Iceland And Reykjavik

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Iceland is a Nordic European island country situated at the confluence of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.[5] 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.[6] 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(SONY PCG-5G2L battery). 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(SONY PCG-5G3L battery).

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.[8] 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(SONY PCG-F305 battery). 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(SONY PCG-5J1L battery). 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,[9] 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(SONY PCG-5J2L battery). In 2011, it was ranked as the 14th most developed country in the world by the United Nations' Human Development Index,[3] 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(SONY PCG-5K2L battery). 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.[13]

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(SONY PCG-5L1L battery). 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.

Settlement and Commonwealth 874–1262

See also: Settlement of Iceland, Icelandic Commonwealth, and Christianisation of Iceland

Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson (modern Icelandic: Ingólfur Arnarson), the first permanent Norse settler in Iceland(SONY PCG-6S2L battery)

According to both Landnámabók and Íslendingabók, Celtic monks known as the Papar lived in Iceland before the Norse settlers arrived, possibly members of a Hiberno-Scottish mission. Recent archaeological excavations have revealed the ruins of a cabin in Hafnir on the Reykjanes peninsula, and carbon dating indicates that it was abandoned somewhere between 770 and 880, suggesting that Iceland was populated well before 874(SONY PCG-6S3L battery). This archaeological find may also indicate that the monks left Iceland before the Norse arrived.

The first known permanent Norse settler was Ingólfr Arnarson, who built his homestead in present-day Reykjavík in the year 874. Ingólfr was followed by many other emigrant settlers, largely Norsemen and their thralls, many of whom were Irish or Scottish. By 930, most arable land had been claimed and the Althing, a legislative and judiciary parliament(SONY PCG-6V1L battery) (SONY PCG-6W1L battery), was initiated to regulate the Icelandic Commonwealth. Christianity was adopted around 999–1000, although Norse paganism persisted among some segments of the population for several years.

The 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.[15]

Ósvör, a replica of an old fishing outpost outside Bolungarvík

During these early Celtic and Viking settlements, the climate was significantly warmer and about 25% of Iceland was covered with forest compared to 1% now. (SONY PCG-7111L battery)

A 19th-century depiction of the Alþingi of the Commonwealth in session at Þingvellir

The internal struggles and civil strife of the Sturlung Era 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 to Denmark-Norway around 1380, when the kingdoms of Norway, Denmark and Sweden were united in the Kalmar Union. In the ensuing centuries(SONY PCG-71511M battery), Iceland became one of the poorest countries in Europe. Infertile soil, volcanic eruptions, deforestation and an unforgiving climate made for harsh life in a society where subsistence depended almost entirely on agriculture. The Black Death swept Iceland twice, first in 1402–04 and again in 1494–95.[17] The former outbreak killed 50% to 60% of the population, and the latter 30% to 50%.

Reformation and the Early Modern period

See also: Icelandic Reformation, Danish-Icelandic Trade Monopoly, and Móðuharðindin(SONY PCG-6W3L battery)

Around the middle of the 16th century, King Christian III of Denmark began to impose Lutheranism on all his subjects. Jón Arason, the last Catholic bishop of Hólar, was beheaded in 1550 along with two of his sons. The country subsequently became fully Lutheran. Lutheranism has since remained the dominant religion. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Denmark imposed harsh trade restrictions on Iceland(SONY PCG-7113L battery), while pirates from several countries raided its coasts. A great smallpox epidemic in the 18th century killed around a third of the population. In 1783 the Laki volcano erupted, with devastating effects.[23] The years following the eruption, known as the Mist Hardships (Icelandic: Móðuharðindin), saw the death of over half of all livestock in the country, with ensuing famine in which around a quarter of the population died(SONY PCG-7133L battery).

Independence movement 1814–1918

See also: Icelandic independence movement and Fjölnir (journal)

In 1814, following the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark-Norway was broken up into two separate kingdoms via the Treaty of Kiel. Iceland, however, remained a Danish dependency. Throughout the 19th century, the country's climate continued to worsen, resulting in mass emigration to the New World, particularly Manitoba in Canada. About 15,000 people out of a total population of 70,000 left. (SONY PCG-7Z1L battery)

However, a new national consciousness had arisen, inspired by romantic and nationalist ideas from mainland Europe. An Icelandic independence movement took shape in the 1850s under the leadership of Jón Sigurðsson, riding 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(SONY PCG-7Z2L battery)  , which was expanded in 1904, with Hannes Hafstein serving as the first Minister for Iceland in the Danish cabinet.

Kingdom of Iceland 1918–1944

See also: Kingdom of Iceland, Invasion of Iceland, and Iceland during World War II

HMS Berwick led the British invasion of Iceland.

The Danish-Icelandic Act of Union, an agreement with Denmark signed on 1 December 1918 and valid for 25 years, recognized Iceland as a fully sovereign state in a personal union with Denmark. The Government of Iceland established an embassy in Copenhagen and requested that Denmark should handle Icelandic foreign policy(SONY PCG-8Y1L battery); Danish embassies around the world would display two coats of arms and two flags: those of the Kingdom of Denmark and those of the Kingdom of Iceland.

During World War II, Iceland joined Denmark in asserting neutrality. After the German occupation of Denmark on 9 April 1940, the Althing replaced the King with a regent and declared that the Icelandic government should assume the control of foreign affairs and other matters previously handled by Denmark(SONY PCG-8Y2L battery). A month later, British armed forces invaded and occupied the country, violating Icelandic neutrality. In 1941, the occupation of Iceland was taken over by the United States so that Britain could use its troops elsewhere, an arrangement reluctantly agreed to by the Icelandic authorities.

Independent republic 1944–present

British and Icelandic vessels collide in the Atlantic Ocean during the Cod Wars

See also: Founding of the Republic of Iceland, Iceland in the Cold War, and Cod Wars

On 31 December 1943, the Danish-Icelandic Act of Union expired after 25 years. Beginning on 20 May 1944(SONY PCG-8Z2L battery), 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% in favour of ending the union and 95% in favour of the new republican constitution.[26] Iceland formally became a republic on 17 June 1944, with Sveinn Björnsson as its first president(SONY PCG-8Z1L battery).

In 1946, the Allied occupation force left Iceland, which formally became a member of NATO on 30 March 1949, amid domestic controversy and riots. 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(SONY PCG-7112L battery).

Iceland had prospered during the war, and the immediate post-war period was followed by substantial economic growth, driven by industrialisation of the fishing industry and the Marshall Plan programme, through which Icelanders received by far the most aid per capita of any European country (at USD 209, with the war-ravaged Netherlands a distant second at USD 109). The 1970s were marked by the Cod Wars(SONY PCG-6W2L battery) — several disputes with the United Kingdom over Iceland's extension of its fishing limits. The economy was greatly diversified and liberalised when Iceland joined the European Economic Area in 1994.

Iceland hosted a summit in Reykjavik in 1986 between United States President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, during which they took significant steps toward nuclear disarmament. Only a few years later, Iceland would become the first country to recognize the independence of Estonia(SONY PCG-5K1L battery), Latvia, and Lithuania as they broke away from the USSR. Throughout the 1990s, the country expanded its international role and developed a foreign policy that was oriented toward humanitarian and peacekeeping causes. To that end, Iceland provided aid and expertise to various NATO-led interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq. (SONY PCGA-BP1U battery)

Rise and fall of Iceland as a financial centre

See also: 2008–2012 Icelandic financial crisis and 2009 Icelandic financial crisis protests

In the years 2003–2007, following the privatization of the banking sector under the government of Davíð Oddsson, Iceland moved from being a nation best known for its fishing industry toward having an economy based on financial services and investment banking. (SONY PCGA-BP2E battery) It was quickly becoming one of the most prosperous countries in the world before getting hit hard by a major financial crisis.[30] The crisis resulted in the greatest migration from Iceland since 1887, with a net emigration of 5,000 people in 2009.[31] Iceland's economy has since stabilized under the government of Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, and is expected to grow by 2.8% in 2012(SONY VGP-BPS3 battery).

General topographic map

Main article: 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(SONY VGP-BPS4 battery).

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)) (SONY VGP-BPS5 battery); 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(SONY VGP-BPS8A battery). 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.[34] 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). (SONY VGP-BPL8 battery)

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. (SONY VGP-BPS9 battery)

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(SONY VGP-BPS9/S battery), and the town of Akureyri in northern Iceland. The island of Grímsey on the Arctic Circle contains the northernmost habitation of Iceland.[5] Iceland has three national parks: Vatnajökull National Park, Snæfellsjökull National Park, and Þingvellir National Park.[37] The country is considered a "strong performer" in environmental protection, having been ranked 13th in Yale University's Environmental Performance Index of 2012. (SONY VGP-BPS9A battery)

A geologically young land, Iceland is located on both the Iceland hotspot and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which runs right through it. This location means that the island is highly geologically active with many volcanoes, notably Hekla, Eldgjá, Herðubreið and Eldfell.[39] The volcanic eruption of Laki in 1783–1784 caused a famine that killed nearly a quarter of the island's population; (SONY VGP-BPS9A/B battery) the eruption caused dust clouds and haze to appear over most of Europe and parts of Asia and Africa for several months afterward.[41]

Iceland has many geysers, including Geysir, from which the English word is derived, and the famous Strokkur, which erupts every 5–10 minutes. After a phase of inactivity, Geysir started erupting again after a series of earthquakes in 2000. Geysir has since then grown more quiet and does not erupt often(SONY VGP-BPS9/B battery).

