Iceland 1- Follow a raven to discover an island

Posted by on Apr 4, 2016 in In search of
Iceland 1- Follow a raven to discover an island

The blue and the grey, the white and the black and all colors that nature has to offer at this latitude were present in the days when the Vikings steered their vessels towards the land. Iceland. What we see now is more or less the same. The man made constructions that are added over time, is the seafarers’ legacy in this material world.

Facts and figures

  • Population: 334.238 (June 23, 2017)
  • Population density: 3 per sq km
  • Median age: 36,3
  • Area: 103.000 sq km (total land area is 100.539 sq km)
  • Volcanoes: 130+


How Iceland was discovered by chance

While some of the Viking ships were carrying the raiders and traders from the north in search of treasures, other vessels headed for unknown territory. Their search for new land was mainly a ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ discovery travel because Viking leaders’ sons, chieftains and others needed their own land. Expansion is closely linked to the pursuit of power. So they sailed the far-northern latitudes, going to the west. After they had reached the Faeroe Islands, the Hebrides followed, Ireland came into sight and Dublin was founded in 841. The settlement (landnam) of Iceland by the Norse in the 9th and 10th centuries CE) is described in considerable detail in the Landnámábok (‘Book of  Settlements’), a medieval Icelandic written work.


Viking seafarers were guided by the stars and a raven

It was Naddoddr who discovered Iceland by chance, while sailing from Norway to the Faeroes. Snaeland he called this new land. A Swedish sailor, Svavarsson, followed by accidentally drifting to the eastern Islandic coast. He stayed throughout the winter at Húsavik and discovered the place was an island. The Norseman who deliberately sailed to Island was Floki Vilgerðarson. Departing from western Norway he sailed to the British Isles. From the Faeroe Islands he took three ravens, these birds should help him to find the direct way to Island. From a modern point of view, the Vikings certainly were great seafarers and navigators. They used birds and whales as navigation marks, remembered landmarks in addition to the obvious position of sun, moon and stars, they embedded their travel in narratives and rhymes, and they navigated with their senses meaning they didn’t only use sight but hearing, touch, taste and smell as well.

The story tells us that the first raven returned to the Faeroes, the second returned back on board and the third flew northwest without returning. From now on Floki would be remembered as Hrafna-Flóki (Raven-Floki) and it explains why the raven is something like a national symbol. With Ingóflur Amarson the island became inhabited land, this first permanent settlement is believed to have been established in Reykjavik in 874.


white church standing at a crossroad, Iceland

Church, Iceland. Image: Olivier Overberg


Europe during the Middle Ages

Christian Europe during the Middle Ages knew quite a few disputes but had turned back on itself at the same time. The American historian Daniel Boorstin (The Great Discoverers, p. 293-302) remarks that Europe was least outgoing in the era of the great seafaring adventures of the Vikings (c. 780-1070).

“Within western Europe the movements of merchants, pilgrims, invaders, and bandits were mostly land-bound. Meanwhile the Swedes, whose rivers and bays faced eastward into the Baltic, made their own way up and down the rivers of Russia – the Dvina, the Dnieper, the Volga – trading with Muslims and dominating the life of Kiev and Novgorod. For seven hundred years, from the time of Emperor Constantine to the Crusades, the Scandinavians were the chief agents of European expansion toward the south, toward the east – and toward the west.”


A fascinating island of fire and ice – free geothermal power!

Iceland. It has a relatively mild climate (though it’s still not the Mediterranean) due to the Irminger current which transports warm air and water from the Gulf of Mexico. Meanwhile the geographical position  – Iceland touches the Arctic circle – offers the impressive Northern Lights. It’s really a great place to be and to life – without a little apparent upheaval now and then such as an erupting volcano or a bit of disruptive financial trouble it wouldn’t be life. Iceland is a faraway island with an overwhelming presence of unspoiled nature, but at the same time you’ll find everything you need to live comfortably. Something the people in the past could only dream of – Iceland has been one of Europe’s poorest countries for a long time. Depending on peat and imported coal in former years, today almost all stationary energy is derived from renewable resources.

What on earth is going on in there?

The first settlers watched smoke wafting over the area, they saw boiling and bubbling springs and steam coming from the earth. Amazed they were, yet they stayed and named the settlement Reykjavik, meaning ‘Smokey Bay’. Even in those days the geothermal energy was used for bathing and washing and crops were planted in the naturally-heated grounds. A rapid growth and an early harvest followed if the gods – particularly Sif, the goddess of the home, the field and the crop, and the wife of Thor – were willing to please the people.


steam coming from a geyser in a lavafield with a blue Islandic sky

Geothermal power, as pure and raw as beautiful. Photograph courtesy Olivier Overberg.


Geothermal energy is found in the underground reservoir of hot water and steam. Several power plants generate about 30 percent of the country’s electricity. Furthermore they provide households with heating and hot water. The most powerfull geothermal well in the world is (used by) the Nesjavellir Power plant. This combined heat and power station delivers to most of the greater Reykjavik area. Energy comes cheap here and the Icelandic pioneers in harnessing geothermal heat for power are likely to create more economic benefits from this technology and expertise. Anyway, the country has an enormous potential.



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Featured image: courtesy of Olivier Overberg


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