Iceland, the land of waterfalls and old Norse Gods - Dreamstime
Iceland is that remote island we always imagine sitting in a precarious equilibrium between the North Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean, where volcanoes erupt with the vengeance of the old Gods of Valhalla.
But Iceland is also a country of wonders, where the Aurora Borealis puts on an incredible show and nature is at its best.
If you plant to visit you will certainly step of the plane in Reykjavík, the world's northernmost capital of a sovereign state.
Reykjavík is believed to be the location of the first permanent settlement in Iceland, which Ingólfur Arnarson is said to have established around AD 870. Until the 18th century, there was no urban development in the city location. The city was founded in 1786 as an official trading town and grew steadily over the next decades, as it transformed into a regional and later national center of commerce, population, and governmental activities. It is among the cleanest, greenest, and safest cities in the world.
Iceland basically sits on a volcano so it produces 26% of its total energy within the five large geothermal plants, but, in addition to this 87% of all hot-water and heating comes from geothermal sources as well. Apart from geothermal energy, 73.8% of the nation’s electricity is generated by hydro power, and only 0.1% from fossil fuels.
One of the prominent features of the Icelandic landscape are the waterfalls. They are there to greet you with a roar or just a whisper at every corner, and they are all stunningly beautiful.
Hraunfossar (meaning "lava falls") is a series of waterfalls formed by rivulets streaming over a distance of about 900 metres out of the Hallmundarhraun, a lava field which flowed from an eruption of one of the volcanoes lying under the glacier Langjökull.
Gullfoss (translated as "Golden Falls") may be Iceland's most popular waterfall. What makes Gullfoss stand out is that it featured two distinct drops in succession at right angles to each other while spanning the entire width of the Hvítá River. Adding to the scenic allure is that the river flows wildly and freely so it can be experienced in all seasons as each season would yield very different moods and appearances.
It's hard to believe that this waterfall almost disappeared due to the desire for hydroelectricity by various interests.
Skógafoss is a waterfall situated on the Skógá River in the south of Iceland at the cliffs of the former coastline. After the coastline had receded seaward (it is now at a distance of about 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) from Skógar), the former sea cliffs remained, parallel to the coast over hundreds of kilometres, creating together with some mountains a clear border between the coastal lowlands and the Highlands of Iceland. Adding to its allure is a high volume of water making it thunder and produce rainbow-yielding mist that often would make this falls a photographer's dream under sunny skies.
Falling 45 m with a width of 100 m, Dettifoss is reputed to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe. It is situated on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river, which flows from the Vatnajökull glacier and collects water from a large area in Northeast Iceland. It is the largest waterfall in Europe in terms of volume discharge, having an average water flow of 193 m3/s.
Some years ago, plans were proposed to harness the hydroelectric potential of the canyon, but they were scrapped when the lava strata in the area were found to be too porous for a reservoir.
Svartifoss, the Black Fall, is also located in Vatnajökull National Park. Its name is given by the tall columns of volcanic rock. The base of this waterfall is noteworthy for its sharp rocks. New hexagonal column sections break off faster than the falling water wears down the edges.
These basalt columns have provided inspiration for Icelandic architects, most visibly in the Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík, and also the National Theatre.
One of the best know features of this magical land, The Icelandic turf houses, were the product of a difficult climate, offering superior insulation compared to buildings solely made of wood or stone, and the relative difficulty in obtaining other construction materials in sufficient quantities.
The common Icelandic turf house would have a large foundation made of flat stones; upon this was built a wooden frame which would hold the load of the turf. The turf would then be fitted around the frame in blocks often with a second layer, or in the more fashionable herringbone style. The only external wood would be the doorway which would often be decorative; the doorway would lead in to the hall which would commonly have a great fire.
The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland. The spa is located in a lava field in Grindavík on the Reykjanes Peninsula, southwestern Iceland. The lagoon is a man-made lagoon which is fed by the water output of the nearby geothermal power plant Svartsengi and is renewed every two days. Superheated water is vented from the ground near a lava flow and used to run turbines that generate electricity. After going through the turbines, the steam and hot water passes through a heat exchanger to provide heat for a municipal water heating system. Then the water is fed into the lagoon for recreational and medicinal users to bathe in.
Jokulsarlon is a large glacial lake in southeast Iceland, on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park. Situated at the head of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier it developed into a lake after the glacier started receding from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. The lake has grown since then at varying rates because of melting of the glaciers. It is now 1.5 km away from the ocean's edge and covers an area of about 18 km2 . It recently became the deepest lake in Iceland, at over 248 meters, as glacial retreat extended its boundaries. The size of the lake has increased fourfold since the 1970's. It is considered as one of the natural wonders of Iceland.
Hvitserkur, which translates to "white shirt" and derives its name from being covered in Shag and Cormorant guano, rises 15 metres, or nearly 50 feet from the sea.
It was once the plug of a volcano, but over the years the craters surrounding the rock plug gave way to the pounding Atlantic Ocean leaving only the unusual outcropping Hvítserkur behind. Curiously, Hvítserkur itself would have given way to the ocean as well, had its foundations not been shored up with concrete some years ago.
Icelandic legend has it that the rock was a troll who forgot to retreat from the light and was turned to stone in the sunrise, though from some angles it is said to look like a dragon drinking from the water. The geological oddity was commemorated on an Icelandic stamp in 1990.
Mount Kirkjufell is a well-known and often-photographed landmark, and there are many who say it is the most beautiful mountain in Iceland, but we will let you decide that, as with this mountain I will finish the story of a beautiful, unique country that only gets better with years gone by.
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