The Faroe Islands are an archipelago of eighteen rocky volcanic islands located between Iceland and Norway in the North Atlantic Ocean. Although they form part of the Kingdom of Denmark, they are self-governing and are increasingly attractive to tourists, with tourism doubling in the past five years. Here are five interesting facts you may not know about this unique place.
1. The meaning of the name
The Faroese language is not simple. Similar to Icelandic, it has its own alphabet of 29 letters as well as three genders and four cases. Føroyar, the name of the Faroe Islands in Faroese, is actually from the Old Norse for sheep, so the meaning of the name is fær (sheep) and oyar (islands). Looking at the many sheep which constantly roam the islands the name certainly seems appropriate, and even their oldest existing document relates to sheep; the Sheep Letter is a set of laws and rules about sheep farming written back in 1298.
2. Their own people
The Faroe islands are a self-governing nation within the Danish kingdom, with seventeen out of the eighteen major islands inhabited. However, the islands’ 49 000 or so inhabitants don’t see themselves as Danish. Occupied by British troops during the second world war, after helping with the British war effort, including supplying fish to British ports which was very dangerous at the time, in 1940 Winston Churchill recognised the Faroese flag. It had been banned by Denmark, however when the war ended it became the official symbol of the islands and still is today. April 25th is Flag Day or Flaggdagur and is a national holiday which celebrates when the Merkið flag was finally recognised by the Danish Government.
3. Statistical wonders
Because of the small size of the Faroe Islands, there are some interesting statistical tricks which have put the Faroese at the top of certain tables. For example, although they only have one Nobel prize winner (Niels Ryberg Finsen for medicine in 1903 for his work on light therapy for skin diseases), statistically speaking they have the highest number of Nobel winners per capita in the world. In the same way they have also managed to achieve the highest number of Fifa points per capita, despite their men’s team being 113th and the women’s team 93rd in Fifa world rankings.
4. A unique undersea roundabout
In 2020 the Faroe Islands completed an underground roundabout as part of the Eysturoyartunnilin, an 11km tunnel connecting the Faroe’s most populous islands of Streymoy and Eysturoy. The roundabout itself lies at the geographical centre of the Faroe islands and there is a second one scheduled to open in 2023, connecting Streymoy with Sandoy. The project in its whole will cost about 360 million euros, or €50 000 per inhabitant. The Eysturoyartunnilin is the longest of 14 tunnels in the Faroe Islands which travel through mountains and under water enabling easy transport and communication. Wifi is even available in the tunnels, and impressively the small island villages have faster connections than most of London.
5. Treasured wool
It’s not surprising that the ‘Sheep Island’ is know for its wool. The Faroese have more than 300 official names for fleece patterns, and the sheep and their treasured wool come in white, black and red, a kind of rich brown. The wool’s high levels of lanolin, a grease/wax like substance produced by woolly animals, means it is ideal protection against the wind, which there is a lot of, and Faroese socks were even popular among Napoleonic soldiers.