With the widespread availability of geothermal power, and the harnessing of many rivers and waterfalls for hydroelectricity, most residents have access to inexpensive hot water, heating and electricity. The island itself is composed primarily of basalt, a low-silica lava associated with effusive volcanism as has occurred also in Hawaii. Iceland, however, has a variety of volcanic types (composite and fissure), many producing more evolved lavas such as rhyolite and andesite(SONY VGP-BPS9A/S battery). Iceland has hundreds of volcanoes within approx. 30 volcanic systems active.[42]

Surtsey, one of the youngest islands in the world, is part of Iceland. Named after Surtr, it rose above the ocean in a series of volcanic eruptions between 8 November 1963 and 5 June 1968.[5] Only scientists researching the growth of new life are allowed to visit the island.[43]

On 21 March 2010, a volcano in Eyjafjallajökull in the south of Iceland erupted for the first time since 1821, forcing 600 people to flee their homes. (SONY VGP-BPL9 battery) Further eruptions on 14 April forced hundreds of people to abandon their homes.[45] The resultant cloud of volcanic ash brought major disruption to air travel across Europe.[46]

An iceberg near Jökulsárlón with Vatnajökull, Europe's largest glacier, in the background.

Another large eruption occurred on 21 May 2011. This time it was the Grímsvötn volcano, located under the thick ice of Europe's largest glacier, Vatnajökull. Grímsvötn is one of Iceland's most active volcanoes and this eruption was much more powerful than the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull activity(SONY VGP-BPS10 battery). The eruption hurled ash and lava 20 km (12.43 mi) up into the atmosphere, creating a large cloud that for a while was thought to pose a danger to jet aircraft over a wide area of northern Europe.

Eyjafjallajökull glacier, one of the smallest glaciers of Iceland

Main article: 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(SONY VGP-BPL10 battery), 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.[47]

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(SONY VGP-BPS11 battery). 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(SONY VGP-BPL11 battery).

Biodiversity

See also: Whaling in Iceland and The Botany of Iceland

An Icelandic horse in his winter fur

There are around 1,300 known species of insects in Iceland, which is a rather low number compared with other countries (over one million species have been described worldwide). The only native land mammal when humans arrived was the Arctic Fox,[50] which came to the island at the end of the ice age, walking over the frozen sea. On rare occasions, bats have been carried to the island with the winds, but they are not able to breed there(SONY VGP-BPL12 battery). Polar bears occasionally come over from Greenland, but they are just visitors, and no Icelandic populations exist.[51] There are no native or free-living reptiles or amphibians on the island.

An Icelandic sheep

Phytogeographically, Iceland belongs to the Arctic province of the Circumboreal Region within the Boreal Kingdom. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, the territory of Iceland belongs to the ecoregion of Iceland boreal birch forests and alpine tundra. (SONY VGP-BPS12 battery) Approximately three quarters of the island are barren of vegetation; plant life consists mainly of grassland which is regularly grazed by livestock. The most common tree native to Iceland is the Northern Birch (Betula pubescens), which formerly formed forest over much of Iceland along with Aspen (Populus tremula), Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) and Common Juniper (Juniperus communis) and other smaller trees(SONY VGP-BPS13 battery).

When the island was first settled, it was extensively forested. In the late 12th-century Íslendingabók, Ari the Wise described it as "forested from mountain to sea shore".[53] Permanent human settlement greatly disturbed the isolated ecosystem of thin, volcanic soils and limited species diversity. The forests were heavily exploited over the centuries for firewood and timber.[50] Deforestation(SONY VGP-BPS13Q battery), climatic deterioration during the Little Ice Age and overgrazing by sheep caused a loss of critical topsoil due to erosion. Today, many farms have been abandoned and three-quarters of Iceland's hundred thousand square kilometres are affected by soil erosion, eighteen thousand square kilometres so seriously as to be useless.[53] Only a few small birch stands now exist in isolated reserves. The planting of new forests has increased the number of trees(SONY VGP-BPS13A/Q battery), but does not compare to the original forests. Some of the planted forests include introduced species.[50]

The Arctic Fox was the only indigenous mammal in Iceland prior to the arrival of humans

The animals of Iceland include the Icelandic sheep, cattle, chicken, goat, the sturdy Icelandic horse, and the Icelandic Sheepdog. Many varieties of fish live in the ocean waters surrounding Iceland, and the fishing industry is a major part of Iceland's economy(SONY VGP-BPS13B/Q battery), accounting for approximately half of the country's total exports. Wild mammals include the Arctic Fox, mink, mice, rats, rabbits and reindeer. Polar bears occasionally visit the island, travelling on icebergs from Greenland. In June 2008, two polar bears arrived in the same month.[54] Birds, especially seabirds, are a very important part of Iceland's animal life. Puffins, skuas, and kittiwakes nest on its sea cliffs. (SONY VGP-BPS13/B battery)

Commercial whaling is practised intermittently[56][57] along with scientific whale hunts.[58] Whale watching has become an important part of Iceland's economy since 1997.[59] In early 2010, Iceland's proposed quota in killing fin whales was much larger than the amount of whale meat the Japanese market could absorb. In negotiations with Marc Wall, Economic Minister-Counselor at the US embassy in Tokyo, Jun Yamashita of the Japanese Fisheries Agencies(SONY VGP-BPS13B/B battery), however, rejected a proposal to suggest to Iceland to reduce the number of killed fin whales to a more reasonable number.[60]

The political system of Iceland.

Main article: Politics of Iceland

Iceland has a left–right multi-party system. The biggest parties are the centre-left Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin), the centre-right Independence Party (Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn) and the Left-Green Movement (Vinstrihreyfingin – grænt framboð). Other political parties with seats in the Althing are the centrist Progressive Party (Framsóknarflokkurinn) and The Movement (Hreyfingin). (SONY VGP-BPS13A/S battery) Many other parties exist on the municipal level, most of which run only locally in a single municipality.

Iceland was the first country in the world to have a political party formed and led entirely by women.[61] Known as the Women's List or Women's Alliance (Kvennalistinn), it was founded in 1983 to advance the political, economic, and social needs of women. After participating in its first parliamentary elections(SONY VGP-BPS21A/B battery), the Women's List helped increase the proportion of female parliamentarians by 15%.[62] Although it disbanded in 1999, merging with the Social Democratic Alliance, it left a lasting influence on Iceland's politics: every major party has a 40% quota for women, and nearly a third of the current members of parliament (as of 2009) is female, compared to a global average of 16%.(SONY VGP-BPS21B battery)

As of 2011, Iceland was ranked 2nd in the strength of its democratic institutions[64] and 13th in government transparency.[65] The country has a high level of civic participation, with 84% voter turnout during the most recent elections, compared to an OECD average of 72%. However, only 50% of Icelanders say they trust their political institutions, slightly less than the OECD average of 56% (and most probably a consequence of the political scandals in the wake of the Icelandic financial crisis). (SONY VGP-BPS21 battery)

The Althing, Iceland's national parliament, in Reykjavík

Iceland is a representative democracy and a parliamentary republic. The modern parliament, Alþingi (English: Althing), was founded in 1845 as an advisory body to the Danish monarch. It was widely seen as a re-establishment of the assembly founded in 930 in the Commonwealth period and suspended in 1799. Consequently(SONY VGP-BPS21/S battery), "it is arguably the world's oldest parliamentary democracy."[67] It currently has 63 members, elected for a maximum period of four years.[68] The president is elected by popular vote for a term of four years, with no term limit. The elections for president, the Althing and local municipal councils are all held separately every four years.[69]

Stjórnarráðið, the seat of the Cabinet of Iceland, the executive branch of the government(SONY VGP-BPS13AS battery)

The president of Iceland is a largely ceremonial head of state and serves as a diplomat, but can veto laws voted by the parliament and put them to a national referendum. The current president is Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson. The head of government is the prime minister (currently Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir) who, together with the cabinet, is responsible for executive government(SONY VGP-BPS13S battery). The cabinet is appointed by the president after a general election to the Althing; however, the appointment is usually negotiated by the leaders of the political parties, who decide among themselves after discussions which parties can form the cabinet and how its seats are to be distributed, under the condition that it has a majority support in the Althing. Only when the party leaders are unable to reach a conclusion by themselves within a reasonable time span does the president exercise this power and appoint the cabinet personally(SONY VGP-BPS13B/S battery). This has not happened since the republic was founded in 1944, but in 1942 regent Sveinn Björnsson, who had been installed in that position by the Althing in 1941, appointed a non-parliamentary government. The regent had, for all practical purposes, the position of a president, and Sveinn would later become the country's first president in 1944(SONY VGP-BPS13B/G battery).

