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Iceland is an island of 103.000 km2 (39,756 sq.miles) and at its highest peak rises to 2.119 m.More than 11 per cent of the country is covered by glaciers, including Vatnajökull, the largest in Europe.
Situated on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Iceland is a hot spot of volcanic and geothermal activity: 30 post-glacial volcanoes have erupted in the past two centuries, and natural hot water supplies much of the population with cheap, pollution-free heating. Rivers, too, are harnessed to provide inexpensive hydroelectric power.
The Iceland People
Out of a population numbering more than 300.000, half live in the capital Reykjavík and its neighbouring towns in the southwest. With the highland interior all but uninhabitable most centres of population are situated on the coast.
Languages and Names
Iceland was settled by Nordic people in the 9th century - tradition says that the first permanent settler was Ingólfur Arnarson, a Norwegian Viking who made his home where Reykjavík now stands. The Icelanders still upholding the Norse tradtion of using patronymics rather than surnames meanting that an Icelander´s christian name is followed by his or her father´s name and the suffix -son or -dóttir, e.g. Inga Pallsdóttir (Inga, daughter of Pall).
In 930, the Icelandic settlers founded one of the world´s first republican governments; the Old Commonwealth Age, described in the classic Icelandic Sagas, lasted until 1262, when Iceland lost its independence, and in 1944 the present republic was founded. The country is governed by the Althing (parliament), whose 63 members are elected every four years. Four-yearly elections are also held for the presidency.
The economy is heavily dependent upon fishing with seafood exports continue to account for nearly three-puarters of merchandise exports. The standard of living is high, with income per capita among the best in the world. The financial sector has been liberalised in recent years and is flourishing, investing heavily overseas.
Life expectancy, at 81.3 years for women and 76.4 for men, is one of the highest in the world, and a comprehensive state health-care system aims to keep it that way.
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