A Brief History of Reykjavik
A Settlement Grows
Reykjavik's European history dates back to only 874 AD, when the first Viking settler came ashore at Faxafloi Bay and named his new home Reykjavik, meaning "Steamy Bay," for the geothermal steam seen rising from the ground.
Reykjavik, however, did not begin to develop in earnest until the end of the 18th century. In 1801, there were barely 600 people living in the city. But by 1901 that figure had grown to 6,321, and by 2001 it had passed 110,000. Today, Reykjavik is home to nearly 200,000 people, which is approximately two-thirds of the island's total population.
Impact of World War II
Reykjavik's growth can be attributed at least in part to World War II. At that time, the city had a population of some 38,000 and Iceland was still under the control of Denmark. But on April 9, 1940, Germany occupied Denmark, and on May 10, four British warships arrived in Faxafloi Bay to anchor just offshore from Reykjavik. As the war continued, the British built the Reykjavik airport for supply aircraft, and when the United States joined England in its effort to safeguard the North Atlantic from further German expansion, the Keflavik airport was built. Keflavik is now the nation's primary airport, while the Reykjavik airport is used almost exclusively for domestic flights to such places as Akureyri, Blonduos, Egilsstadir, Grimsey, Hofn, Husavik, Nordfjordur, Patreksfjordur, Raufarhofn, Saudances, Saudarkrokur, Siglufjordur, Stykkisholmur, Sydralon, Thingeyri, Thorshofn, Vestmannaeyjar, and Vopnafjordur.
A World Chess Championship and a Superpower Summit
In the years following World War II, even though Reykjavik continued to grow, it remained relatively obscure. Until in 1972, when it became the stage for the ballyhooed World Chess Championship match between grandmasters Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, where Fischer triumphed to become the greatest chess player in the world. And in 1986, the city was thrust into the limelight yet again, when presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev held their historic superpower summit meeting there. The talks were held at the Hofdi House, one of the most notable waterfront mansions in Reykjavik.
European City of Culture and World's Greenest City
In the year 2000, with the blossoming of Reykjavik as a cultural hub, the city was awarded the title of "European City of Culture." And in 2007, Reykjavik received yet another acknowledgement: In its July 19, 2007 issue, Grist: Environmental News & Commentary chose Reykjavik as the world's greenest city, citing its initiative to become coal-, gas- and oil-free by the year 2050.
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