PEOPLE & LIFESTYLE
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Centuries of isolation and deprivation left their marks on the small and homogen population of Iceland, bringing out some extraordinary characteristics, customs and traditions. Challenges are met with bravery, honesty and creativity paired with black and cool humor.
Lifestyle and common opinion is characterized by individualism. Icelanders are said to have a strong connection to nature and people in the countryside still mainly live off farming and fishing. Met with international disapproval, a majority of the population supports commercial whaling, even though most Icelanders would never consume whale meat.
Iceland always had a rich culture and a passion for art, which also reflects in the young population today. Most young people play in a band, are working on art projects or are writing poems.
There has been a shift from rural life in small villages with tight family connections to an urbanized and cosmopolitan lifestyle. Two thirds of the population live in or around Reykjavik. Icelanders work hard - the retirement age is 70 - but possess a strong desire for recreation and leisure, reflecting in a pulsing nightlife in Reykjavik, well frequented thermal baths and saunas and a generally social character.
Iceland converted to Christianity more than 1.000 years ago, but the old Nordic gods remained and since the late 1970s, a modern way of Ásatrú developed in Iceland and today makes for the largest non-Christian religious community. Most of the Icelanders (77%) are Protestant.l baths and spas all over Iceland and the many summer residences along the golden circle.
The supernatural world
Iceland has a rich history of folklore and legends. The isolated location on the edge of the Antarctic Circle and the surreal landscape was the perfect breeding ground for tales of strange creatures and supernatural beings. Icelandic folklore is unique and shows influences of Nordic myths, Celtic fairy tales and Christianity. Enhanced by dark winters and mysterious landscapes, it still plays a large part in the national identity. Allegedly, 80% of the Icelandic population believes in elves and the stories about them and the hidden folks have been around for centuries. They live in rocks and hills and their homes are met with the utmost respect as Icelanders often plan infrastructure around their homes in order not to disturb and upset them, which is said to bring bad fortune.
Bizarre rock or lava formations are often said to be trolls, who were surprised by sunrise and turned to stone. The Reynisdrangar rock formation off the Southern shores is the most famous rock-turned-troll phenomena in Iceland. According to folklore, trolls lived in the mountains and only came down to forage for food.
ARTS & CULTURE
Even though Iceland is geographically isolated from the rest of the world, culture has always been thriving and it produced significant historic pieces of literature and a wide range of world-class musicians. Also, nearly one in ten Icelanders will publish a written piece at least once in their lifetime, making Iceland one of the most literary active nation in the world!
VISUAL ARTS & CRAFTS
Ásgrímur Jónsson (1876 - 1858) was known to be the first great painter to capture Iceland’s iconic landscapes in an impressive amount of impressionist oil and watercolor paintings. His work can be viewed in the National Gallery in Reykjavik. Jóhannes Kjarval, one of his students, is best known for his coal sketches and his surreal landscapes.
Sculpting is popular in Iceland and you can find sculptures in parks, gardens and galleries. The best known artists own their own museums in Reykjavik.
There were practically no instruments in Iceland until the arrival of Rock’n Roll in the 20. century. In a country facing the constant threat of famine, musical instruments appeared like unnecessary luxury. Music was primarily made by singing, accompanied by basic instruments brought to Iceland during the Viking settlement. Due to its isolation, the musical style did not change much until the 20. century.
Today, Reykjavik has a vivid musical scene that is growing and always changing. Apart from internationally famed bands and musicians like Björk, Sigur Rós or Of Monsters and Men, new bands and musical styles are constantly emerging in the lively scene. Young Icelandic bands and artists are always given a special consideration when it comes to planning the line-up for music festivals.
Iceland’s dark and powerful sagas of the 12. and 13. century are without doubt the biggest cultural achievement of Iceland. But even today the literature scene is thriving and Iceland produces the largest number of writers and publications worldwide. Around 10% of the population will publish a book in their lifetimes.
The famous tales were written over the hard and desperate centuries of Norwegian and Danish rule and represent an integral part of Icelandic identity during a time where most of their identity had been taken from them. The sagas tell stories of feuds, tragic romance and brave heroes during the settlement of Iceland and they are considered to be one of the most imaginative and durable pieces of work of early literature.
As the Icelandic language has hardly changed since Viking times, no translation is required and the sagas still represent an important and integral piece of literature today. You can view parts of the original script in the Þjóðmennigarhúsið in Reykjavik.
Further, the Edda books from the 13. century are the two major sources of medieval Scaldic tradition in Iceland and Norse mythology. The works contain material from traditional sources, reaching back to the Viking Age. Snorri Sturlusson is believed to have compiled the largest parts of the Prose Edda.
Poetry became the dominant form of literature for a few centuries, often portraying Iceland’s beautiful landscape. The books published at the beginning of the 20. century were mostly poetry collections, but the time also saw the emergence of a few rebel writers, like Þórbergur Þórðarson or Gunnar Gunnarsson, who were the first Icelandic authors writing fictional novels. Halldór Laxness, best known for his novels capturing the social tensions in 20. century Iceland caused by urbanization, migration and industrialization, was the first Icelandic writer to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1955.
The latest trend in Icelandic literature is the Scandinavian Noir, crime stories packed with eerie settings, desolate characters and complex matters. Authors like Arnaldur Indriðason or Yrsa Sigurðardóttir are well established writers in this genre and have sold books all over the world.
FILM & CINEMA
The Icelandic film industry is still young and only began regular productions in the early 1980. Nevertheless, the industry achieved international recognition, “Children of Nature” by Friðrik Þór Friðriksson was nominated for an Oscar in 1992 and movies like “101 Reykjavik” or “The Good Heart” achieved commercial international success.. Short films are generally more common than long movies.
Iceland has also become a popular filming destination with its outstanding natural beauty featuring in many Hollywood blockbusters like “Batman begins”, “Star Trek - Into Darkness” or “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”.