The Faroe Islands
Location and sizeThe Faroes are located in the heart of the Gulf Stream in the North Atlantic at 62°00°N, the Faroe Islands lie approximately 430 kilometres southeast of Iceland, 600 kilometres west of Norway and 300 kilometres northwest from Scotland. The distance from Copenhagen, Denmark to the Faroes is approximately 1,300 kilometres.
The Faroes comprise 18 islands, separated by narrow sounds or fjords. The total area is 1399 km˛ (545.3 sq. miles). The largest island is Streymoy (373.5 sq. km) with the capital, Tórshavn. The overall length of the archipelago is 113 km (71 miles) north-south (long) and 75 km (47 miles) east-west (wide), roughly in the shape of an arrowhead. There are 1100 km (687 miles) of coastline and at no time is one more than 5 km (3 miles) away from the ocean. The highest mountain is 882 m (2883 ft) above sea level and the average height above sea level is 300 m (982 ft).
Plants and vegetation growth are sparse, influenced by the islands’ geographical location and climate. There are no true woods or forests, but grass is plentiful. Only 6% of the land is cultivated, the rest is utilised as grazing pastures for the approximately 70,000 sheep. There are some cattle and horses. Animal life is also sparse, but there is a rich and varied bird life, especially seabirds.
ClimateThe weather is maritime and quite changeable, from moments of brilliant sunshine to misty hill fog and showers. The Gulf Stream encircling the islands tempers the climate. The harbours never freeze and considering the high latitude the temperature in winter time is very moderate . Snowfall occurs, but is short-lived. The average temperature ranges from 3°C in winter to 11°C in the summer. In sheltered areas the temperature can be much higher, but the air is always fresh and clean no matter what the season.
PopulationThe population at the end of 2001 was 46,996 (in Jan 1998 it was 44,262) and the population density is 33.6 inhabitants per sq. km. The Faroese settlement pattern is characterised by a large number of densely populated villages of varying size. There are in all about 100 towns and villages; the largest town is the capital, Tórshavn, with 18,071 inhabitants. The second largest is Klaksvík with 5,220 inhabitants.
Form of GovernmentSince 1948 the Faroe Islands have been a self-governing, autonomous region of the Kingdom of Denmark. It has its own national flag and national language, Faroese. They are not, however, a member of the European Union and all trade is governed by special treaties.
Languages SpokenFaroese is the national language and is rooted in Old Norse. Faroese is a West Nordic language, closely related to Icelandic and Norwegian. It is the official judicial language, and is used in all matters within Faroese business, administration, political and cultural life. Danish is the second language in the Faroes, and practically everyone can speak and write Danish. Nordic languages are readily understood by most Faroese, and English is also widely spoken, especially among the younger generations.
ReligionReligion plays a large role in the Faroese culture and over 80% of the population belong to the national church, the Evangelical Lutheran. 10% of the population belong to the Brethren.
IndustryThe fishing industry is the most important source of income for the Faroes. Fish products account for over 97% of the export volume. Tourism is the second largest industry, followed by woollen and other manufactured goods.
A brief history outlineThe population derives mainly from West Norwegian farmers who settled here in the 9th century. It has been suggested that the Faroe Islands were populated by Irish monks or hermits before this but there is no archaeological evidence to support this view. Christianity was adopted in AD 999. In 1035 the Faroe Islands were incorporated into the Kingdom of Norway. Together with Norway, the islands passed to the Danish Crown in 1380, and remained under Denmark, even after Norway came under Swedish rule in 1814.
HaldarsvíkOne of the biggest attractions in Norðstreymoy is Fossá - the highest waterfall in the Faroes. The river cascades some 140 metres over several rocky ledges into the sea. This mountain river is fed by several smaller streams and connects to a lake on top of the mountain. On beyond Fossá is the village of Haldarsvík. The village clusters around a small inlet bay and the mountains rise behind the village in terraces. In Haldarsvík you can see the only octagonal church in the Faroes. The new alterpiece is of interest as well, painted by the artist Torbjřrn Olsen, depicting the Eucharist with the faces of well-known, contemporary Faroese art people.