When did Reykjavik start to look as a village or as a small city?
As I wrote in my post about the history of Reykjavik we really do not know very much about its history after the year 1000 and during the next seven or so centuries.
The 16th, 17th and 18th centuries were mostly centuries of humiliation, poverty and even starvation in the country.
Skuli Magnusson - the father of Reykjavik
During the second half of the 18th century however, Reykjavik began to look like a village. One thing contributed greatly: The creation of several factories in the middle of the century by the local treasurer or sheriff, Skuli Magnusson, who is often called "the father of Reykjavik". His aim was to make Icelanders more independent and to teach them new professions. This called for more people and they came to Reykjavik from the countryside.
This is regarded as the beginning of Reykjavík as a village and we know for sure that in 1786 there were 302 souls living in Reykjavík, the total population in Iceland then being around 38.000.
Reykjavik in the 19th century
In the 19th century things slowly began to look better. Also - Reykjavik started to look more like a town than a village.The year 1874 was a year of great celebration in Reykjavik, the celebration of the millennium of the settlement of Iceland. This led to a lot of improvement and decorations in Reykjavik - roads were repaired and Austurvöllur in the center of Reykjavik was made into a town square with a proper statue in its center.
Little by little people started to build wooden houses and workers also started to build houses of stone instead of turf homes.In 1880 the population of Reykjavik reached 2500. Ten times more than 100 years before!
Reykjavik in the 20th century
There were great technical advances in the late 19th century and early 20th century and the people of Reykjavik were part of them. We got the first machines and shortly afterwords Iceland was granted partial autonomy from Denmark, the so called Home Rule in 1904 when we got our very own Icelandic minister, Mr. Hannes Þ. Hafstein. That was a turning point for the town, since it took over as capital of Iceland.
In 1908 Reykjavik got its own mayor. We were on our way to total indepence and in 1918 we attained autonomy under the Danish Crown.In 1930 the population of Reykjavík was 28.000 (in Iceland the total population was106.000 - only 27% living in Reykjavik).
Reykjavik and the World War II
After that the Americans took over the defense of the country which on paper remained neutral. About 40.000 American soldiers outnumbered the adult Icelanders at that time - Iceland then had a population of only 120.000. You may imagine the effect on Icelandic society at the time. The soldiers needed housing and a lot of barracks were constructed in this period, called "braggar" in Icelandic. This meant a lot of work for the Icelanders and also money.
The barracks were built all over Reykjavik and were used as living quarters for the soldiers, offices, hospitals etc. The soldiers also built several bunkers, such as can be seen in the picture above on the Oskjuhlid hill.
When the allied forces began to leave in 1943, the city officials decided to use the barracks as temporary social housing for Icelanders since housing shortage was a big problem. People kept migrating to Reykjavik from all over the country. This was the start of a very special part in the history of Reykjavik, where the barrack quarters or even ghettos created quite a lot of problems but also a special sense of community not found elsewhere. Icelandic writers have written books about this period and films have been made about it. I would like to mention the Icelandic author Einar Kárason who wrote three books about a family from the barrack quarters and a film was made about the first book - Devils island in 1996.
Finally in 1944 the Republic of Iceland became a reality.
Population of Reykjavik explodesFrom the 1960's Reykjavik city has literally exploded, from a population of 88.000 in 1960 to 191.000 today (greater Reykjavik). People were able to buy their own private cars and started taking vacations in sunny places abroad. Reykjavík became a rich city, a city with one of the highest living standards in the world.
Reykjavik as a city has grown faster than any other capital in Scandinavia during the last 30-40 years.
During the last years many immigrants have chosen Iceland as their future home. In 2008 the number of immigrants was over 25.000 - or 8,6 percent of the total population. This of course affects our society and culture in many ways and we need to deal with it better than we have.
The center of Reykjavík has mostly lost its role as the main shopping area - it functions more as the center of the western part of Reykjavík while people in other parts of the city do their shopping in the big malls of Kringlan and Smáralind.
One important development is the need of many people to live on the outskirts of the city, nearer to nature but still not too far from cultural activities since many families have a car or two. This has especially been evident during the last 3 - 5 years. The city has expanded incredibly fast to the east.
In the year 2000 the Reykjavik city was chosen as one of nine European Cities of Culture.
If you are interested in getting an idea of Reykjavík in earlier times, I suggest you visit the Settlement Exhibition in Adalstraeti, The Arbaer Museum and the Videy Island.