The governments of Iceland have always been coalition governments, with two or more parties involved, as no single political party has ever received a majority of seats in the Althing throughout the republican period. The extent of the political power possessed by the office of the president is disputed by legal scholars in Iceland; several provisions of the constitution appear to give the president some important powers(SONY VGP-BPS14 battery), but other provisions and traditions suggest differently. In 1980, Icelanders elected Vigdís Finnbogadóttir as president, the world's first directly elected female head of state. She retired from office in 1996. In 2009, Iceland became the first country with an openly gay head of government when Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir became prime minister. (SONY VGP-BPL14 battery)

Administrative divisions

Main article: Administrative divisions of Iceland

Iceland is divided into regions, constituencies, counties, and municipalities. There are eight regions which are primarily used for statistical purposes; the district court jurisdictions also use an older version of this division.[5] Until 2003, the constituencies for the parliamentary elections were the same as the regions, but by an amendment to the constitution, they were changed to the current six constituencies(SONY VGP-BPS14/B battery):

Reykjavík North and Reykjavík South (city regions);

Southwest (four non-contiguous suburban areas around Reykjavík);

Northwest and Northeast (northern half of Iceland, split); and,

South (southern half of Iceland, excluding Reykjavík and suburbs).

The redistricting change was made in order to balance the weight of different districts of the country, since previously a vote cast in the sparsely populated areas around the country would count much more than a vote cast in the Reykjavík city area. The imbalance between districts has been reduced by the new system, but still exists. (SONY VGP-BPS14/S battery)

Iceland's 23 counties are, for the most part, historical divisions. Currently, Iceland is split up among 26 magistrates (sýslumenn, singular sýslumaður) who represent government in various capacities. Among their duties are tax collection, administering bankruptcy declarations, and performing civil marriages. After a police reorganisation in 2007, which combined police forces in multiple counties, about half of them are in charge of police forces. (SONY VGP-BPS14B battery)

There are 75 municipalities in Iceland which govern local matters like schools, transport and zoning.[citation needed] These are the actual second-level subdivisions of Iceland, as the constituencies have no relevance except in elections and for statistical purposes. Reykjavík is by far the most populous municipality, about four times more populous than Kópavogur, the second one. (SONY VGP-BPS22 battery)

Nordic prime ministers in 2010, with Icelandic Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir in the centre

Main articles: 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(SONY VGP-BPS22 battery).

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[71] and officially applied on 17 July 2009.[72] Iceland is also a member of the UN, NATO, EFTA and OECD.

Main article: Military of Iceland(SONY VGP-BPS18 battery)

Iceland has no standing army. The U.S. Air Force maintained four to six interceptor aircraft at the Keflavík base, until they were withdrawn on 30 September 2006. Since May 2008, NATO nations have periodically deployed fighters to patrol Icelandic airspace under the Icelandic Air Policing mission.[73][74] Iceland supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq despite much domestic controversy(SONY VGP-BPS22/A battery), deploying a Coast Guard EOD team to Iraq[75] which was replaced later by members of the Iceland Crisis Response Unit. Iceland has also participated in the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Despite the ongoing financial crisis the first new patrol ship in decades was launched on 29 April 2009. (SONY VGP-BPS22A battery)

Icelanders remain especially proud of their role in hosting the historic 1986 Reagan–Gorbachev summit in Reykjavík, which set the stage for the end of the Cold War. Iceland's principal historical international disputes involved disagreements over fishing rights. Conflict with the United Kingdom led to a series of so-called Cod Wars in 1952–1956 due to the extension of Iceland's fishing zone from 3 to 4 nmi (SONY Vaio VGC-LB15 battery) (5.6 to 7.4 km; 3.5 to 4.6 mi), 1958–61 following a further extension to 12 nmi (22.2 km; 13.8 mi), 1972–73 with another extension to 50 nmi (92.6 km; 57.5 mi); and in 1975–76 another extension to 200 nmi (370.4 km; 230.2 mi).

According to the Global Peace Index, Iceland is the most peaceful country in the world, due to its lack of armed forces, low crime rate, and high level of socio-political stability.[77]

Akureyri is the largest town in Iceland outside the Greater Reykjavík Area. Most rural towns are based on the fishing industry, which provides 40% of Iceland's exports(SONY Vaio VGC-LJ50B/B battery).

Main article: Economy of Iceland

In 2007, Iceland was the seventh most productive country in the world per capita (US$54,858), and the fifth most productive by GDP at purchasing power parity ($40,112). Except for its abundant hydroelectric and geothermal power, Iceland lacks natural resources; historically its economy depended heavily on fishing, which still provides 40% of export earnings and employs 7% of the work force. (SONY Vaio VGN-CR120E/W battery) The economy is vulnerable to declining fish stocks and drops in world prices for its main material exports: fish and fish products, aluminium, and ferrosilicon. Whaling in Iceland has been historically significant. Iceland still relies heavily on fishing, but its importance is diminishing from an export share of 90% in the 1960s to 40% in 2006. (SONY Vaio VGN-CR120E/R battery)

Until the 20th century, Iceland was among the poorest countries in Western Europe. Currently, it remains one of the most developed countries in the world. Strong economic growth had led Iceland to be ranked first in the United Nations' Human Development Index report for 2007/2008,[3] although as of 2011 its HDI rating had fallen to 14th place as a result of the economic crisis. Nevertheless, according to the Economist Intelligence Index of 2011(SONY Vaio VGN-CR120E/P battery), Iceland has the 2nd highest quality of life in the world.[79] Based on the Gini coefficient, Iceland also has one of the lowest rates of income inequality in the world,[80] and when adjusted for inequality, its HDI ranking climbs to 5th place.[81] Iceland's unemployment rate has declined consistently since the crisis, with 4.8% of the labour force being unemployed as of June 2012, compared to 6% in 2011 and 8.1% in 2010(SONY Vaio VGN-CR120E/L battery).

Many political parties remain opposed to EU membership, primarily due to Icelanders' concern about losing control over their natural resources (particularly fisheries).[84] The national currency of Iceland is the Icelandic króna (ISK). A poll released on 5 March 2010 by Capacent Gallup showed that 31% of respondents were in favour of adopting the euro and 69% opposed. (SONY Vaio VGN-CR120E battery) Another Capacent Gallup poll conducted in February 2012 found that 67.4% of Icelanders would reject EU membership in a referendum.[86]

Graphical depiction of Iceland's product exports in 28 colour coded categories.

Iceland's economy has been diversifying into manufacturing and service industries in the last decade, including software production, biotechnology, and finance; industry accounts for around a quarter of economic activity(SONY Vaio VGN-CR120 battery), while services comprise close to 70%.[87] Despite the decision to resume commercial whale hunting in 2006, the tourism sector is expanding, especially in ecotourism and whale-watching. On average, Iceland receives around 1.1 million visitors annually, which is more than three times the native population.[66] Iceland's agriculture industry, accounting for 5.4% of GDP,[5] consists mainly of potatoes, green vegetables (in greenhouses), mutton and dairy products. (SONY Vaio VGN-CR11H/B battery) The financial centre is Borgartún in Reykjavík, which hosts a large number of companies and three investment banks. Iceland's stock market, the Iceland Stock Exchange (ISE), was established in 1985.

Iceland is ranked 27th in the 2012 Index of Economic Freedom, lower than in prior years but still among the freest in the world.[89] As of 2012, it ranks 30th in the World Economic Forum's Global Competitive Index, one place higher than in 2011. (SONY Vaio VGN-CR116E battery) According to INSEAD's Global Innovation Index, Iceland is the 11th most innovative country in the world.[91] Unlike most Western European countries, Iceland has a flat tax system: the main personal income tax rate is a flat 22.75%, and combined with municipal taxes, the total tax rate equals no more than 35.72%, not including the many deductions that are available.[92] The corporate tax rate is a flat 18%, one of the lowest in the world. (SONY Vaio VGN-CR116 battery)There is also a value added tax, whereas a net wealth tax was eliminated in 2006. Employment regulations are relatively flexible and the labour market is one of the freest in the world. Property rights are strong and Iceland is one of the few countries where they are applied to fishery management.[92] Like other welfare states, taxpayers pay various subsidies to each other, but with spending being less than in most European countries(SONY Vaio VGN-CR115E battery).

