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The Country

Iceland is an island of 103.000 km2 (39,756 sq.miles),

about one-third larger than Scotland or Ireland. Its

highest peak, Hvannadalshnjúkur, rises to 2.119 m

and over 11 per cent of the country is covered by

glaciers, including Vatnajökull, the largest in Europe.


Out of a population numbering more than 300.000,

half live in the capital Reykjavík and its neighbouring

towns in the southwest. Keflavík International

Airport is located about 50 km from the capital. The

highland interior is uninhabited (and uninhabitable),

and most centres of population are situated on the



Iceland was settled by Nordic people in the 9th

century - tradition says that the first permanent

settler was Ingólfur Arnarson, a Norwegian Viking

who made his home where Reykjavík now stands.

The Icelanders still speak the language of the Vikings,

although modern Icelandic has undergone changes

of pronunciation and, of course, of vocabulary!

Iceland is alone in upholding another Norse tradtion,

i.e. the custom of using patronymics rather than

surnames; and Icelander´s christian name is followed

by his or her father´s name and the suffix -son or

-dóttir, e.g. Guðrún Pétursdóttir (Guðrún, daughter

of Pétur). Members of a family can therefore have

many different „surnames“, which sometimes causes

confusion to foreigners!


In 930, the Icelandic settlers founded one of the

world´s first republican governments; the Old

Commonwealth Age, described in the classic

Icelandic Sagas, lasted until 1262, when Iceland

lost its independence, and in 1944 the present

republic was founded. The country is governed by

the Althing (parliament), whose 63 members are

elected every four years. four-yearly elections are

also held for the presidency; President Ólafur Ragnar

Grímsson was elected in June 1996 to succeed Vigdís

Finnbogadóttir, and was re-elected in June 2000. The

head of state plays no part in day-to-day politics.