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Lýðveldið Ísland
Flag of Iceland Iceland: Coat of Arms
( In Detail) ( In Detail)
National motto: None
Location of Iceland
Official language Icelandic
Capital and largest city Reykjavík
President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson
Prime Minister Halldór Ásgrímsson
- Total
- % water
Ranked 107th
103,000 km²
- Total ( January 9, 2006)
- Density
Ranked 169th
Independence (from Denmark)
- Sovereignty
- Republic

1 December 1918
17 June 1944
GDP (2003)
- Total (PPP)
- Total
- GDP/capita (PPP)
- GDP/capita

billion ( 127th)
billion ( 87th)
,686 ( 5th)
,063 ( 4th)
HDI (2003) 0.956 ( 2nd) – high
Currency Icelandic króna (ISK)
Time zone
- year round
GMT ( UTC+0)
National anthem Lofsöngur
Internet TLD .is
Calling Code +354
Iceland, officially the Republic of Iceland ( Icelandic: Ísland or Lýðveldið Ísland) is a borderless country, a volcanic island in the northern Atlantic Ocean between Greenland, Norway, Ireland, Scotland and The Faroe Islands.

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History - Contents

Iceland was one of the world's last larger islands uninhabited by humans until it was discovered and settled by immigrants from Scandinavia and from Ireland and Scotland during the 9th and 10th centuries. Íslendingabók (Libellus Islandorum), written in 1122-1133 claims that the Norwegian Ingólfur Arnarson was the first man to settle in Iceland ( Reykjavík) in 870. The families were accompanied by servants and slaves, some of whom were Celts or Picts from Scotland and Ireland (known as Westmen to the Norse). Some literary evidence suggests that Irish monks may have been living in Iceland before the arrival of Norse settlers, but no archaeological evidence has been found. Erik the Red, or Eirikr Þorvaldson, was exiled from Iceland for manslaughter in 980, and set sail for the west, to explore the lands to the west. He established the first settlements in Greenland around this time, naming the land, according to legend, to attract settlers. Eirikr's son, Leifr Eiriksson, finally set foot in the Americas around the year 1000. While some say he was blown off course, it is most likely that he was deliberately seeking the land spotted by Bjarni Herjólfsson several years earlier. He is believed to have established a colony at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, which lasted only a year. Two further attempts at colonization by his brother ended in failure.The Alþingi (general assembly) was founded in 930, marking the beginning of the Icelandic Commonwealth. It was the predecessor to the modern Icelandic legislature. The Althing is the oldest, still-standing, parliament in the world that has written documents to prove its age.Iceland was a free state, without a king, until 1262, when it joined the Norwegian kingdom as a Norwegian colony, and from 1387 Iceland was in practice ruled by Denmark, following the union of the two kingdoms. When that union was dissolved in 1814, through the Treaty of Kiel, which saw Norway entering a union with Sweden, Iceland became a Danish colony. Home rule was granted by the Danish government in 1904, and independence followed in 1918. From 1918 Iceland was in a personal union with Denmark, with foreign relations being carried out by the Danes, as instructed by the Icelandic government until the World War II military occupation of Denmark by Germany in 1940. Subsequently, Iceland was occupied by the Allies. The Danish king remained the de jure sovereign of the nation until 1944, when the current republic was founded after the 1918 treaty had lapsed.The new republic became a charter member of NATO in 1949 and signed a treaty with the United States in 1951 to take responsibility for the defense of Iceland. Today the US continues to operate a military base in Keflavík based on this agreement, while Iceland has no armed forces of its own. The economy of Iceland remained dependent on fisheries in the post-war decades and the country has had several clashes with its neighbours over this vital resource, most notably the Cod Wars with the British. The economy has become more diverse recently owing to large investments in heavy industry such as aluminium smelting and deregulation and privatization in the financial sector. Iceland is a member of the Common market of the European Union through the EEA agreement but has never applied for membership of the EU itself.