Despite low tax rates, agricultural assistance is the highest among OECD countries and a potential impediment to structural change. Also, health care and education spending have relatively poor returns by OECD measures, though improvements have been made in both areas. The OECD Economic Survey of Iceland 2008 had highlighted Iceland's challenges in currency and macroeconomic policy. (Sony VAIO VGN-FZ11S battery) There was a currency crisis that started in the spring of 2008, and on 6 October trading in Iceland's banks was suspended as the government battled to save the economy.[94] The latest assessment by the OECD[95] determined that Iceland has made progress in many areas, particularly in creating a sustainable fiscal policy and restoring the health of the financial sector(Sony VAIO VGN-FZ15T battery); however, challenges remain in making the fishing industry more efficient and sustainable, as well as in improving monetary policy in order to address inflation.[96] Iceland's public debt remains around 130%, the 6th highest in the world by proportion of national GDP.[97]

Economic contraction

Main article: 2008–2012 Icelandic financial crisis

The Reykjavík headquarters of Íslandsbanki.

Iceland has been hit especially hard by the ongoing late-2000s recession, because of the failure of its banking system and a subsequent economic crisis(Sony VAIO VGN-FZ15G battery). Before the crash of the country's three largest banks, Glitnir, Landsbanki and Kaupthing, their combined debt exceeded approximately six times the nation's gross domestic product of €14 billion ($19 billion).[98][99] In October 2008, the Icelandic parliament passed emergency legislation to minimise the impact of the financial crisis. The Financial Supervisory Authority of Iceland used permission granted by the emergency legislation to take over the domestic operations of the three largest banks. (Sony VAIO VGN-FZ4000 battery) Icelandic officials, including central bank governor Davíð Oddsson, stated that the state did not intend to take over any of the banks' foreign debts or assets. Instead, new banks were established around the domestic operations of the banks, and the old banks will be run into bankruptcy.

On 28 October 2008, the Icelandic government raised interest rates to 18%, (as of August 2010, it was 7%) a move which was forced in part by the terms of acquiring a loan from the IMF(Sony VAIO VGN-FZ4000 battery). After the rate hike, trading on the Icelandic króna finally resumed on the open market, with valuation at around 250 ISK per Euro, less than one-third the value of the 1:70 exchange rate during most of 2008, and a significant drop from the 1:150 exchange ratio of the week before. Iceland appealed to the Nordic countries for an additional €4 billion in aid to avert the crisis(Sony VAIO VGN-FZ460E battery).

On 26 January 2009, the coalition government collapsed due to the public dissent over the handling of the financial crisis. A new left-wing government was formed a week later and immediately set about removing Central Bank governor Davíð Oddsson and his aides from the bank through changes in law. Oddsson was removed on 26 February 2009 in the wake of protests outside the Central Bank(Sony VAIO VGN-FZ190 battery).

Thousands of Icelanders have moved from the country after the collapse, and many of those moved to Norway. In 2005, 293 people moved from Iceland to Norway; in 2009, the figure was 1,625.[103] In April 2010, the Icelandic Parliament‘s Special Investigation Commission published the findings of its investigation, revealing the extent of control fraud in this crisis.[105] By June 2012, Landsbanki managed to repay about half of the Icesave debt. (Sony VAIO VGN-FZ150E battery)

The Ring Road of Iceland and some towns it passes through: 1. Reykjavík, 2. Borgarnes, 3. Blönduós, 4. Akureyri, 5. Egilsstaðir, 6. Höfn, 7. Selfoss.

Main article: 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(Sony VAIO VGN-FZ160 battery), 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.[108] Iceland currently has no railways(Sony VAIO VGN-FZ260E battery).

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(Sony VAIO VGN-FZ140E battery). 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(Sony VAIO VGN-FZ11L battery). 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. (Sony VAIO VGN-FZ11Z battery)

The Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Station services the Greater Reykjavík Area's hot water and electricity needs. Virtually all of Iceland's electricity comes from renewable resources.[110]

See also: Renewable energy in Iceland

Renewable sources—geothermal and hydropower—provide effectively all of Iceland's electricity[110] and around 80% of the nation's total energy, with most of the remainder consisting of imported oil used in transportation and in the fishing fleet(Sony VAIO VGN-FZ11M battery). Iceland expects to be energy-independent by 2050. Iceland's largest geothermal power plants are Hellisheiði and Nesjavellir, while Kárahnjúkavirkjun is the country's largest hydroelectric power station.

Icelanders emit 6.29 tonnes of CO2 in 2009 equivalent of greenhouse gases per capita.[116] Iceland is one of the few countries that have filling stations dispensing hydrogen fuel for cars powered by fuel cells(Sony VAIO VGN-FZ18M battery). It is also one of a few countries currently capable of producing hydrogen in adequate quantities at a reasonable cost, because of Iceland's plentiful renewable sources of energy.

On January 22, 2009, Iceland announced its first round of offshore licences for companies wanting to conduct hydrocarbon exploration and production in a region northeast of Iceland, known as the Dreki area. (Sony VAIO VGN-FZ18 battery)

As of 2012, the government of Iceland is in talks with the government of United Kingdom about the possibility of constructing a high-voltage direct-current connector for transmission of electricity between the two countries. Iceland has considerable renewable energy resources, especially geothermal energy and hydropower resources, and most of the potential has not been developed(Sony VAIO VGN-FZ210CE battery), partly because there is not demand for additional electricity generation capacity from the residents and industry of Iceland, but the United Kingdom is interested in importing inexpensive electricity from renewable sources of energy, and this could lead to further development of the energy resources.

Education and science

Reykjavík Junior College (Menntaskólinn í Reykjavík), located in downtown Reykjavík, is the oldest gymnasium in Iceland(Sony VAIO VGN-FZ31S battery).

See also: 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. (Sony VAIO VGN-FZ31Z battery) Students must stick to the government mandated curriculum, the parent teaching must acquire a government approved teaching certificate.[119]

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(Sony VAIO VGN-FZ31E battery).

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(Sony VAIO VGN-FZ31J battery). 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.[120]

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(Sony VAIO VGN-FZ31M battery). 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(Sony VAIO VGN-FZ31B battery).

An OECD assessment found 64% of Icelanders aged 25–64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, which is lower than the OECD average of 73%. Among 25–34 year-olds, only 69% have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, significantly lower than the OECD average of 80%.[66] Nevertheless, Iceland's education system is considered to be of excellent quality(Sony VAIO VGN-FZ32 battery): the Programme for International Student Assessment currently ranks it as the 16th best performing, above the OECD average.[121] Students were particularly proficient in reading and math.

According to a 2011 Eurostat report by the European Commission, Iceland spends around 2.75% of its GDP on scientific research and development (R&D), about 1 percentage point higher than the EU average, and the 4th highest of any European country. A 2010 UNESCO report found that out of 72 countries that spend the most on R&D (100 million US dollars or more), Iceland ranked 9th by proportion of GDP, tied with Taiwan, Switzerland(Sony VAIO VGN-FZ410 battery), and Germany and ahead of France, the UK, and Canada.[122] It is now one of the richest countries in the world.

The original population of Iceland was of Nordic and Gaelic origin. This is evident from literary evidence dating from the settlement period as well as from later scientific studies such as blood type and genetic analyses. One such genetics study has indicated that the majority of the male

settlers were of Nordic origin while the majority of the women were of Gaelic origin. (Sony VAIO VGN-FZ21 battery)

Iceland has extensive genealogical records dating back to the late 17th century and fragmentary records extending back to the Age of Settlement. The biopharmaceutical company deCODE genetics has funded the creation of a genealogy database which attempts to cover all of Iceland's known inhabitants. It views the database, called Íslendingabók, as a valuable tool for conducting research on genetic diseases, given the relative isolation of Iceland's population(Sony VAIO VGN-FZ21S battery).

The population of the island is believed to have varied from 40,000–60,000 in the period ranging from initial settlement until the mid-19th century. During that time, cold winters, ash fall from volcanic eruptions, and bubonic plagues adversely affected the population several times.[8] According to Bryson (1974), there were 37 famine years in Iceland between 1500 and 1804. (Sony VAIO VGN-FZ21M battery) The first census was carried out in 1703 and revealed that the population was then 50,358. After the destructive volcanic eruptions of the Laki volcano during 1783–84, the population reached a low of about 40,000.[126] Improving living conditions have triggered a rapid increase in population since the mid-19th century—from about 60,000 in 1850 to 320,000 in 2008. Iceland has a relatively young population for a developed country, with one out of five people being 14 years-old or younger. With a fertility rate of 2.1(Sony VAIO VGN-FZ38M battery), Iceland is one of only a few European countries with a birth rate sufficient for long-term population growth (see table on the left).

