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The Faroes: In Brief

When looking at the 18 small Faroe Islands, alone in the wide open ocean, 300 km to the nearest shore, partitioned by narrow fiords and sounds — only 1.399 km2 — it is hard to imagine that the islands are the remains of a large volcanic plateau perhaps the size of Ireland and formed between 40 and 60 million years ago.

This wide plateau has sunk into the ocean and been eroded so Faroe is now left alone on its own north Atlantic shelf, which came into being when America tore itself lose and slid westward, and where Iceland much later arose in between.

The volcanic origin is quite vis­ible on the basalt plates with ash layers in between. Today there is no volcanic activity, no hot springs and no earth quakes.

On these islands there live just over 48.000 people of Celt- ic/Norse stock. The population density is 34 per km2, most live by the coast, and 40% in the lowlands around Tórshavn. The average hight of the islands is about 300 m above sea level.

The language is Norse with the same old West Norse root as Norwegian and Icelandic. Neither Icelanders nor Norwegians under­stand it at first encounter, for Faroese was developed and pre­served orally partly through an incredible collection of ballads, about 70.000 verses in all.

Even though the country has been part of first the Kingdom of Norway and later the Kingdon of Denmark for almost 1000 years, the Faroese feel like an independ­ent nation with their own history, language and culture. They have their own flag, national anthem and the age old “Løgting” (Parlia­ment), which is among the oldest in the world.

The Faroe Islands are located where two ocean currents meet the warm Gulf Stream, which brings warm surface water from the Gulf of Mexico, and the nutri­tious cold current from the Polar Sea, which flows near the seabed as a strong tide through the Shetland channel. The mixed waters feed both fish and whales well, and pelagic species pass the islands.

The Faroes are at the latitude where the low pressures pass east­ward, so the weather changes much. It is never cold, from 3o C on average in January, but not warm either, 1 loC in July.

Already at the age of the Norse settlement around 825 A.D. the islands were known to the Celts who had sought solitude here. They brought with them — hence the name — sheep (“får” = sheep).  Wooded vegetation, shrubs such as juniper and willow, was soon nibbled into extinction and can today only be found at inaccessi­ble places. So now the country is covered by grass, moss and heather.

The Faroes are in their own way a unique case study; geolog­ically and geographically a coun­try of its own, a people with its own language and a rich culture.  

It is different from other coun­tries, has its own distinct natural beauty, and is small enough to make you as visitor feel that in a few days you have come to know the country and the people, though all the time you keep dis­covering something new.

The Faroes are a wonderful country, and the Faroese feel good and want to live here. After the crisis in the early 1990s the population fell slightly, though it has now bounced back to its pre-crisis level and continues its growth
trend from 1800. This growth is one of the major challenges for Faroe today.