History of Reykjavik
According to the Book of Icelanders, the settlement of Iceland began in the year 871 with the arrival of Ingólfur Arnarson in what is now the capital, Reykjavík. When he arrived, he happened upon columns of steam rising up from a hot spring, and therefore named it “Smokey Bay,” or Reykjavík.
This early period is well documented in the Book of Settlements; however, if you’d like to find out more about why and how the Vikings came to Reykjavík, then a visit to the National Museum and the Settlement Exhibition will tell you all you need to know.
It wasn’t until the 18th century that a small town began to grow around Ingólfur’s homestead. Local hero, “Sheriff” Skúli Magnússon, opened wool mills in an effort to modernize the Icelandic economy and in a way, it was on the backs of sheep that Reykjavík was able to reach modern urban development.
Reykjavík became the seat of Icelandic legislation when the historic Icelandic Parliament, suspended in 1799 AD, was re-instituted in 1844 with Reykjavík as its seat. Then when Iceland became independent from the Danes a century later, in 1944, Reykjavík became the country’s capital. From then onwards the city began booming into the modern capital you see today.
Fortunately the past isn’t lost. Reykjavík offers some great museums that bring you face to face with its colourful past, from recreating Viking heritage to uncovering the lives of everyday Icelanders in years gone by. But of course the best way to discover the city’s history is to combine your trip to the museum with a walk around Reykjavik’s historical sights on your own.