In December 2007, 33,678 people (13.5% of the total population) living in Iceland had been born abroad, including children of Icelandic parents living abroad. Around 19,000 people (6% of the population) held foreign citizenship. Polish people make up the largest minority group by a considerable margin (see table on the right for more details) (Sony VGN-NR11S/S Battery), and still form the bulk of the foreign workforce. About 8,000 Poles now live in Iceland, 1,500 of them in Reyðarfjörður where they make up 75% of the workforce who are constructing the Fjarðarál aluminium plant.[130] The recent surge in immigration has been credited to a labour shortage due to the booming economy at the time, as well as to the lifting of restrictions on the movement of people from the countries that were a part of the 2004 enlargement of the European Union(Sony VGN-NR11M/S Battery). Large-scale construction projects in the east of Iceland (see Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Project) have also brought in many people whose stay is expected to be temporary. Many Polish immigrants were also considering leaving in 2008 as a result of the Icelandic financial crisis.[131]

The southwest corner of Iceland is the most densely populated region. It is also the location of the capital Reykjavík, the northernmost national capital in the world. The largest towns outside the Greater Reykjavík area are Akureyri and Reykjanesbær, although the latter is relatively close to the capital(Sony VGN-NR260E/S Battery).

Some 500 Icelanders under the leadership of Erik the Red colonized Greenland among the existing paleo-Eskimo inhabitants in the late 10th century.[132] The total population reached a high point of perhaps 5,000 and developed independent institutions before disappearing by 1500.[133] From Greenland the Norsemen launched expeditions to settle in Vinland, (Sony VGN-NR260E/T Battery) but these attempts to colonise North America were soon abandoned in the face of hostility from the indigenous peoples. Emigration to the United States and Canada began in the 1870s. Today, Canada has over 88,000 people of Icelandic descent,[134] while there are more than 40,000 Americans of Icelandic descent, according to the 2000 US census. (Sony VGN-NR260E/W Battery)

Iceland's de facto official written and spoken language is Icelandic, a North Germanic language descended from Old Norse. In grammar and vocabulary, it has changed less from Old Norse than the other Nordic languages; Icelandic has preserved more verb and noun inflection, and has to a considerable extent developed new vocabulary based on native roots rather than borrowings from other languages(Sony VGN-NR11Z/S Battery). The puristic tendency in the development of Icelandic vocabulary is to a large degree a result of conscious language planning, in addition to centuries of isolation. Icelandic is the only living language to retain the use of the runic letter Þ in Latin script. The closest living relative of the Icelandic language is Faroese.

Icelandic Sign Language was officially recognised as a minority language in 2011. In education, its use for Iceland's deaf community is regulated by the National Curriculum Guide(Sony VGN-NR11Z/T Battery).

English and Danish are compulsory subjects in the school curriculum. Both languages are widely understood and spoken.[136] Other commonly spoken languages are Faroese, German, Norwegian and Swedish. Danish is mostly spoken in a way largely comprehensible to Swedes and Norwegians—it is often referred to as skandinavíska (i. e. Scandinavian) in Iceland. (Sony VAIO VGN-FZ21E battery)

Rather than using family names, as is the custom in all mainland European nations, the Icelanders use patronymics or matronymics. The patronymic and matronymic follows the person's given name, e.g. Elísabet Jónsdóttir ("Elísabet, Jón's daughter") or Ólafur Katrínarson ("Ólafur, Katrín's son"). Consequently, Icelanders refer to one another by their given name, and the Icelandic telephone directory is listed alphabetically by first name rather than by surname(Sony VAIO VGN-FZ21Z battery).

Iceland has a universal health care system that is administered by The Ministry of Welfare (Icelandic: Velferðarráðuneytið) and paid for mostly by taxes (85%) and to a lesser extent by service fees (15%). Unlike most developed nations, there are no private hospitals, and private insurance is practically nonexistent(Sony VAIO VGN-FZ21J battery).

A considerable portion of the government budget is assigned to health care,[139] and Iceland ranks 11th in health care expenditures as a percentage of GDP [140] and 14th in spending per capita.[141] Over all, the country’s health care system is one of the best performing in the world, ranked 15th by the World Health Organization.[142] According to an OECD report, Iceland devotes far more resources to healthcare than most industrialized nations(Sony VAIO VGN-FW11 battery). As of 2009, Iceland had 3.7 doctors per 1,000 people (compared with an average of 3.1 in OECD countries) and 15.3 nurses per 1,000 people (compared with an OECD average of 8.4).[143]

Icelanders are among the world’s healthiest people, with 81% reporting to be in good health, according to an OECD survey. Although it is a growing problem, obesity is not as prevalent as in other developed countries,[143] infant mortality is one the lowest in the world,[144] and the proportion of the population that smokes is lower than the OECD average. (Sony VAIO VGN-FW11M battery) The average life expectancy is 81.8 (compared to an OECD average of 79.5), the 4th highest in the world.[145]

Additionally, Iceland has a very low level of pollution, thanks to an overwhelming reliance on cleaner geothermal energy, a low population density, and a high level of environmental consciousness among citizens.[146] According to an OECD assessment, the amount of toxic material in the atmosphere is far lower than any other industrialized country measured. (Sony VAIO VGN-FW11S battery)

Icelanders enjoy freedom of religion under the constitution of Iceland, though the Church of Iceland, a Lutheran body, is the state church. The Registers Iceland keeps account of the religious affiliation of every Icelandic citizen. In 2012, Icelanders were divided into religious groups as follows(Sony VAIO VGN-FW21E battery):

Iceland is a very secular country: as with other Nordic nations, religious attendance is relatively low. The above statistics represent administrative membership of religious organisations, which does not necessarily reflect the belief demographics of the population of Iceland. According to a study published in 2001, 23% of the inhabitants are either atheist or agnostic.[150] A Gallup poll conducted in 2011 found that 60% of Icelanders considered religion to be unimportant in their daily lives, one of the highest rates of irreligion in the world(Sony VAIO VGN-FW21J battery).

Main article: Culture of Iceland

Icelandic culture has its roots in Norse traditions. Icelandic literature is popular, in particular the sagas and eddas that were written during the High and Late Middle Ages. Centuries of isolation have helped to insulate the country's Nordic culture from external influence; a prominent example is the preservation of the Icelandic language, which remains the closest to Old Norse out of any other Scandinavian language except Faroese(Sony VAIO VGN-FW21L battery).

In contrast to other Nordic countries, Icelanders place relatively great importance on independence and self-sufficiency; in a public opinion analysis conducted by the European Commission, over 85% of Icelanders found independence to be "very important," compared to 47% of Norwegians, 49% of Danes, and an average of 53% for the EU25. Icelanders also have a very strong work ethic, working some of the longest hours of any industrialized nation(Sony VAIO VGN-FW41M battery).

According to a poll conducted by the OECD, 66% of Icelanders were satisfied with their lives, while 70% believed that their lives will be satisfying in the future. Similarly, 83% of people in Iceland reported having more positive experiences in an average day than negative ones, compared to an OECD average of 72%, which makes Iceland one of the happiest countries in the OECD. (Sony VAIO VGN-FW41M/H battery) A more recent 2012 survey found that around three quarters of respondents stated they were satisfied with their lives, compared to a global average of about 53%.[153]

Iceland is liberal with regard to gay rights issues. In 1996, the Icelandic parliament passed legislation to create registered partnerships for same-sex couples, conferring nearly all the rights and benefits of marriage. In 2006, parliament voted unanimously to grant same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples in adoption(Sony VAIO VGN-FW21M battery), parenting and assisted insemination treatment. On 11 June 2010, the Icelandic parliament amended the marriage law, making it gender neutral and defining marriage as between two individuals, making Iceland one of the first countries in the world to legalise same-sex marriage. The law took effect on 27 June 2010.[154] The amendment to the law also means registered partnerships for same-sex couples are now no longer possible(Sony VAIO VGN-FW21Z battery), and marriage is their only option—identical to the existing situation for opposite-sex couples.

Icelanders are known for their deep sense of community: an OECD survey found that 98% believe they know someone they could rely on in a time of need, higher than in any other industrialized country. Similarly, only 6% reported "rarely" or "never" socializing with others.[66] This high level of social cohesion is attributed to the small size and homogeneity of the population(Sony VAIO VGN-FW32J battery), as well as to a long history of harsh survival in an isolated environment, which reinforced the importance of unity and cooperation.

Egalitarianism is highly valued among the people of Iceland, with income inequality being among the lowest in the world.[80] The constitution explicitly prohibits the enactment of noble privileges, titles, and ranks.[156] Everyone is addressed by their first name. As with other Nordic countries(Sony VAIO VGN-FW17W battery), equality between the sexes is very high, Iceland is consistently ranked among the top three countries in the world for women to live in.

An page of Njáls saga from Möðruvallabók. The sagas are a significant part of the Icelandic heritage.

Iceland's best-known classical works of literature are the Icelanders' sagas, prose epics set in Iceland's age of settlement. The most famous of these include Njáls saga, about an epic blood feud, and Grænlendinga saga and Eiríks saga, describing the discovery and settlement of Greenland and Vinland (modern Newfoundland) (Sony VAIO VGN-FW31E battery). Egils saga, Laxdæla saga, Grettis saga, Gísla saga and Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu are also notable and popular Icelanders' sagas.

