The roots of Reykjavik extend back a long way. According to legend, the town was founded by Ingólfr Arnarson, a Viking chieftan who decided to leave Norway and settle in Iceland following a blood feud. When he came in sight of Iceland, he threw his high seat pillars (symbols of his office) overboard and vowed to live where the pillars washed ashore. They supposed came ashore in the small bay that is now Reykjavik.
Leaving the legend aside, a Norse settlement was established in the area around 870 A.D. There is some evidence that Irish monks may have lived here prior to that but left when the Vikings moved into the neighborhood.
The Vikings named the area Reykjavik, which in the old Norse language means “smokey bay.” This was probably in reference to the steam which arose from the geothermal springs underlying the area.
Reykjavik remained a farming community until the 18th century when industry started to emerge. In 1786, the Danish Crown, which controlled Iceland at that time, granted Reykjavik a charter with trading rights. This is regarded as the official founding of the city.
During the 19th century, the city grew both economically, culturally and politically. In 1845, the Icelandic Parliament, which dates back to 930 A.D. was re-established in Reykjavrik as an advisory body to the Danish king. This made Reykjavik the de fact capital of the island.
In 1874, Iceland was given a constitution, which gave the parliament some limited legislative power. These powers were enlarged when Iceland was granted home rule in 1904. Fourteen years later, Iceland was made a sovereign nation under the Danish crown.
Reykjavik was hard hit by the Great Depression of the 1930s. However, an economic boom followed during World War II. Iceland occupies a strategic location along the shipping routes between Britain and North America. Therefore, when Denmark was captured by the Nazis in 1940, the British sent a force to Iceland to make sure that it did not fall under German control. The British occupation force was welcomed by the local population and during the next for years, the Icelandic economy boomed as the British and later the Americans built bases in Iceland.
In 1944, Iceland became fully independent with Reykjavik as its capital.
Following World War II, Reykjavik continued to grow as people moved into the city from the countryside. In the final years of the 20th century, the financial services and IT sectors became important parts of the economy. As a result, Reykjavik was hard hit by the worldwide financial crisis of 2008.
Above: A statue of Ingólfr Arnarson, founder of Reykjavik.
Below: Einor Jonsson's statue of Jan Sigurdsson, a leader in the Icelandic independence movement in the 19th century.
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Cruise destination profile - Reykjavik, Iceland- places of interest