Sunday marked six months since the volcanic eruption currently mesmerizing spectators near Reykjavik first began, making it the longest eruption Iceland has witnessed in more than 50 years. The first lava began spewing out of a fissure close to Mount Fagradalsfjall on the evening of March 19 on the Reykjanes Peninsula to the southwest of Reykjavik. And the ensuing spectacle – ranging from just a slow trickle of lava at times to more dramatic geyser-like spurts of rocks and stones at others – has become a major tourist attraction, drawing 300,000 visitors so far, according to the Iceland Tourist Board.
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Iceland is a Nordic island country in the North Atlantic Ocean, with a population of 356,991 and an area of 103,000 km2 (40,000 sq mi), making it the most sparsely populated country in Europe. The capital and largest city is Reykjavík. Iceland is volcanically and geologically active. The interior consists of a plateau characterised by sand and lava fields, mountains, and glaciers, and many glacial rivers flow to the sea through the lowlands. Iceland is warmed by the Gulf Stream and has a temperate climate, despite a high latitude just outside the Arctic Circle.
Iceland’ gained independence in 1918 and founded a republic in 1944. Although its parliament (Althing) was suspended from 1799 to 1845, the island republic has been credited with sustaining the world’s oldest and longest-running parliament.
Hit hard by the worldwide financial crisis, the nation’s entire banking system systemically failed in October 2008, leading to an economic crisis and the collapse of the country’s three largest banks. By 2014, the Icelandic economy had made a significant recovery, in large part due to a surge in tourism.
Iceland has the smallest population of any NATO member and is the only one with no standing army, with a lightly armed coast guard.