Reykjavik the northern most capital in the world.
The first settler in Iceland was Inglólfur Arnarsson and he chose Reykjavik for his settlement. The story tells us that he named the place Reykjavik or smokey bay in English translation, as he saw steam come up from hot springs that may have looked like smoke.
When Ingolfur arrived close to Iceland on his viking boat and arrived at the south east coast he threw his high seat pillars overboard and said that wherever they would end, he would settle down. When he reached the shore he sent two of his slaves along the coastline to search for them. In short, they found the pillars after two years’ search in the place we now call Reykjavik.
That is written in the saga, The Book of settlement, Landnáma, written on calf skin. Probably there are more logical reasons why he chose this place. Like e.g. the south coast is mostly sand beaches with no harbor facilities and Reykjanes peninsula only rough lava cliffs. It is first when one comes into Faxafloi bay that one finds shelter for ships, like in Reykjavik. Also, hot water coming from the ground, grass fields, river with fresh water and salmon, and a good shelter from the domination easterly wind, by mount Esja.
Reykjavik was like any other area in Iceland in the first few hundreds of years, small farms scattered around the area where suitable low land was found. It was not until after the middle of the eighteen century that the population started to grow in Reykjavik. The people lived of farming and small scale fishing.
In middle of the eighteen century when Skuli Magnússon sometimes called “father of Reykjavik” established Innréttingarnar. A company processing wool and later fishing, mining and agriculture. Reykjavik got it´s municipality, the town charter, in the year 1786. From this time the middle of the eighteenth century, Reykjavik started to grow and became the center of commerce, import, export and industry.
In the year 1800, only about 500 people lived in Reykjavik. Danish officials as at that time Iceland was under the Danish crown. Icelandic workers, priests and common people and both languages Icelandic and Danish were spoken.
Reykjavik continued to grow and the fishing industry grew rapidly and became very important for the economy in Iceland and still are. Still today Reykjavik harbor is the biggest fishing harbor in Iceland.
Gradually all administration was moved to Reykjavik and the milestones in the eighteen and nineteen century are many:
The 20th centuryIn the interwar years, most of Iceland’s trawler fleet sailed from Reykjavík. The bulk of the catch was processed as salt fish; as before, salt fish processing was a striking aspect of town life. When war broke out in 1939 the trawler fleet was worn out and obsolete, but vessels could not be replaced for the duration of the war. World War II proved a turning point in the trawler business, however, as almost all fish was iced and taken to Britain to be sold.
With the rapid economic progress of the 20th century, Reykjavik grew steadily, but developed especially fast in the second half of the century (after the World War II). The society changed dramatically and its inhabitants needed to adapt. Speed was one of the main characteristic features of society development in Iceland. The industrial revolution came to Iceland and changed the way people worked. With more advanced technology in both agriculture and the fishing industry, less people were needed to do the same amount of work. The educational revolution followed and number of inhabitants in Iceland grew and grew. In 1901 8, 5% of the people in Iceland lived in Reykjavik. 90 years later this number was 38, 2%. At the same time the ratio between urban areas and rural areas changed. During the beginning of the 20th century about 80% of the population lived in rural areas but during the course of the 20th century this ratio dropped and was in 1986 (when Reykjavik was 200 years old) only 10%. Today this number is about 4%.
Most of the people that moved from the rural areas moved to Reykjavik, which was the town of opportunities and attracted the most. In half a century (1940-1990) Icelanders increased by 135.000 people or more then 100% and this growth was no where clearer that in Reykjavik. Iceland was no longer a country of agriculture in rural areas but a country with a big city that everybody moved to.
Little by little the word “city” was used to describe Reykjavik instead of “town”. There doesn’t seem to be a specific year when Reykjavik actually became the capital of Iceland but instead it happened gradually with the events mentioned above. In 1908 Pall Einarsson became the first mayor of Reykjavik. When the word “mayor” is translated into Icelandic it implies someone who controls a city but not a town.
Today Reykjavik is still the only city in Iceland and about 60% of the total population of about 350000 lives in Reykjavik and the nearby towns, Kópavogur, Hafnarfjörður, Garðabær, Seltjarnarnes and Mosfellsbær.