The first people believed to have settled in Iceland were Irish monks who
came in the eighth century AD. They left, however, upon the arrival of pagan
Norsemen, who came in 874 to seek freedom from Norway's oppressive king
Harald Fairhair. In 930 the Icelanders founded the Althing, their supreme
general assembly - the oldest parliament in the world. Christianity was
adopted in the year 1000. In 1262, Iceland became subject to Norwegian
control and in 1380 came under Danish control, along with Norway. After the
granting of a constitution (1874) and with an improving economy, Iceland, in
1918, finally became an independent sovereign state under a common king with
Denmark. The Republic of Iceland was formally declared on June 17, 1944.
Government and Head of State
Parliamentary system. The Independence Party (IP) and the Progressive Party
(PP) formed a centre-right coalition in 1995. The Prime Minister is Davíð
Oddsson, Chairman of the IP. The Minister for Foreign Affairs is Halldór
Ásgrímsson, Chairman of the PP. In the 1999 general election, seats were won
by the IP (26), PP (12), Left Alliance (17), left Greens (6) and Liberals
Head of State: His Excellency,
Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, President of Iceland, was inaugurated on 1st August
1996 and for a second term on 1st August, 2000. He is a former Minister of
Finance and was a professor of political science at the University of
Iceland and a member of the Icelandic parliament before he was elected
Reykjavik population: 112,490
Greater Reykjavík area population: 179,781
Population and Language
Population: 288,201 (1st Dec.. 2002). Population density per square
kilometre: 2.8. Iceland is the most sparsely populated country in Europe
(seventh in the world). Most of the people are of Norwegian descent, with
some admixture of Celtic blood from those who came from Ireland and the
Scottish islands from the time of settlement.
The country's written and spoken
language is Icelandic, a Nordic language very similar to that spoken by
Iceland's first settlers. Icelandic is one of the oldest living languages in
Europe. English and Danish are mandatory subjects in school. The literacy
rate, 99.9%, is the highest in the world.
Evangelical Lutheran Church; state church of Iceland: 87.1%
Lutheran free churches: 4.1%
Mandatory from 6 to 15 years of age.
Schools for compulsory education: 193
Schools above compulsory education: 37
Universities and colleges: 8
Geography and climate
Iceland is one of the largest
islands in the North Atlantic, lying between latitude 63°24´N and 66°33´N
and between longitude 13°30´W and 24°32´W. Iceland has a total area of
103,000 sq. km, or 40,000 sq. miles.
Iceland has a relatively mild
coastal climate. The average summer temperature in Reykjavik, the capital,
is 10.6°C/51°F in July, with average highs of 24.3°C/76°F. The average
winter temperature in Reykjavik is about 0°C/32°F in January.
Economic Indicators for 2002
Gross Domestic Product per capita:
not available (USD 26,748 in 2001)
Economic growth: 1.75%
Annual average unemployment: 2.75%
Air transport: Daily flights, most of them operated by Icelandair, link
Iceland with more than 20 gateways in Europe and North America. Flight time
is 2-4 hours to Western Europe and 5-8 hours to North America. Domestic
services operate to Iceland's main regional communities, with flight time of
less than one hour.
Shipping: Total number of
fishing vessels: 959
Total number of commercial
Approximately 40% of total
foreign currency earnings are from marine products. Some 99% of imports and
exports are carried by marine transport, most of them handled by Iceland's
two major shipping companies, Samskip and Eimskip.