A translation of the Bible was published in the 16th century. Important compositions since the 15th to the 19th century include sacred verse, most famously the Passion Hymns of Hallgrímur Pétursson, and rímur, rhyming epic poems. Originating in the 14th century, rímur were popular into the 19th century(Sony VAIO VGN-FW139E battery), when the development of new literary forms was provoked by the influential, National-Romantic writer Jónas Hallgrímsson. In recent times, Iceland has produced many great writers, the best-known of whom is arguably Halldór Laxness, who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1955 (the only Icelander to win a Nobel Prize thus far). Steinn Steinarr was an influential modernist poet during the early 20th century who remains popular(Sony VAIO VGN-FW139E/H battery).

Icelanders are avid consumers of literature, with the highest number of bookstores per capita in the world. For its size, Iceland imports and translates more international literature than any other nation.[156] Iceland also has the highest per capita publication of books and magazines,[160] and around 10% of the population will publish a book in their lifetimes. (Sony VAIO VGN-FW465J battery)

Main article: Icelandic art

The distinctive rendition of the Icelandic landscape by its painters can be linked to nationalism and the movement for home rule and independence, which was very active in the mid-19th century.

Contemporary Icelandic painting is typically traced to the work of Þórarinn Þorláksson, who, following formal training in art in the 1890s in Copenhagen, returned to Iceland to paint and exhibit works from 1900 to his death in 1924(Sony VAIO VGN-FW31M battery), almost exclusively portraying the Icelandic landscape. Several other Icelandic men and women artists studied at Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts at that time, including Ásgrímur Jónsson, who together with Þórarinn created a distinctive portrayal of Iceland's landscape in a romantic naturalistic style. Other landscape artists quickly followed in the footsteps of Þórarinn and Ásgrímur. These included Jóhannes Kjarval and Júlíana Sveinsdóttir(Sony VAIO VGN-FW31J battery). Kjarval in particular is noted for the distinct techniques in the application of paint that he developed in a concerted effort to render the characteristic volcanic rock that dominates the Icelandic environment. Einar Hákonarson is an expressionistic and figurative painter who by some is considered to have brought the figure back into Icelandic painting. In the 1980s, many Icelandic artists worked with the subject of the new painting in their work(Sony VAIO VGN-FW31Z battery).

In the recent years artistic practice has multiplied, and the Icelandic art scene has become a setting for many large scale projects and exhibitions. The artist run gallery space Kling og Bang, members of which later ran the studio complex and exhibition venue Klink og Bank, has been a significant part of the trend of self-organised spaces, exhibitions and projects. (Sony VGN-NR11Z Battery) The Living Art Museum, Reykjavík Municipal Art Museum, Reykjavik Art Museum and the National Gallery of Iceland are the larger, more established institutions, curating shows and festivals.

Icelandic music is related to Nordic music, and includes vibrant folk and pop traditions, medieval music group Voces Thules, alternative and indie rock bands The Sugarcubes and Of Monsters and Men, jazz fusion band Mezzoforte(Sony VGN-NR11S Battery), singers Björk and Emilíana Torrini, and post-rock band Sigur Rós. The national anthem of Iceland is Lofsöngur, written by Matthías Jochumsson, with music by Sveinbjörn Sveinbjörnsson.[163]

Singer Björk, the best known Icelandic musician

Traditional Icelandic music is strongly religious. Hymns, both religious and secular, are a particularly well-developed form of music, due to the scarcity of musical instruments throughout much of Iceland’s history. Hallgrímur Pétursson wrote many Protestant hymns in the 17th century(Sony VGN-NR110E Battery). Icelandic music was modernised in the 19th century, when Magnús Stephensen brought pipe organs, which were followed by harmoniums. Other vital traditions of Icelandic music are epic alliterative and rhyming ballads called rímur. Rímur are epic tales, usually a cappella, which can be traced back to skaldic poetry, using complex metaphors and elaborate rhyme schemes.[164] The best known rímur poet of the 19th century was Sigurður Breiðfjörð (1798–1846) (Sony VGN-NR110E/T Battery). A modern revitalisation of the tradition began in 1929 with the formation of Iðunn.[clarification needed]

Icelandic contemporary music consists of a big group of bands, ranging from pop-rock groups such as Bang Gang, Quarashi and Amiina to solo ballad singers like Bubbi Morthens, Megas and Björgvin Halldórsson. Independent music is very strong in Iceland, with bands such as múm, Sugarcubes, HAM, Of Monsters and Men(Sony VGN-NR110E/S Battery), Sigur Rós (of which lead singer Jón Þór Birgisson also has prominent success with bands Jónsi and Jónsi & Alex), Viking metal band Skálmöld as well as solo artists Emilíana Torrini and Mugison.

Some Icelandic jazz musicians and jazz bands have earned a reputation outside Iceland. Perhaps best known is the jazz fusion band Mezzoforte and Los Angeles-based jazz vocalist Anna Mjöll. Many Icelandic artists and bands have enjoyed international success(Sony VGN-NR110E/W Battery), most notably Björk and Sigur Rós but also Quarashi, Hera, Ampop, Mínus and múm. The main music festival is arguably Iceland Airwaves, an annual event on the Icelandic music scene, where Icelandic bands along with foreign ones play in the clubs of Reykjavík for a week. Electronic musicians include like Thor and GusGus(Sony VGN-CR11Z Battery).

Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur, best known for the films 101 Reykjavík, Jar City and Contraband

See also: Media of Iceland and 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 and Mbl.is. (Sony VGN-CR11S Battery)

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.[166] The LazyTown studios are located in Garðabær(Sony VGN-CR11M Battery).

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(Sony VGN-CR11E Battery). 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 whistle-blowers, the strongest journalist protection law in the world. (Sony VGN-CR21E Battery) According to a 2011 report by Freedom House, Iceland is one of the highest ranked countries in press freedom.[168]

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(Sony VGN-CR21S Battery).

Iceland has a highly developed internet culture, with around 95% of the population having internet access, the highest proportion in the world.[169] 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. (Sony VGN-CR21Z Battery) 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.[171]

A typical Þorramatur assortment

Much of Iceland's cuisine is based on fish, lamb, and dairy products, with little to no utilization of herbs or spices. Due to the island's climate, fruits and vegetables aren't generally a component of traditional dishes, although the use of greenhouses has made them more common in contemporary food(Sony VGN-CR31S Battery). Þorramatur is a selection of traditional cuisine consisting of many dishes, and is usually consumed around the month of Þorri, which begins on the first Friday after 19 January. Traditional dishes also include skyr, hákarl (cured shark), cured ram, singed sheep heads, and black pudding. Puffin is considered a local delicacy that is often prepared through broiling.

Breakfast usually consists of pancakes, cereal, fruit, and coffee, while lunch may take the form of a smorgasbord. The main meal of the day for most Icelanders is dinner, which usually involves fish or lamb as the main course(Sony VGN-CR31E Battery). Seafood is central to most Icelandic cooking, particularly cod and haddock but also salmon, herring, and halibut. It is often prepared in a wide variety of ways, either smoked, pickled, boiled, or dried. Lamb is by far the most common meat, and it tends to be either smoke-cured (known as hangikjöt) or salt-preserved (saltkjöt). Many older dishes make use of every part of the sheep, such as slátur, which consists of offal (internal organs and entrails) (Sony VGN-CR31Z Battery) minced together with blood and served in sheep stomach. Additionally, boiled or mashed potatoes, pickled cabbage, green beans, and rye bread are prevalent side dishes.

Coffee is a popular beverage in Iceland, and is drunk at breakfast, after meals, and with a light snack in mid-afternoon. Coca-Cola is also widely consumed, to the extent that the country is said to have one of the highest per capita consumption rates in the world.[172] Iceland's signature alcoholic beverage is Brennivín (literally "burnt (i.e. distilled) wine")(Sony VGN-CR41Z Battery), which is similar to Scandinavian akvavit. It is a type of vodka made from distilled potatoes and flavoured with either caraway seeds or angelica. Its potency has earned it the nickname svarti dauði ("Black Death").

Eiður Smári Guðjohnsen, Iceland's best-known football player

Sport is an important part of Icelandic culture, as the population is generally quite active.[173] The main traditional sport in Iceland is Glíma, a form of wrestling thought to have originated in medieval times(Sony VGN-CR41S Battery).

Popular sports include association football, track and field, handball and basketball. Handball is often referred to as the national sport,[174] and Iceland's team is ranked among the top 12 in the world. Icelandic women excel at football relative to the size of the country, with the national team ranked 16th by FIFA(Sony VGN-CR41E Battery).

Iceland has excellent conditions for skiing, fishing, snowboarding, ice climbing and rock climbing, although mountain climbing and hiking are preferred by the general public. Iceland is also a world-class destination for alpine ski touring and Telemark skiing, with the Troll Peninsula in Northern Iceland being the main centre of activity. Although the county's environment is generally ill-suited for golf, there are nevertheless lots of golf courses throughout the island(Sony VGN-CR42Z Battery), and Iceland holds the world record for most golf courses per capita with around 5000 individuals per golf course. Iceland regularly hosts an international tournament known as the Arctic Open.[176] Iceland has also won the most competitions for World's Strongest Man, with eight titles shared evenly between Magnús Ver Magnússon and Jón Páll Sigmarsson(Sony VGN-CR42S Battery).

