After being settled in the late AD 800s, Reykjavík was just a simple collection of farm buildings for centuries. It expanded in the 1700s when local sheriff Skúli Magnússon, the ‘Father of Reykjavík’, created factories to bypass a Danish monopoly. WWII was another boom period, and the city's architecture and cultural offerings have exploded once again with the recent rise in tourism to Iceland.
Settlement to the Middles Ages
The first long-term Icelander, Ingólfur Arnarson, arrived in AD 871. The Norwegian fugitive landed in Southeast Iceland, before continuing around the coast. The story goes that he tossed his öndvegissúlur (high-seat pillars) overboard, and in 874 settled 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 near modern-day Aðalstræti (where excavations have unearthed a Viking longhouse).
Reykjavík remained just a simple collection of farm buildings for centuries. In 1225 an important Augustinian monastery was founded on the offshore island of Viðey, although this was destroyed during the 16th-century Reformation.
Danish Rule & Reykjavík Expansion
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 the city – in the 1750s.
WWII to the Present
Reykjavík really boomed during WWII, when it serviced British and US troops stationed at Keflavík. The capital grew at a frenetic pace until it took a slamming in the credit crisis of 2008. Today, with sky-high visitor numbers and endlessly innovative locals, central Reykjavík has exploded with renewed growth.