Politics - Contents

Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, President of Iceland
Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, President of Iceland
Halldór Ásgrímsson, Prime Minister of Iceland
Halldór Ásgrímsson, Prime Minister of Iceland
The modern parliament, called " Althing" or "Alþingi", was founded in 1845 as an advisory body to the Danish king. It was widely seen as a reestablishment of the assembly founded in 930 in the Commonwealth period and suspended in 1799. It currently has 63 members, each of whom is elected by the population every four years. The president of Iceland is a largely ceremonial office that serves as a diplomat, figurehead and head of state. The head of government is the prime minister, who, together with the cabinet, takes care of the executive part of government. The cabinet is appointed by the president after general elections to Althing; however, this process is usually conducted 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 Althing). Only when the party leaders are unable to reach a conclusion by themselves in reasonable time does the president exercise this power and appoint the cabinet himself. This has never happened since the republic was founded in 1944, but in 1942 the regent of the country ( Sveinn Björnsson, who had been installed in that position by the Althing in 1941) did appoint a non-parliamentary government. The regent had, for all practical purposes, the position of a president, and Björnsson in fact became the country's first president in 1944. The governments of Iceland have almost always been coalitions with two or more parties involved, due to the fact that no single political party has received a majority of seats in Althing in the republic period. The extent of the political powers possessed by the office of the president are disputed by legal scholars in Iceland; several provisions of the constitution appear to give the president some important powers but other provisions and traditions suggest differently.The president is elected every four years (last 2004), the cabinet is elected every four years (last 2003) and town council elections are held every four years (last 2002).

There are 98 municipalities in Iceland which govern most local matters like schools, transportation and zoning.

The administrative counties of Iceland
The administrative counties of Iceland
Iceland's 23 counties are for the most part historical divisions. Currently, Iceland is split up between 26 magistrates that represent government in various capacities. Among their duties are local police (except in Reykjavík, where there is a special office of police commissioner) tax collection, declaring bankruptcy and marrying people outside of the church.

The regions of Iceland
The regions of Iceland
There are eight regions which are primarily used for statistical purposes; the district court jurisdictions also use an older version of this division.

Until 2003, the constituencies for the parliament elections were the same as the regions, but by an amendment to the constitution they were changed to the current six constituencies. The change was made in order to balance the weight of different districts of the country since 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.

Geography - Contents

Map of Iceland
Map of Iceland
Iceland is located in the North Atlantic Ocean just south of the Arctic Circle, which passes through the small island of Grimsey off Iceland's northern coast, but not through mainland Iceland. Unlike neighbouring Greenland, Iceland is considered to be a part of Europe, not a part of North America. The island is the world's 18th largest island.Approximately 10 percent of the island is glaciated. Many fjords punctuate its 4,970 km long coastline, which is also where most towns are situated because the island's interior, the Highlands of Iceland, is a cold and uninhabitable desert. The major towns are the capital Reykjavík, Keflavík, where the national airport is situated, and Akureyri. The island of Grímsey on the Arctic Circle contains the northernmost habitation of Iceland.Iceland has four national parks: Jökulsárgljúfur National Park, Skaftafell National Park, Snæfellsnes National Park, and Þingvellir

Geological and volcanic activity
Iceland is located on both a geological hot spot, thought to be caused by a mantle plume, and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. This combined location means that the island is extremely geologically active, having many volcanoes, notably Hekla, and geysers (itself an Icelandic word). With this widespread availability of geothermal power, and also because of the numerous rivers and waterfalls that are harnessed for hydropower, residents of most towns have hot water and home heat for a low price. The island itself is composed primarily of cooled basalt lava. Volcanoes of Iceland

  • Whole country: 103,000 km²
  • Vegetation: 23,805 km²
  • Lakes: 2,757 km²
  • Glaciers: 11,922 km²
  • Wasteland: 64,538 km²
Numbers are from the National Land Survey of Iceland
A large low pressure area swirls off the southwestern coast of Iceland. September 4, 2003
A large low pressure area swirls off the southwestern coast of Iceland. September 4, 2003

Largest lakes
  • Þórisvatn ( Reservoir): 83-88 km²
  • Þingvallavatn: 82 km²
  • Lögurinn: 53 km²
  • Mývatn: 37 km²
  • Hvítárvatn: 30 km²
  • Hópið: 30 km²
  • Langisjór: 26 km²
Numbers are from the National Land Survey of Iceland
Iceland, as seen from space.
Iceland, as seen from space.

