In environmental terms, Iceland is unique. Iceland is a large country (103,000 km², about the same surface area as Ireland or the State of Virginia), but is sparsely populated, with only 3 persons per km² living mostly along the coast. The interior of the country contains stunning contrasts. It is largely an arctic desert, punctuated with mountains, glaciers, volcanoes and waterfalls. Most of the vegetation and agricultural areas are in the lowlands close to the coastline.
The first settlers came to Iceland from Norway and Ireland in the 9th century. The Althingi, the world's oldest functioning legislative assembly, was established in the year 930 AD. Iceland has a strong economy, low unemployment and low inflation.
Althingi, the Icelandic Parliament www.althingi.is
Most Icelanders follow the ancient tradition of deriving their last name from the first name of their father (patronymic system). If a man is called Leifur Eiriksson, his proper or given name is Leifur, and his patronymic is Eiriksson (the son of a man named Eirikur). A woman called Margret Jonsdottir has the proper name Margret and her patronymic is Jonsdottir, i.e. the daughter of Jon. Women do not change their name after marriage. In a family of four, a couple with a boy and a girl, all four will therefore usually have different last names. Icelanders address each other by their first name. The last name (patronymic) is never used alone. Icelanders say for example, "the President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson," but never "President Grímsson". A small percentage of the population uses family names, but new family names cannot legally be adopted.
Icelandic is the national language and is believed to have changed very little from the original tongue spoken by the Norse settlers. English and Danish are widely spoken and understood. German and French are taught in grammar school and other upper secondary level schools, so many can speak these languages. Icelandic has two unique letter-characters of its own, Þ/þ and Ð/ð, which were used in Old English. "Þ" is pronounced as "th" in "thing" and "Ð" is pronounced as the "th" in "them".
In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the Icelandic campaign for independence from Danish rule was at its height. The traditional women's costume, the peysuföt, acquired at this time a new significance.
The Icelandic woolen sweater These are the same traditional designs that kept Leif Eriksson and his Viking warriors warm on their odyssey across the rampageous Northern-Atlantic. Made the same way over the centuries, these natural woolen sweater keep Icelandic people warm and comfortable.
“ Aurora borealis” or Northern Lights can only be seen in the skies in clear cold weather, and only when it’s totally dark. Here in Iceland, the nights are dark only during winter, and that’s why Northern Lights can not be seen in the summertime. The period of the year to see the Northern Lights, therefore, is from September to April. In order to enjoy the sight, it is necessary to choose an observation spot far away from strong city lights
Iceland - pure, untamed nature, unbridled space, impressive waterfalls, home to one of the world's most powerful geysers.
When visitors describe the country they are hard put to find the right words for the Geyser: a spectacular water fountain, a hot water source, spouting to the heavens. The Great Geyser: you have to see it to believe it. For someone who has never seen a geyser, the sight is overwhelming. This landmark of Iceland is a spectacular natural phenomenon beyond description. The geothermal field surrounding the Great Geyser is the definitive geyser, having given its name to the geological phenomena. The Strokkur, another famous geyser located nearby, gives a performance every few minutes, shooting a tower of water and steam 30 meters into the air. There are other attractions apart from the magnificent geysers. For example, Blesi, a hot spring with water the colour of turquoise delights the senses. Walking about this natural wonder, one experiences the intensity of the forces of nature. Night time offers a fascinating view of the bubbling hot springs. A pot of boiling water takes on new dimensions.
Jökulsárlón is the best known and the largest of a number of glacial lakes in Iceland. It is situated at the south end of the glacier Vatnajökull between Skaftafell National Park and Horn. Appearing first only in 1934-1935, the lake grew from 7.9 km² in 1975 to at least 18 km² today because of heavy melting of the Icelandic glaciers. Approaching a depth of 200 m, Jökulsárlón is now probably the second deepest lake in Iceland.
Gullfoss is a waterfall located in the canyon of Hvítá river in southwest Iceland.
Gullfoss is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country. The wide Hvítá rushes southward. About a kilometer above the falls it turns sharply to the left and flows down into a wide curved three-step "staircase" and then abruptly plunges in two stages (11 m and 21 m) into a crevice 32 m (105 ft) deep. The crevice, about 20 m (60 ft) wide, and 2.5 km in length, is at right angles to the flow of the river. The average amount of water running over this waterfall is 140 m³/s in the summertime and 80 m³/s in the wintertime. The highest flood measured was 2000 m³/s.
Iceland is paradise for bird-watchers. About 78 species nest in the country, of which the Eider Duck, the Swan, the rare Falcon, the Ptarmigan, Arctic Tern, Snow Bunting and the imposing Gannet are typical birds of Iceland.
Fish and fish products constitute more than 50% of Iceland's exports of goods and are thus by far the most important industry. The fishing territory, which is Iceland's main natural resource, requires strict protection, and fish catches are tightly controlled. The main species are: cod, haddock, saithe, redfish, herring and capelin.
Natural conditions for farming in Iceland are in many ways harsh. Only about 23% of the country's area has vegetation cover and only 1.3% is cultivated.
Agriculture was the mainstay occupation for centuries and censuses from the mid-19th century show that 70-80% of the nation lived from farming then. This proportion decreased as the 20th century wore on and in 2000 there were 4,700 farms, accounting for 5,900 man-years of labour, or 4.9% of total man-years worked.