Iceland made headlines again this weekend after the eruption of the Grimsvotn volcano, which for many brought back memories of 2010’s Eyjafjallajokull eruption that grounded hundreds of thousands of flights in and out of Europe. For me it brought back memories of fact-checking Geotourism Editor Jonathan Tourtellot’s April 2011 feature “Life Atop a Cauldron.” Beyond volcanoes, Iceland is a unique country. Here are ten more reasons Iceland is astonishing.
1. Though Iceland is just the size of Virginia (with a population equivalent to that of Virginia Beach), it contains 35 active volcanoes and Europe’s mightiest waterfall, Dettifoss.
2. Beer was illegal in Iceland until 1989.
3. Iceland established its first parliament way back in 930.
4. Making teachers proud: Iceland has one of the highest literacy rates in the world (99 percent for both men and women).
5. There’s a higher than average number of redheads in Iceland (and as one myself, that’s a very good thing.) The abundance of red hair is due to Celtic genes which, legend says, likely come from the Irish women the Vikings abducted and brought to Iceland centuries ago.
6. The Vikings also brought with them the patronymic naming system to Iceland: a child’s last name is her father’s first name in possessive form. For example, if I was Icelandic, my name would be, thanks to my dad Walter: Meg Waltersdóttir and my brother, Jason Waltersson.
7. Hardy islanders miraculously saved the harbor at Heimaey, one of the Westman Islands, from being engulfed by lava during a 1973 eruption by pumping sea water in front of the flow. After the eruption stopped, the island had grown nearly a square mile, a new mountain had formed, and the harbor had improved.
8. Because of its patronymic naming system, the phone book in Iceland lists folks by their first name, grouped by city or town where they live.
9. Algerian pirates raided the island of Heimay back in 1627, killing or enslaving half the population of 500 souls.
10. An example of Icelandic humor (from Jonathan’s original manuscript): What do you do if lost in an Icelandic forest? Stand up! (because there aren’t any forests in Iceland).
Tell us why you think Iceland is astonishing.
Photo: Brooks Walker from “Life Atop the Cauldron” photo gallery.