Reykjavík has a population of around 120,000 and is the heart of Iceland’s economic and governmental activity. It is believed to be the location of the country’s first permanent settler and has been described as a mix between a scaled-down city and a scaled-up village. It is among the cleanest, best organised and safest cities in the world and yet manages to retain its rustic charm.
According to the Book of Icelanders, the settlement of Iceland began in the year 871 with the arrival of Ingólfur Arnarson in this city. As per the Viking custom, Ingólfur tossed the pillars on which his high seat (the symbol of the homestead) was mounted overboard and wherever they washed up would be where the gods willed him to live. It took his slaves three years to find the pillars and when they finally did, one stated “to no avail we have crossed fine districts to live on this outlying wilderness” before running off with one of the Viking’s maidservants. When Ingólfur arrived, he happened upon columns of steam rising up from a hot spring, and therefore named the area Reykjavík, meaning Smoky Bay.
It wasn’t until the 18th century that a small town began to grow around Ingólfur’s homestead. High Sheriff Skúli Magnússon, once the most powerful man in Iceland, opened wool mills in an effort to modernise the Icelandic economy and it was through this that the city was able to reach modern urban development.
The city became the seat of the Icelandic legislation when the historic Icelandic Parliament, the Alþingi, which was suspended in 1799 AD, was re-insittuted in 1844 with Reykjavík as its seat. When Iceland became independent from the Danes, a century later, Reykjavík became its capital.
The capital is now a UNESCO city of Literature, emphasising the central position of literature in the city’s and nation’s cultural life, its historical significance and contemporary value. The prestigious Reykjavík International Literary Festival, which was first held in 1985, is now a biannual event.
- Information provided by Cruise and Maritime Voyages
- Reykjavík City Guide
- Insight Guides: Iceland