordur, Akureyri, Kópavogur and, of course, Reykjavik.

Iceland has a lot of geysers and lakes, which have medicinal properties. It is therefore not surprising that there are several geothermal resorts in this country. The most famous of them is on the lake “Blue Lagoon.

Souvenirs / shopping

Tourists from Iceland usually bring back volcanic lava jewelry (necklaces, earrings, bracelets), elf figurines, Icelandic wool sweaters, Icelandic scarves and hats, CDs of Icelandic music, healing cosmetics from Blue Lagoon Lake, Icelandic potato vodka Brennivín.

Business hours

Banks are closed on weekends.

Currency of Iceland

The official currency in Iceland – the Icelandic krona (its international designation – ISK). Credit cards are accepted by hotels and large stores.

Customs restrictions

Import and export of currency in Iceland is not limited. Customs rules in Iceland are the same as in Western Europe.

Tipping

In Iceland tips are already included in the bill. Therefore Icelanders are very surprised when foreign tourists give them money “for a tip”. However, foreigners are tipped 10% for excellent service in Iceland.

Medicine

To enter Iceland you don’t need any special vaccinations, but you are required to have health insurance.

Security

Crime is very low in Iceland. Outside Reykjavik, Icelanders almost never close the doors of their homes. Nevertheless, tourists in Iceland still need not be careless.

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