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Reykjavík (rāˈkyävēk, rāˈkävēk), city (1993 pop. 101,824), capital of Iceland, SW Iceland, on the Faxaflói. It is the center of the cod-fishing industry and the chief commercial and industrial hub of Iceland. Publishing, food processing, and textile manufacturing are important industries. Reykjavík is the seat of the parliament (Althing), of the Lutheran bishop of Iceland, and of the supreme court; the Univ. of Iceland, the nation's oldest university (founded 1911), is there. Among the city's cultural institutions are the national theater and the national museum. One of the city's remarkable features is its heating system, which utilizes nearby hot springs. Reykjavík has a large airport, but international traffic uses the airport at nearby Keflavík.

The founding of Reykjavík by Ingolfur Arnarson, thought to be the first settler in Iceland, is traditionally dated 874. It was chartered in 1786, but modern growth began after 1904, when it became the capital. Among its monuments is a statue of Leif Ericsson, given by the Congress of the United States to the people of Iceland in 1930 to commemorate the 1,000th anniversary of the founding of the Althing. In 1986 Reykjavík was the site of historic arms control talks between the United States and the USSR.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Icelandic, Smoke Bay), the capital and principal economic and cultural center of Iceland.

The world’s northernmost capital, Reykjavik is situated on the southwestern coast of Iceland, on Faxaflói Bay of the Atlantic Ocean, on the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula, at an elevation of about 150 m. Its climate is subarctic and maritime. Winters are mild, with thaws, owing to the influence of the warm Irminger Current; the average January temperature is 0.4°C. Summers are cool, with July temperatures averaging 11°-12°C. The annual precipitation totals 800 mm. The water in the bay does not freeze in winter. Frequent changes in the weather are characteristic.

Reykjavik is the country’s largest city. In 1973 it had a population of 84,300 (including the suburbs, 96,000), as compared to 43,000 in 1948 and 71,000 in 1959. The city accounts for more than 40 percent of Iceland’s entire population. It is governed by the popularly elected Municipal Council.

A settlement arose on the site of Reykjavik shortly after the landing of the first settlers in Iceland in 874. Prior to the 17th century the spot was occupied by a farmstead, and in the 17th and 18th centuries a rural hamlet sprang up here. The founding date of the city is given as Aug. 18, 1786, the day Reykjavik was granted a municipal charter. Prior to the early 20th century the city grew slowly. The population increased from 300 persons in 1801 to 1,000 in 1850 and 6,680 in 1900. The Althing (parliament) has been convened in the city since 1854, and in 1904 the city became the seat of government of autonomous Iceland. In 1920, Reykjavik was officially made the capital of the Kingdom of Iceland (since 1944, the Republic of Iceland).

Its geographic position in the North Atlantic, on the transoceanic routes between Europe and North America, has facilitated the transformation of Reykjavik into an important hub of international sea and air transport, chiefly transit traffic. Reykjavik has also become one of the world’s leading fishing and fish-trading centers.

Most of the city’s industry is linked with the fishing industry and to servicing the fishing fleet. Fish-processing enterprises include plants producing meal, fertilizers, oil, and frozen fillets. The city has shipyards, repair docks, and factories manufacturing nets and fishing equipment. Other products include soap, margarine, and footwear. Such traditional industries as the production of woolen cloth (including plaids) and knitted woolen goods are also flourishing. Nearby towns and settlements manufacture cement (Akranes), nitrogen fertilizers (Gufunes), and aluminum (Straumsvik).

Reykjavik is Iceland’s financial and commercial center. The bulk of the country’s foreign trade passes through the port of Reykjavik, which had a cargo turnover of some 1 million tons in 1972. The city is also the hub of bus and automobile transportation. Water from hot springs is used for heating and other municipal needs and for operating greenhouses.

Since the 18th century the city has been built up with two-and three-story buildings, arranged in a regular layout. Among buildings showing the influence of Danish classicism are the Cathedral (1787–96, architect A. Kirkerup), rebuilt in the 19th century, and the Althing (1880–81, architect F. Meldahl). The national romantic style is represented by the National Library (1908, architect M. Nielsen) and the buildings designed by Gudjón Samúelsson, notably the National Theater. Functionalism was introduced by the architects Sigurdur Gudmundsson and Sigvaldi Thordarsson. An outstanding example of functionalist architecture is the Northern House, a cultural center built in 1968 on the basis of designs by the architect A. H. H. Aalto.

Among the city’s higher educational and research institutions are the University of Iceland, the National Research Council, the Institute of Meteorology, the Institute of Pathology and Bacteriology, and various Icelandic learned societies —agricultural, archaeological, historical, literary, musical, and glaciological. The largest libraries are the National Library, the Public Library, and the University of Iceland Library. Outstanding museums include the National Museum, the National Gallery, the Einar Jónsson Art Gallery, the Ásgrimur Jonsson Art Gallery, the Ásmundur Sveinsson Museum, the Museum of Natural History, and the Árbair Open-air Museum. Reykjavik is also the site of the National Theater, which stages operas, ballets, and dramatic works. The Reykjavik Dramatic Society is based in the city.


Viđ, sem byggđum Pessa borg, vols. 1–3. Edited by V. S. Vilhjálmsson. Reykjavik, 1956–58.
Hansson, O. Facts About Reykjavik, 7th ed. Reykjavik, 1958.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


the capital and chief port of Iceland, situated in the southwest: its buildings are heated by natural hot water. Pop.: 112 490 (2003 est.)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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