16 Fascinating Facts About Icelandic History

Abraham Ortelius' map of Iceland, ca. 1590

I wrote the following commissioned piece for Come to Iceland, a new tour-booking and information website started up by my friend Stefán Gunnbjörnsson. 

He asked me to write content that had a slightly more interesting edge, so I did my best to add historical and/or little-known details to the articles included in the Nature section of the site. This piece on Iceland's history hasn't been published there yet as the company's still growing, so I thought I'd post it here and encourage you all to visit Come to Iceland and follow their Facebook page, and of course book through them for your next visit to our amazing island.

16 Fascinating Facts About Icelandic History

You thought you'd done you research on Iceland? Well, guess again. Here's a list of fascinating facts that you may have missed along the way:

1. Iceland was originally covered in forests as far as the eye could see. 
According to accepted history, a seafarer named Garðarr Svávarsson sailed around the entire island in the later 9th century and proclaimed that it was "wooded from the mountains down to the sea." 

Currently, about 2% of Iceland is forested. The Forestry Service of Iceland concurrs that at the time of settlement as much as 40% of Iceland was covered in trees. They were destroyed by both natural (volcanic) and human causes.

2. The Norwegian who arrived in Iceland around 870 AD were not first inhabitants. 
There is written evidence that Irish hermits, or papar, had settled the island at least a century earlier, sailing over in their smalll currachs. The story goes that the hermits "chose" to leave Iceland with the arrival of their noisy new neighbors, leaving a number of monkish artifacts behind

In addition, genetic research has clearly shown that over 60% of Icelandic women are descended from Celtic/British Isles stock, and not Scandinavian, though when and how these women came to Iceland is still up for debate. 

3. Via one Irish princess named Melkorka 

Springtime in Reykjavik, with Pretty Blooms and Hints of Blue Skies



(This post is published solely on IcelandEyes.com. If you've found it reposted without permission on a click-bait blog with any other title or a URL that doesn't include the words IcelandEyes, please do yourself a favor and visit the original Iceland Eyes website instead:)

I'm reposting a retro Iceland Eyes photo from 2009. 

I really enjoy this shot, and felt lucky to have gotten it when the daffodils were just beginning to wilt after their early spring bloom. That meant that they didn't look so tall and wonderful anymore from a distance but instead drooped from their box at the top of a flight of stairs, seeming to smile a last bit sunshine down towards me as I got up close.  

I'm also glad I got a shot of this iconic large old wood and corrugated-iron house, probably built

It's Like We've Always Known Winter This Way

Out at Seltjarnarnes on a lovely crisp winter's day 
(This post is published solely on IcelandEyes.com. If you've found it reposted without permission on a click-bait blog with any other title or a URL that doesn't include the words IcelandEyes, please do yourself a favor and visit the original Iceland Eyes website instead:)

I've taken quite a few Iceland Eyes photos out at Seltjarnarnes over the past twelve years, including shots of midnight golf and walks along its beach, that it feels a bit like cheating to share another one.   It's such a photogenic spot, though, and so close to the Reykjavik city center where we live. 

This isn't the greatest picture in the world, but I chose it for a few reasons. For starters, it shows

New Snow and Madia, My Other Name

Our backyard in the heart of Reykjavik, all prettied with fresh snow

(This post is published solely on IcelandEyes.com. If you've found it reposted without permission on a click-bait blog with any other title or a URL that doesn't include the words IcelandEyes, please do yourself a favor and visit the original Iceland Eyes website instead:) 

In the States I spelled my name Madia instead of Maria. It was a phonetic thing that my dad says he suggested to me when I was going into 8th grade. I'd been kind of a book geek up until that summer of '80 and was socially hung up on the fact that Maria was not a common name, and that my real name was pronounced with the Icelandic rolling R which no one in Cupertino, California seemed to be able to master.

 Even though the US boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games, the name of Romanian

A Pretty Snow Scene, Just for Thor



I feel like I'm expecting that call any day now, the one where my father Thor clears his throat then firmly instructs me that it's time to post a new photo on Iceland Eyes, the last one's getting old. He had that authoritative way about him, but couched in a kind of absolute certainty that what he liked, what he appreciated in this world deserved his full attention and support. So when he felt that

From Dark Days to Shiny Times, Iceland's Seen It All

A quiet moment at the rink, which is usually filled with wobbles and happy laughter


(This post is published solely on IcelandEyes.com. If you've found it reposted without permission on a click-bait blog with any other title or a URL that doesn't include the words IcelandEyes, please do yourself a favor and visit the original Iceland Eyes website instead:) 

This year's skate rink down at Ingólfstorg is a far cry from the one I posted a photo of a decade ago. It may be a bit smaller, but it's definitely got more atmo, with all the shiny lights and music filling the Advent-season air. Back in the 2006 post, I mentioned that a storm has come in, a proper wind-and-snow number that walloped the island, Arctic-winter style. This skating rink ice may