Iceland Country Profile

The ancient Thule of Greek geographers came to be called Iceland (“land of ice”) after the colonization of the island by the Vikings. Known for the glaciers, fjords, volcanoes and geysers that beautify its landscape, the country is economically developed and the population enjoys a high standard of living.

Iceland is an island country located in the North Atlantic, between Norway and Greenland. It has a surface area of ​​102,819km2 and is limited to the north with the Arctic Circle.

Physical geography

According to, Iceland has about six thousand kilometers of coastline, with an abundance of fjords (penetrations of the sea over ancient coastal glacial valleys). The territory consists of a plateau with an average altitude of 500m. More than 200 volcanoes, used as geothermal sources for domestic heating, and about one hundred glaciers cover approximately one eighth of the territory. The most important volcano is the Hekla, with 1,491m of altitude.

Despite the high latitude of the island, the climate is not hostile on the west coast, due to the influence of the warm sea current in the Gulf of Mexico. In the rest of the country, the climate is cold. In the months of May and June, the sun illuminates the country during the day and night. The largest of Iceland’s rivers is the Thjörsá and there are still a large number of small lakes. The vegetation is very poor, formed mainly of mosses and lichens. The fauna, of scarce mammals, is rich in sea birds on the cliffs and features hawks and eagles in the mountains. In rivers and lakes there are salmon and trout. Herring, cod, shrimp and lobster abound among fish and saltwater crustaceans.


Half of Icelanders are concentrated in the capital, Reikjavik. The population is characterized by ethnic homogeneity: approximately eighty percent of the inhabitants are of Norwegian origin. The rest are of Scottish and Irish descent. The official language is Icelandic, derived from the ancient Scandinavian of the 9th and 10th centuries. Throughout the 20th century there was a pronounced rural exodus and emigration to Canada and the United States.


The free market economy predominates, although intervention by the state sector is important. Due to its latitude, Icelandic territory is more favorable for livestock than for agriculture. The country is self-sufficient in meat, milk and wool. However, Iceland’s main wealth is in fishing and its industrial use: about two-thirds of all the country’s exports come from this activity. An important natural resource in Iceland is its energy potential, of hydraulic and geothermal origin. The main industries, in addition to fishing, are cement, aluminum and ferro-silicon. Most banks and financial institutions, as well as the electricity sector, belong to the government. Iceland’s standard of living and technological level resemble those of the advanced countries of Europe.


The first human settlements on the island were with Irish hermits, at the beginning of the 9th century of the Christian era. According to medieval historiographical sources, these settlers fled the Vikings from Norway, who, led by Ingólfr Arnarson, settled in 874 in the place where Reikjavik would later rise. In the year 930, the Icelanders constituted their first national Parliament, the Althing, that favored the missionary action of the Christians. In the 10th century, the entire population had converted to Christianity.

As a result of a civil war between 1262 and 1264, the Icelandic nobles accepted Norwegian sovereignty and, later, in 1380, with the union of Denmark with Norway, the government of Iceland came to be exercised by the Danes. During the 400 years that followed, the island experienced a constant economic and political decline, due both to the wear and tear of the best cattle breeding lands and to the greed of the Danish rulers. During this period, Christian III, king of Denmark, imposed the Lutheran religion. Strong economic control, with the establishment of the royal commercial monopoly, was established in 1602. With the end of this monopoly in 1787, Iceland’s economic recovery began.

During the 19th century, an independence movement led by Jón Sigurdhsson emerged. In 1874, Christian IX of Denmark allowed Iceland to have its own constitution, and in 1904 the country managed to form a national self-government in Reikjavik. Shortly thereafter, in 1918, Iceland became independent, linked to Denmark only by common monarchy and foreign policy. During the German occupation of Denmark, in the second world war, British and American troops settled in Iceland, using it as a strategic base. In 1944, Parliament proclaimed the republic and broke all formal ties with Denmark.

The main problem for independent Iceland came from the government’s decision to extend its territorial waters from three miles in 1950 to 200 miles in 1975 for fishing purposes. the 1950s and 1960s.

According to the 1944 constitution, executive power rests with the president of the republic, elected by popular vote for a period of four years. Legislative power is exercised jointly by the President and the Parliament (Althing), which in 1991 ceased to be bicameral and now has only one chamber, with 63 members.

Society and culture

Icelandic social security, financed by the government, is one of the most advanced in the world. Contagious diseases, the main cause of death in the 19th century, have been completely eradicated. All Icelandic education centers, from primary school to university, are free. The majority of the population belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church and other Protestant denominations.

Icelandic writers produced some of the most important sagas of the Middle Ages. The novelist Halldór Laxness received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1955. Among the leading painters of the 20th century are Ásgrimur Jónsson, Jón Stefánsson and Jóhannes S. Kjarval.

Iceland Country Profile