The first known inhabitants of the nation of Iceland were Irish monks and hermits who came to the island in the 8th century. Norse seafarers followed the Irish later in the 9th century. As Iceland was relatively unsettled, it meant that Norse sailors could lay claim to the land without having to fight off any local inhabitants and war was avoided. Iceland therefore became the last European country to be settled.
Historians have to come to refer to the year 874 as the year of the first official settlement on the island and the Icelandic Age of Settlement would continue until 930. Íslendingabók and Landnámabók, two early historical manuscripts, list Ingólfur Arnarson, a chieftain from Norway, as the country’s first settler. He came with Iceland’s first people who sailed in boats with their families and livestock, establishing homes along the coast. They were farmers who made livings by breeding cattle and fishing. Arnarson’s farm was built in what is now present-day Reykjavík. Iceland’s Althing (parliament) was established in 930 AD, making it one of the oldest parliaments in the world.
Around the year 1,000, Icelandic Norsemen became the first Europeans to reach North America. Approximately nine years later, these explorers tried to create a major settlement known as L’Anse aux Meadows in what is now Newfoundland. While large-scale habitation was not successful in the New World, immigration in later centuries ensured that Canada maintains the largest concentration of people of Icelandic ancestry outside of Iceland.
The 13th century witnessed internal feuds in the country that led to a civil war from 1262-64. As a result of this conflict, Iceland came under the control of the King of Norway in 1271. With the joining of Norway and Denmark through the Kalmar Union in 1397, Iceland answered to the King of Denmark.
Beginning in the middle of the 16th century, the Danish king brought the Reformation of the Church to Iceland. Christianity had existed in the country since around 1,000 AD, however the Danish king took control of the church and a great deal of its wealth. An absolute monarchy was established and the Danes controlled trade. While this was naturally beneficial for the Danish population, the Icelandic people were not as fortunate and power moved from the Althing to Copenhagen.
The Icelandic parliament was not reinstated until 1843 and the Danish trade monopoly was abolished in 1854. A constitution was granted from Denmark in 1874, and slowly, Icelanders began to take back control of their country. By 1904 home rule was achieved and sovereignty came in 1918. All ties with Denmark were eventually severed in 1944 when Iceland was declared a republic.
Following the Second World War, Iceland grew quickly, in part due to successful fishing ventures. However, fishing also brought about the Cod Wars in the 1950s and 1970s with the United Kingdom over fishing rights in the North Atlantic. By the 1990s, Iceland was one of the wealthiest nations in the world. Unfortunately, like many other nations, Iceland was not able to escape the worldwide economic crisis of 2008, when the country’s entire banking system failed. Iceland is continuing to recover and has become an incredibly unique tourist destination. With breathtaking scenery, vibrant and rich culture and a history full of myths, legends and traditions, Iceland is an exciting destination waiting to be discovered.
Iceland Travel Information
At Goway we believe that a well-informed traveller is a safer traveller. With this in mind, we have compiled an easy to navigate travel information section dedicated to Iceland.
Learn about the history and culture of Iceland, the must-try food and drink, and what to pack in your suitcase. Read about Iceland's nature and wildlife, weather and geography, along with 'Country Quickfacts' compiled by our travel experts. Our globetrotting tips, as well as our visa and health information will help ensure you're properly prepared for a safe and enjoyable trip. The only way you could possibly learn more is by embarking on your journey and discovering Iceland for yourself. Start exploring… book one of our Iceland tours today!
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