Swimming is popular in Iceland. Geothermally heated outdoor pools are widespread, and swimming courses are a mandatory part of the national curriculum.[177] Horseback riding, which was historically the most prevalent form of transportation on the island, remains a common pursuit for many Icelanders(Sony VGN-CR42E Battery).

The oldest sport association in Iceland is the Reykjavík Shooting Association, founded in 1867. Rifle shooting became very popular in the 19th century with the encouragement of politicians and nationalists who were pushing for Icelandic independence. To this day, it remains a significant pastime(Sony Vaio VGN-CR11S/L Battery).

Iceland has also produced many chess masters and hosted the historic World Chess Championship 1972 in Reykjavik during the height of the cold war. As of 2008, there have been nine Icelandic chess grandmasters, a considerable number given the small size of the population.[179] Bridge is also popular, with Iceland participating in a number of international tournaments(Sony Vaio VGN-CR11S/P Battery).

Reykjavík (Icelandic pronunciation: [ˈreiːcaˌviːk] ( listen)) is the capital and largest city in Iceland.

Its latitude, at 64°08' N, makes it the world's northernmost capital of a sovereign state. It is located in southwestern Iceland, on the southern shore of Faxaflói Bay. With a population of around 120,000 (and over 200,000 in the Greater Reykjavík Area), it is the heart of Iceland's economic and governmental activity(Sony Vaio VGN-CR11S/W Battery).

Reykjavík is believed to be the location of the first permanent settlement in Iceland, which Ingólfur Arnarson is said to have established around 870 C.E. Until the 18th century, there was no urban development in the city location. The city was founded in 1786 as an official trading town and grew steadily over the next decades, as it transformed into a regional and later national centre of commerce, population, and governmental activities(Sony Vaio VGN-CR13/B Battery).

History

Ingólfur commands his high seat pillars to be erected in this painting by Johan Peter Raadsig.

Central Reykjavík seen from Hallgrímskirkja

The first permanent settlement in Iceland by Norsemen is believed to have been established in Reykjavík by Ingólfur Arnarson around 870 AD; this is described in Landnámabók, or the Book of Settlement. Ingólfur Arnarson is said to have decided the location of his settlement using a traditional Viking method(Sony Vaio VGN-CR13/L Battery); by casting his high seat pillars (Öndvegissúlur) into the ocean when he saw the coastline, then settled where the pillars came to shore. Steam from hot springs in the region is said to have inspired Reykjavík's name, which loosely translates to Smoke Cove (the city is often referred to as the Bay of Smokes or Bay of Smoke)[2] The original name was Reykjarvík with an additional "r" that vanished around 1300. (Sony Vaio VGN-CR13/P Battery)

Reykjavík is not mentioned in any medieval sources except as a regular farm land but the 18th century saw the beginning of urban concentration there. The Danish rulers of Iceland backed the idea of domestic industry in Iceland that would help to stimulate much-needed progress on the island.[citation needed] In 1752, the King of Denmark donated the estate of Reykjavík to the Innréttingar Corporation(Sony Vaio VGN-CR13/R Battery); the name comes from Danish "indretninger", meaning enterprise. The leader of this movement was Skúli Magnússon. In the 1750s several houses were constructed to house the wool industry that was to be Reykjavík's most important employer for a few decades and the original reason for its existence. Other crafts were also practiced by the Innréttingar, such as fisheries, sulphur mining, agriculture, and shipbuilding(Sony Vaio VGN-CR13G Battery).

The Danish Crown abolished monopoly trading in 1786 and granted six communities around the country an exclusive trading charter, Reykjavík was one of them and the only one to hold on to the charter permanently. The year 1786 is regarded as the date of the city's founding; its 200th anniversary was celebrated in 1986. Trading rights were still limited to the subjects of the Danish Crown however, and Danish traders continued to dominate trade in Iceland(Sony Vaio VGN-CR13G/B Battery). Over the following decades, their business in Iceland expanded. After 1880, free trade was expanded to all nationalities and the influence of Icelandic merchants started to grow.

Rise of nationalism

Icelandic nationalist sentiment gained influence in the 19th century and ideas of Icelandic independence became widespread. Reykjavík, as Iceland's only city, was the melting pot of such ideas. Advocates of an independent Iceland realized that a strong Reykjavík was fundamental to that objective(Sony Vaio VGN-CR13G/L Battery). All the important years in the history of the independence struggle are important for Reykjavík as well. In 1845, Alþingi, the general assembly formed in 930AD, was re-established in Reykjavík; it had been suspended a few decades earlier when it was located at Thingvellir. At the time it only functioned as an advisory assembly with the function of advising the King about Icelandic affairs. The location of Alþingi in Reykjavík effectively established the city as the capital of Iceland(Sony Vaio VGN-CR13G/W Battery).

In 1874 Iceland was given a constitution and with it, Alþingi gained some limited legislative powers and in essence became the institution that it is today. The next step was to move most of the executive power to Iceland and that was done by Home Rule in 1904 when the office of minister for Iceland was established in Reykjavík. The biggest step towards an independent Iceland was taken December 1, 1918 when Iceland became a sovereign country under the Crown of Denmark, the Kingdom of Iceland(Sony Vaio VGN-CR13G/P Battery).

In the 1920s and 1930s most of the growing Icelandic fishing trawler fleet sailed from Reykjavík and salt-cod production was the main industry but the Great Depression hit Reykjavík hard with unemployment and labour union struggles that sometimes became violent.

In the morning of May 10, 1940, following the German occupation of Denmark and Norway on April 9, four warships approached Reykjavík and anchored in the harbour(Sony Vaio VGN-CR13G/R Battery). Many citizens were relieved to find that they were British rather than German. In a few hours, the allied occupation of Reykjavík was complete. There was no armed resistance and taxi and truck drivers even assisted the invasion force which had no motor vehicles initially. The Icelandic government had received many requests from the British government to consent to the occupation, but they always declined on the basis of the Neutrality Policy. For the remaining years of World War I(Sony Vaio VGN-CR13T/L Battery), British and later American soldiers built bases in Reykjavík; the number of foreign soldiers in Reykjavík became about the same as the local population of the city.

The economic effects of the occupation were quite positive for Reykjavík: the unemployment of the depression years vanished and a lot of construction work was done. The British built Reykjavík Airport, which is still in service today, mostly serving domestic flights; the Americans built Keflavík Airport, which later became Iceland's primary international airport(Sony Vaio VGN-CR13T/P Battery), situated 50 km from Reykjavík. In 1944 the Republic of Iceland was founded and a president elected in popular elections replaced the King; the office of the president was placed in Reykjavík.

Post-war development

In the post-war years, the growth of Reykjavík accelerated. A mass exodus from the rural countryside began, largely due to improved technology in agriculture that reduced the need for manpower, and because of the population boom resulting from better living conditions in the country(Sony Vaio VGN-CR13T/R Battery). A once primitive village was rapidly transformed into a modern city. Private cars became common and modern apartment complexes rose in the expanding suburbs. Much of Reykjavík lost its village feel. In 1972, Reykjavík hosted the world chess championship between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky.

Reykjavík has in the last two decades become a significant player in the global community. The 1986 Reykjavík Summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev underlined Reykjavík's new-found international status(Sony Vaio VGN-CR13T/W Battery). Deregulation in the financial sector and the computer revolution of the 1990s have transformed Reykjavík yet again. The financial sector and information technology are now significant employers in the city. The city has fostered some world famous talents in recent years, such as Björk, Ólafur Arnalds and bands Múm and Sigur Rós, and poet Sjón.

Reykjavík seen from above

Reykjavík is located in southwest Iceland. The Reykjavík area coastline is characterized by peninsulas, coves, straits, and islands(Sony Vaio VGN-CR150E/B Battery).

During the Ice Age (up to 10,000 years ago) a large glacier covered parts of the city area, reaching as far out as Álftanes. Other parts of the city area were covered by sea water. In the warm periods and at the end of the Ice Age, some hills like Öskjuhlíð were islands. The former sea level is indicated by sediments (with clams) reaching (at Öskjuhlíð, for example) as far as 43 m (141.08 ft) above the current sea level(Sony Vaio VGN-CR190E/L Battery). The hills of Öskjuhlíð and Skólavörðuholt appear to be the remains of former shield volcanoes which were active during the warm periods of the Ice Age.

After the Ice Age, the land rose as the heavy load of the glaciers fell away, and began to look as it does today.

But the capital city area continued to be shaped by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, like the one 4500 years ago in the mountain range Bláfjöll, when the lava coming down the Elliðaá valley reached the sea at the bay of Elliðavogur(Sony Vaio VGN-CR190E/P Battery).

