The Republic of Iceland is an island country located in the North Atlantic Ocean. It has a population of about 320,000 and a total area of 103,000 km². Its capital and largest city is Reykjavík. Located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Iceland is volcanically and geologically active on a large scale; this defines the landscape. The interior mainly consists of a plateau characterised by sand fields, mountains and glaciers, while many big glacial rivers flow to the sea through the lowlands. Warmed by the Gulf Stream, Iceland has a temperate climate relative to its latitude and provides a habitable environment and nature.
According to Landnámabók, the settlement of Iceland began in 874 when the Norwegian chieftain Ingólfur Arnarson became the first permanent Norwegian settler on the island. Others had visited the island earlier and stayed over winter. Over the next centuries, people of Nordic origin settled in Iceland. Until the 20th century, the Icelandic population relied on fisheries and agriculture, and was from 1262 to 1918 a part of the Norwegian, and later the Danish monarchies. In the 20th century, Iceland's economy and welfare system developed quickly, and in recent decades the nation has implemented free trade in the European Economic Area and diversified from fishing to new economic fields in services, finance and various industries. Iceland is a free market economy with low taxes compared to other OECD countries. The country maintains a Nordic welfare system providing universal health care and post-secondary education for its citizens.
Icelandic culture is based on the nation’s Norse heritage and its status as a developed and technologically advanced society. Cultural heritages include traditional Icelandic cuisine, the nation’s poetry, and the medieval Icelandic Sagas which are internationally renowned. Modern Icelandic culture, such as the nation's music scene and cinema, is influenced by the nation’s ideologies. In recent years, Iceland has been one of the wealthiest and most developed nations in the world. In 2007, it was ranked as the most developed country in the world by the United Nations' Human Development Index and the fourth most productive country per capita. In 2008, the nation’s banking system systematically failed, causing significant economic contraction and political unrest that lead to early parliamentary elections making Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir the country's prime minister. She is the first openly gay head of government in modern times.
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