Iceland i/ˈaɪslənd/ (Icelandic: Ísland, IPA: [ˈislant]; see
Names for Iceland), officially called Republic of Iceland and
sometimes its counterpart Lýðveldið Ísland in Icelandic (for example
this is a part of the name of the Constitution of Iceland,
Stjórnarskrá lýðveldisins Íslands), is a Nordic European island
country in the North Atlantic Ocean, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The
country has a population of about 320,000 and a total area of 103,000
km2 (40,000 sq mi). The capital and largest city is Reykjavík,
with the surrounding areas in the southwestern region of the country
being home to two-thirds of the country's population. Iceland is
volcanically and geologically active. The interior mainly consists of
a plateau characterised by sand fields, mountains and glaciers, while
many glacial rivers flow to the sea through the lowlands. Iceland is
warmed by the Gulf Stream and has a temperate climate despite a high
latitude just outside the Arctic Circle.
According to Landnámabók, the settlement of Iceland began in AD 874 when the chieftain Ingólfur Arnarson became the first permanent Norse settler on the island. Others had visited the island earlier and stayed over winter. Over the following centuries, Norsemen settled Iceland, bringing with them thralls (serfs) of Gaelic origin. From 1262 to 1918 Iceland was part of the Norwegian and later the Danish monarchies. Until the 20th century, the Icelandic population relied largely on fisheries and agriculture. Industrialisation of the fisheries and Marshall Aid brought prosperity in the years after World War II. In 1994, Iceland became party to the European Economic Area, which made it possible for the economy to diversify into economic and financial services.
Iceland has a free market economy with relatively low taxes compared to other OECD countries, while maintaining a Nordic welfare system providing universal health care and tertiary education for its citizens. In recent years, Iceland has been one of the wealthiest and most developed nations in the world. In 2011, it was ranked as the 14th most developed country in the world by the United Nations' Human Development Index, and the fourth most productive country per capita. In 2008, the nation's entire banking system systemically failed and there was substantial resulting political unrest.
Icelandic culture is founded upon the nation's Norse heritage. Most Icelanders are descendants of Norse (particularly from Western Norway) and Gaelic settlers. Icelandic, a North Germanic language, is closely related to Faroese and some West Norwegian dialects. The country's cultural heritage includes traditional Icelandic cuisine, poetry, and the medieval Icelanders' sagas. Currently, Iceland has the smallest population among NATO members and is the only one with no standing army.
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