The largest river to run through Reykjavík is the Elliðaá River, which is non-navigable. It is one of the best salmon fishing rivers in the country. Mt. Esja, at 914 m (2,998.69 ft), is the highest mountain in the vicinity of Reykjavík.

The city of Reykjavík is mostly located on the Seltjarnarnes peninsula, but the suburbs reach far out to the south and east. Reykjavík is a spread-out city; most of its urban area is in the form of low-density suburbs, and houses are usually widely spaced(Sony Vaio VGN-CR190E/W Battery). The outer residential neighborhoods are also widely spaced from each other; in between them run the main traffic arteries and a lot of empty space.

Temperatures very rarely drop below −15 °C (5 °F) in the winter. This is because the Icelandic coastal weather in winter is moderated by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. The climate is subpolar oceanic (Koppen Cfc), and the city is on the northern edge of the temperate zone. The city's coastal location does make it prone to wind(Sony Vaio VGN-CR21/B Battery), however, and gales are common in winter. Summers are cool, with temperatures fluctuating between 10 to 15 °C (50 to 59 °F), sometimes exceeding 20 °C (68 °F). Reykjavík is not a particularly wet city, but it nevertheless averages 148 days with measurable precipitation every year. Droughts are uncommon although they occur in some summers. In the summer of 2007, no rain was measured for one month. Spring tends to be the sunniest season, May particularly(Sony Vaio VGN-CR21E/L Battery). Annual sunshine hours in Reykjavík are around 1,300,[3] which is comparable with other places in Northern and North-Eastern Europe. The highest ever recorded temperature in Reykjavík was 26.2 °C (79 °F), recorded on July 30, 2008, while the lowest ever recorded temperature was −24.5 °C (−12 °F), recorded on January 21, 1918.[4] The temperature has not dropped to below −20 °C (−4 °F) since January 30, 1971. (Sony Vaio VGN-CR21E/P Battery)

City administration

The City Council governs the city of Reykjavík according to law number 45/1998[8] and is directly elected by those aged over 18 domiciled in the city. The council has 15 members who are elected using the open list method for 4 year terms.

The council selects members of boards, and each board controls a different field under the city council's authority. The most important board is the City Board that wields the executive rights along with the City Mayor(Sony Vaio VGN-CR21E/W Battery). The City Mayor is the senior public official and also the director of city operations. Other public officials control city institutions under the mayor's authority. Thus the administration consists of two different parts:

The political power of City Council cascading down to other boards

Public officials under the authority of the city mayor who administer and manage implementation of policy(Sony Vaio VGN-CR21S/L Battery).

The Independence Party had overall control of the city council from the party's establishment in 1929 until 1978, when they narrowly lost their overall majority. From 1978 to 1982 the People's Alliance, the Social Democratic Party and the Progressive Party formed the majority of the council(Sony Vaio VGN-CR21S/P Battery).

The Independence Party regained overall control in the 1982 elections, and held it until 1994. At that election its opponents had formed an alliance, called Reykjavíkurlistinn, or the R-list. That alliance had overall control until 2006. In the May 2006 elections the electorate could choose between five different parties, three of which had formed the R-list. The Independence Party obtained 7 members of the council, and thus failed to gain overall control(Sony Vaio VGN-CR21S/W Battery), but together with the Progressive Party, and its one council member, they were able to form a new majority in the council which took over in June 2006. In October 2007 a new majority was formed on the council, consisting of members of the Progressive Party (1), the Social Democratic Alliance (4), the Left-Greens (2) and the F-list (1) (liberals and independents), after controversy regarding REI, a subsidiary of OR, the city's energy company(Sony Vaio VGN-CR23/B Battery). However three months later the leader of the F-list formed a new majority together with the Independence Party. Ólafur F. Magnússon, the leader of the F-list, was elected mayor on 24 January 2008, and in March 2009 the Independence Party was due to appoint a new mayor. This changed once again on 14 August 2008 when the fourth majority of the season was formed, when the Independence Party and the Progressive party took over again(Sony Vaio VGN-CR23/P Battery), with Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir becoming mayor. The latest election in May 2010 saw a new political party, The Best Party, win the most seats on the council.[9]

The mayor is appointed by the city council; usually one of the council members is chosen but they may also appoint a mayor who is not a member of the council.

The office of mayor was introduced from 1907, and in 1908 applications for that position were requested. Two applications were received, from Páll Einarsson, sheriff and town mayor of Hafnarfjörður and from Knud Zimsen, town councillor in Reykjavík(Sony Vaio VGN-CR23/R Battery). Páll was appointed on 7 May and was mayor for six years. At that time the city mayor received a salary of 4500 ISK per year and 1500 ISK for office expenses. The current mayor is Jón Gnarr.

Reykjavík is the largest and most populous settlement in Iceland. Present-day Reykjavík is a city with people from at least 100 countries. The most common ethnic minorities are Poles, Filipinos, and Danes. In 2009, foreign-born individuals made up 8% of the total population.[10] Children of foreign origin form a more considerable minority in the city's schools (as much as a third in places); many of whom are adopted. (Sony Vaio VGN-CR23/L Battery)Although in addition to immigrant inhabitants, the city is visited by thousands of tourists, students and other temporary residents weekly, at times outnumbering natives in the city-centre, tending to be educated upper middle-class Scandinavians, other Europeans, North Americans, or Japanese.[12]

Per capita car ownership in Iceland is among the highest in the world at roughly 522 vehicles per 1,000 residents, (Sony Vaio VGN-CR23/N Battery) though Reykjavík is not severely affected by congestion. Several multi-lane highways (mainly dual carriageways) run between the most heavily populated areas and most frequently driven routes. Parking spaces are also plentiful in most areas. Public transportation consists of a bus system (called Strætó bs). Route 1 (the Ring Road) runs through the city outskirts and connects it to the rest of Iceland(Sony Vaio VGN-CR23/W Battery).

Airports and seaports

Reykjavík Airport, the second largest airport in the country (after Keflavík International Airport), is positioned inside the city, just south of the city centre. It is mainly used for domestic flights as well as flights to Greenland and the Faroe Islands. It was built there by the British occupation force during World War II, when it was on the outskirts of the then much smaller Reykjavík. Since 1962 there has been some controversy regarding the location of the airport, since it takes up a lot of valuable space in central Reykjavík(Sony VAIO VGN-NW21EF/S battery).

Reykjavík has two seaports, the old harbour near the city centre which is mainly used by fishermen and cruise ships and Sundahöfn in the east city which is the largest cargo port in the country.

Two steam locomotives were used to build the harbour Reykjavík Docks railway; both are now on display in Reykjavík.

There are no public railways in Iceland, due to its terrain, but the locomotives used to build the docks are on display(Sony VAIO VGN-NW21JF battery).

See also: Geothermal power in Iceland

Volcanic activity in Iceland provides Reykjavík with geothermal heating systems for both residential- and industrial districts. In 2008, natural hot water was used to heat roughly 90% of all buildings in Iceland.[17] With total use of geothermal energy being at 39 PJ, space heating accounted for 48%.

Most of the district heating in Iceland comes from three main geothermal power plants, producing over 800 MWth: (Sony VAIO VGN-NW21MF battery)

Svartsengi combined heat and power plant (CHP)

The "Culture House" was opened in 1909 and has a number of important exhibits. Originally the National Museum and Natural History Museum, in 2000 it was re-modelled to promote the Icelandic national heritage. Many of Iceland's national treasures are on display, such as the Poetic Edda, and the Sagas, in their original manuscripts. There are also changing exhibitions on various topics. (Sony VAIO VGN-NW21MF/W battery)

Laugavegur main street in downtown Reykjavík

Reykjavík is often dubbed "the nightlife capital of the north".[20] It is famous for its weekend nightlife. Icelanders tend to go out late so bars that look rather quiet can fill up suddenly—usually after midnight on a weekend.

Alcohol is relatively expensive at bars. People tend to drink at home before going out. Beer was banned in Iceland until 1 March 1989, but has since become popular among many Icelanders as their alcoholic drink of choice. (Sony VAIO VGN-NW31EF/W battery)

There are over 100 different bars and clubs in Reykjavík; most of them are located on Laugavegur and its side streets. It is very common for an establishment that is a café before dinner to turn into a bar in the evening. Closing time is usually around 4:30 am at weekends and 1 am during the week. The Iceland Airwaves music festival is annually staged in October.

Crowds gather for celebratory fireworks on New Year's Eve, near Hallgrimskirkja(Sony VAIO VGN-NW21ZF battery)

The arrival of the new year is a particular cause for celebration to the people of Reykjavík. Icelandic law states that anyone may purchase and use fireworks during a certain period around New Year's Eve. As a result, every New Year's Eve the city is lit up with fireworks displays(Sony VAIO VGN-NW31JF battery).

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