Scandinavia--Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Finland--is blessed with five distinct, yet related, cultures.

Learn about the stories behind the legends, about the countries, and most of all about the people.

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"We sailed our ships to any shore that offered the best hope of booty; we feared no fellow on earth..."
Saga of Arrow-Odd

What is Gjetost?
A town in Sweden.
Brown goat cheese.
The word for "hello" in
       Danish.

Roasted fish.
The word for ghost in
       Swedish.

Correct answer?
OSLO - Norway

Clustered around the head of the 68-mile-long Oslofjord, Oslo is probably the most spacious city in the world. Its 175-square-mile metropolitan area consists of over 75 percent forests and five percent water. Its fine deep harbor, Pipervika, stretches into the heart of the city and from it leave ferries to Denmark and Germany.

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Feature: Stavanger
Featured City: Oslo
Food: The Great NordicDiet
          Swedish Semla
          Norwegian Cuisine
          Canned Sardines
History: The Round Tower
Arts:   Vigeland Park, Oslo
          Georg Jensen
People: Henrik Ibsen    
News: Happiest Countries          

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The Founding of Iceland
by Bob Brooke

Americans celebrate the landing of the first pilgrim settlers and the taming of the West, Afrikaners revere the trekboers who conquered and occupied the wilderness of South Africa during the 18th century. Icelanders celebrate the founding of Icelandic society and the early history of their island, particularly the from 930-1030, known in Icelandic chronology as the Saga Age--the period during which the sagas of the Icelanders take place. The earliest historical writings also deal with this period.

Aside from being great contributions to world literature, the sagas are the folk literature of Iceland-- Icelandic equivalents of American Westerns. Their subject is the conflicts of the yeoman farmers who were the original settlers and their children and grandchildren. The sagas are accounts of prototypical frontiersmen in continual strife with their neighbors. They’re a kind of historical fiction; many of the characters are known to have lived and many of the events are known to have occurred.

Parts of the sagas are close to history, and parts are pure fiction. Even though the origins of Iceland lie farther back in time than those of the other new societies, the mythology of the founding is more coherent and peopled with more concrete figures than is that of any other new nation. Magnus Magnusson, the Icelandic/Scottish translator of many sagas into English, is quite correct in his assertion that "much, much more than the garbled and debased mythology of the Wild West, Iceland is the remembered and continuing land of frontiersmen."

However, there’s one major challenge that the Icelanders never had to face: a population indigenous to their new land. Here one of the central themes of new societies is missing, the interplay of settlers and natives. Iceland was in fact the largest uninhabited area settled in historical times. One basic disadvantage the settlers had was that they had no help in adjusting to their new environment.

Icelanders from the beginning have dwelled on their origins and their genealogy. The enormous number of manuscripts of the sagas that have survived from medieval times and that are known to be only a small fraction of the total confirm that copying and reading the sagas were major endeavors of the people. Scores of 18th- and 19th-century travelers to Iceland wrote about the pervasive popularity of the sagas in Iceland. Unfortunately, there were no medieval travelers who wrote about such things.

The whole of Icelandic history is miraculous. A number of barbarian gentlemen leave Norway because the government there is becoming civilized and interfering. They settle in Iceland because they want to keep what they can of the unreformed past, the old freedom. It looks like anarchy. But immediately they begin to frame a Social Contract and to make laws in the most intelligent manner: a colonial agent is sent back to the Mother Country to study law and present a report. They might have sunk into mere hard work and ignorance, contending with the difficulties of their new country. They Iceland settlers took with them the intellect of Norway; they wrote the his might have become boors without a history, without a ballad. In fact the story of the kings and the adventures of the gods.

The settlement of Iceland looks like a furious plunge of angry and intemperate chiefs, away from order into a grim and reckless land. The truth is that those rebels and their commonwealth were more self-possessed, more clearly conscious of their own aims, more critical of their own achievements, than any society on Earth since the fall of Athens.

Iceland, though the country is large, has always been like a city state in many ways. The small population, though widely scattered, wasn’t broken up, and the four quarters of Iceland took as much interest in one another's gossip as the quarters of Florence.

In the Sagas, where nothing is of much importance except individual men, and where all the chief men are known to one another, a journey from Borg to Eyjafirth is no more than going past a few houses. The distant corners of the island are near one another. There’s no sense of those impersonal forces, those nameless multitudes, that make history a different thing from biography in other lands. All history in Iceland shaped itself as biography or as drama, and there was no large crowd at the back of the stage.

The development of Icelandic independence proceeded in a way in much the same way as the American colonies, and it took about the same amount of time, a century and a half from the time of first settlement. The impression from Snorri Sturluson's History of the Kings of Norway is that King Olaf Tryggvason as late as 999-1000, when he was aggressively and cruelly campaigning to Christianize his domain, regarded himself as king of the Icelanders and the Icelanders so regarded him.

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Every year about 95 000 people die in Sweden and, according to the law, everyone must be buried. There must be room for everyone in the cemeteries, therefore the future needs of space have to be predicted. Because of this funerals must be part of the planning process.

Read more about Swedish burials

News from Norway
from Aftenposten
News from Denmark
from Denmark.dk
News from Sweden
from the SR International 
News from Finland
from Finnish News Agency STT
News from Iceland
from The Iceland Review
All news is in English
.

THE VIKINGS:
THE NORTH ATLANTIC SAGA

In the early Middle Ages, driven by famine at home and the promise of wealth to be had in other lands, the Vikings set out from Scandinavia to conquer parts of England, Ireland, France, Russia, and even Turkey. Bolstered by their successes, the Vikings pushed westward, eventually crossing the North Atlantic and founding settlements in Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland in Canada.
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To read more articles by Bob Brooke, visit his Web site.

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