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Reykjavík

History

Ingólfur Arnarson, a Norwegian fugitive, became the first official Icelander in AD 871. Myth has it that he tossed his öndvegissúlur (high-seat pillars) overboard, settling where the gods washed them ashore. This was at Reykjavík (Smoky Bay), which he named after steam rising from geothermal vents. According to 12th-century sources, Ingólfur built his farm on Aðalstræti, and excavations have unearthed a Viking longhouse there.

Reykjavík remained just a simple collection of farm buildings for centuries to follow. In 1225 an important Augustinian monastery was founded on the offshore island of Viðey, although this was destroyed during the 16th century Reformation.

In the early 17th century the Danish king imposed a crippling trade monopoly on Iceland, leaving the country starving and destitute. In a bid to bypass the embargo, local sheriff Skúli Magnússon, the ‘Father of Reykjavík’, created weaving, tanning and wool-dyeing factories – the foundations of thecity – in the 1750s.

Reykjavík really boomed during WWII, when it serviced British and US troops stationed at Keflavík. Since the 1950s Reykjavík has become unstoppable, throwing itself passionately into the 21st century. In a neat bit of historical irony, the Vikings’ ‘Smoky Bay’ is now known as the ‘smokeless city’ due to its complete adoption of geothermal energy.