Get to know how and why these countries got their names despite opposite geographical qualities.

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Iceland and Greenland are two of the most famous geographical locations on Earth purely based on their nomenclature. It has been a raging debate and confusion over how and why these two nations were given names that are so opposite to their geography.

While Iceland is a wonderful nation with warm people and greenery all around; Greenland is a barren ice desert with culture truly opposite to the name it has. Many theories have been put forth as to why Iceland and Greenland got their names, even National Geographic dug into the history and culture of these two nations and came out with a plausible reason.

Today, we explore the same issue of the nomenclature of these naturally rich countries:

1Iceland – the land of greenery


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Iceland is an island located in the North Atlantic Ocean, occupying a total area of 102,775 square kilometers (39,682 square miles). The beauty of this country comes from a terrain of sands, glaciers and volcanic lava fields. Though it seems to be extremely cold, Iceland is kept warm by the Gulf Stream and a steadily warm climate.

Iceland – the land of greenery

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2Greenland – the icy heaven

Greenland is world’s largest island. Occupying 2,166,086 square kilometers (836,330 square meters), the island is home to only 56,480 people, making it the least populated country in the world. Though it is closely located near North America geographically; it is administratively and politically associated with Europe. The sparse population is because 2/3rds of the nation is covered with thick sheet of ice.

Iceland – the land of greenery

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3The historical importance of Iceland


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According to the ancient manuscript Landnámabók, the settlement of Iceland began in 874 AD when the Norwegian chieftain Ingólfr Arnarson became the first permanent settler on the island. Other Scandinavian settlers began migrating to Iceland and brought thralls (slaves) of Gaelic origin with them. In 1523, Iceland came under Denmark’s rule and remained a distant semi-colonial territory.

In 1918, Iceland began their struggle for independence which culminated in Iceland becoming a republic in 1944. Iceland is buoyed by fishing and agriculture industries. In 1994, it became a part of the European Economic Area, further diversifying its economy into sectors such as finance, biotechnology, and manufacturing.

Iceland has the smallest population on any NATO member nation and the only one without standing army.

Greenland – the icy heaven

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4Greenland’s history

As mentioned above, Greenland is the largest island in the world. The total land area of Greenland is about 804,000 square miles (2,175,600 square kilometers), of which 85% is covered in ice. The capital of Greenland is Nuuk and most of Greenland’s population is Inuit or Danish-Inuit in heritage.

The climate in Greenland is subarctic, with short, cool summers and bitterly cold winters. Temperatures average around 10 degrees Celsius during the peak of summer and fall to -8 degrees at the height on winter. During the summer, Greenland becomes a land of the "midnight sun," with weeks of 24-hour daylight all along its length and breadth.

Historically, Greenland's first inhabitants arrived on the island about 4,500–5,000 years ago (probably from Ellesmere Island). But these early Inuit peoples disappeared from the land about 3,000 years ago for unknown reasons. In the 10th century, Thule culture developed in the region and they built the early kayaks, harpoons, and dogsleds.

About 900, a Norwegian named Gunnbjørn Ulfsson became the first European to set foot on Greenland. 80 years later Erik the Red established the first Viking settlements on the land and his son Leif Eriksson brought Christianity to the nation in the year 1000.

The historical importance of Iceland

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5Iceland- reason how it got its name?


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Generally, countries names are decided on the basis of elements like its land features, prominent tribe/person, or even a directional description.

But there is a very strange and interesting reason for the nomenclature of Iceland. Iceland was known as ‘snowland’ according to legends, thanks to the immense snowfall the region experienced. After few years, Swedish Viking Garðar Svavarosson visited the island and called it Garðarshólmur which means “Garðar’s Isle”.

However, National Geographic delved deeper into the history of the name of Iceland and came up with the following story. “Garðar’s isle was not so kind to its next arrival, a Viking named flóki vilgerðarson. Flóki’s daughter drowned en route to Iceland, then all his livestock starved to death as the winter dragged on. Depressed and frustrated, flóki, the sagas say, climbed a mountain only to see a fjord full of icebergs, which led to the island’s new name.”

Greenland’s history

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