Reykjavík and its surroundings
The southwest corner of Iceland is the most densely populated region and the location of the capital Reykjavík, the northernmost capital in the world. Reykjavík is situated on the southeast coastline of Faxaflói. The city’s climate is mild and, compared with some other parts of the country, there is rather little difference between summer and winter. It is also rather rainy, with an average of 200 precipitous days per year.
The source of the settlement in Reykjavík can be traced back to when Ingólfur Arnarson, the first Norse settler in Iceland, established himself in the area. His story is related in Landnámabók (The Book of Settlements), estimated to be from the early part of the twelfth-century and the oldest source of information about the settlement of Iceland:
When Ingólfur saw Iceland, he threw his high-seat posts overboard for good luck. He declared that he would establish himself at the place where the beam came to land.
He sent his slaves to find the posts, set up his farm where they were found, and named the place Reykjavík. Archaeological excavations of the place he is said to have established his farm do lend support to the traditional view that it is the location of Reykjavík’s first residents.
The organized building of an urban area in Reykjavík began in the mid eighteenth-century. The town was granted a trading licence in 1786, at which time the number of residents was 167. At the beginning of the twentieth-century, their number was 5,000. Today, Reykjavík is by far the largest urban area in the country, with about 120,000 inhabitants and 60% or more of the nation living in the Reykjavík and its surrounds.
Kópavogur, which was established after World War II, is practically growing alongside Reykjavík, and the general urban area extends through the town Garðabær to Hafnarfjörður, an old fishing and trading town that lies a few kilometres to the south.
About 50 kilometres south of Reykjavík is Reykjanesbær, nearby Reykjanesbæ is Keflavík Airport, the largest airport in Iceland. The airport was built by American troops during World War II and began operating in 1943. Situated alongside Keflavík Airport was the American military base, the base closed in september 2006.
Development around Reykjavík is spread over lowlands on the beach, and the town continues to get larger at the expense of the countryside. Many people have moved from the country to the city in past years and there appears to be no break in the level of new development.