For millions of years the Faroe Islands stood alone in the heart of the North Atlantic Ocean. The first settlers may have been Irish monks, probably in the middle of the 7th century, seeking a tranquil refuge in these remote islands.
What is better known and well documented, is the Norwegian colonization, beginning about a hundred years later and developing throughout the Viking Age, making the Faroe Islands a central part of the Viking settlements along the coasts of the North Atlantic Ocean and the Irish Sea. The Viking settlers established their own parliament with local things in different parts of the islands and the main thing on Tinganes in Tórshavn. Christianity was proclaimed here about the year 1000.
Shortly after, the islands came under control of the Norwegian kings, one of whom being the famous King Sverre, who was brought up at the Faroese bishop’s seat at Kirkjubøur. Later the Norwegian crown came under the Danish monarchy, and with the Reformation, the independent Faroese bishopric was abolished and its properties taken over by the Crown.
During the Middle Ages, the Faroe Islands were greatly influenced by the North Sea countries, especially through the Hanseatic merchants in Bergen. With the Reformation the Danish king increased his control of the trade and established a trade monopoly, operated by different merchants and companies, but from 1709 taken over by the king himself through the Royal Trade Monopoly.
The islands were now governed directly from Copenhagen. Danish officials arrived to oversee the trade and protect it from competing merchants and the bands of pirates who for centuries had plagued the islands. Fort Skansin, overlooking Tórshavn harbour, is the remnant of the historic fortification, but if you today scan the horizon from there, you will probably only spot peaceful fishing boats, or perhaps the graceful curves of an international cruise liner.
In 1856, the Royal Danish Monopoly ended and soon enterprising Faroese businessmen were exploring new connections with the outside world. In 1872, an old English sailing smack, named the Fox, was purchased for deep sea fishing far from the Faroese shore. The Faroe Islanders quickly earned the reputation of being among the best sailors and fishermen in the world. The fishing industry grew until it became the main source of income for the islands. At the beginning of the 21st century, the Faroe Islands are vigorously engaged in exploring the potential for oil production in the waters around the islands.
Yet vestiges of the ancient history are evident wherever you go in the Faroe Islands and blend with the modern. You can stroll about on Tinganes, now the home of the national government established according to the Home Rule constitution adopted in 1948. And there, in his office in one of the former Royal Trade Monopoly storehouses, Løgmaður, the Prime Minister, may lift his eyes up from his computer and look out of the window to measure the passage of a thousand years carved into the stones at the tip of the peninsula.