|Cairns and landscape somewhere between Egilsstaðir and Mývatn|
Time, natural forces, and the activities of man, have of course brought about all kinds of change to the landscapes around Iceland. I have touched on some of these in previous posts: erosion of different kinds, rivers changing their courses, road-building and the modern building of reservoirs to harness hydro-electric power. The sagas themselves hint at how the landscape in the 13th century had, apparently, changed over the preceding three or four centuries following the settlement of the island -- as those who established themselves there had cleared land of trees, begun to cultivate it and built farmsteads, and introduced livestock. Over the past 1000 years, volcanic eruptions in different parts of the country have altered its physical appearance to differing degrees. And over the past century or so, major changes have been wrought on the landscape by the movement of people from individual farms scattered across the countryside to rapidly expanding urban centres. Urban demographics in Iceland are fascinating: in 1801, the population of the capital Reykjavík was around 600; by 1901 it had grown to over 6000; by 2001, to over 110,000 (this figure not including the Greater Reykjavík Area...add another 100,00 or so). The population of Siglufjörður, which was a tiny village in the north until the herring industry took off, exploded to over 3000 permanent residents (plus several thousand more annual summer workers) during the first half of the early 20th century when the place became the biggest herring-fishing boom-town in Iceland...and then shrunk again dramatically when the herring industry collapsed: the present population of the town is around 1300.