Iceland, a Nordic island nation, is defined by its dramatic landscape with volcanoes, geysers, hot springs and lava fields. Massive glaciers are protected in Vatnajökull and Snæfellsjökull national parks. The island was governed as an independent commonwealth under the native parliament, the Althing, one of the world’s oldest functioning legislative assemblies. Following a period of civil strife, Iceland acceded to Norwegian rule in the 13th century.
Iceland has more hot springs and solfataras volcanic vents that emit hot gases and vapors than any other country. Alkaline hot springs are found in some 250 areas throughout the country. The largest, Deildartunguhver, emits nearly 50 gallons of boiling water per second. Traditionally, Iceland has been divided according to the four points of the compass. The center of the country is uninhabited. In the southwest several fine natural harbors have directed interest toward the sea, and good fishing grounds lie off the shores of this region.