Deepest lakes
  • Öskjuvatn: 220 m
  • Hvalvatn: 160 m
  • Jökulsárlón in Breiðamerkursandur: 150 m
  • Þingvallavatn: 114 m
  • Þórisvatn ( Reservoir): 113 m
  • Lögurinn: 112 m
  • Kleifarvatn: 97 m
  • Hvítárvatn: 84 m
  • Langisjór: 75 m
Numbers are from the National Land Survey of Iceland

Distance to nearest countries
The midatlantic ridge, which runs the length of the Atlantic Ocean, is visible above water in Iceland.
The midatlantic ridge, which runs the length of the Atlantic Ocean, is visible above water in Iceland.
  • Greenland: 287 km
  • Faroe Islands: 420 km
  • Jan Mayen: 550 km
  • Scotland: 798 km
  • Norway: 970 km
Numbers are from the National Land Survey of Iceland

The Icelandic Coast Guard originates back to the 1920s. Its main tasks from its initiation have been to protect Iceland's most valuable natural resource—its fishing areas—as well as provide security, search, and rescue services to Iceland's fishing fleet. In 1952, 1958, 1972, and 1975, the government expanded Iceland's exclusive economic zone to 4, 12, 50 and 200 nautical miles respectively. This led to Iceland's conflict with the United Kingdom, known as the " Cod Wars". The Icelandic Coast Guard and the Royal Navy confronted each other on several occasions during these years. Although only one round was fired, there were many intense moments between the two nations. The Captains of the Icelandic Coast Guard ships were regarded as heroes and earned their names in the history of Iceland as Iceland's bravest men. This attitude of heroism towards the Coast Guard persists in Iceland.

Sérsveit Ríkislögreglustjóra
Special forces exercise in downtown Reykjavík.
Special forces exercise in downtown Reykjavík.
The Special Operations Unit of the National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police, Víkingasveitin, is similar to Germany's GSG 9 and Britain's SAS, a small and well trained group of operatives. The unit handles security of the state, anti/counter-terrorism projects, security of foreign dignitaries, as well supporting the police forces in the country when needed. The Viking team has five main squadrons: Bomb Squadron that specializes in explosives; Boat Squadron that specializes in operations on sea and water, diving and underwater warfare, and boat operations; Sniper Squadron that specializes in sniper warfare, entries, and close target reconnaissance; Intelligence Squadron that specializes in anti-terrorism intelligence, surveillance, and infiltration; and Airborne Squadron that specializes in airplane hijacking operations, skydiving and surprise assault operations, and port security. Members of the Viking team were deployed in the Balkans as a part of operations lead by NATO, and some members have been deployed to Afghanistan. The Special Operations Unit used to be under the command of the Reykjavík Chief of Police; however, in 2004, a new law was passed that put the Viking Team directly under the National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police.

Economy - Contents

Iceland is one of the ten richest countries in the world based on GDP per capita at purchasing power parity. The economy historically depended heavily on the fishing industry, which still provides almost 40% of export earnings and employs 8% of the work force. In the absence of other natural resources (except for abundant hydro-electric and geothermal power), Iceland's economy is vulnerable to changing world fish prices. The economy remains sensitive to declining fish stocks as well as to drops in world prices for its main material exports: fish and fish products, aluminium, and ferrosilicon. Although the Icelandic economy still relies heavily on fishing it is constantly becoming less important as the travel industry and other service industries, the technology industry, energy intensive industries and various other industries grow.The centre-right government plans to continue its policies of reducing the budget and current account deficits, limiting foreign borrowing, containing inflation, revising agricultural and fishing policies, diversifying the economy, and privatising state-owned industries. The government remains opposed to EU membership, primarily because of Icelanders' concern about losing control over their fishing resources.Iceland's economy has been diversifying into manufacturing and service industries in the last decade, and new developments in software production, biotechnology, and financial services are taking place. The tourism sector is also expanding, with the recent trends in ecotourism and whale-watching. Growth slowed between 2000 and 2002, but the economy expanded by 4.3% in 2003 and grew by 6.2% in 2004. The unemployment rate of 1.8% (3rd quarter of 2005) is among the lowest in the European Economic Area.Over 99% of the country's electricity is produced from hydropower and geothermal energy.

Icelandic Cuisine
The Icelandic national food, þorramatur.
The Icelandic national food, þorramatur.
Iceland offers wide varieties of traditional cuisine. Þorramatur (food of the þorri) is the Icelandic national food. Nowadays þorramatur is mostly eaten during the ancient Nordic month of þorri, in January and February, as a tribute to old culture. Þorramatur consists of many different types of food, for example sour ram's testicles, rotten shark, burned sheep heads, sheep's head jam, blood pudding, dried fish (often cod or haddock) with butter and many other courses that are considered delicious among many islanders.
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