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History and Culture

Photo: Lavur Fredriksen/

There are several accounts of who the first settlers on the Faroe Islands were, but generally the initial colonization is attributed to Irish monks and an abbot named St. Brendon in 565 AD. According to legend, the monks set sail from Scotland and following several days of sailing they discovered an archipelago which they referred to as “The Islands of the Sheep and the Paradise of Birds".

The Faroese trace their ancestry to Norse farmers who fled Norway during the 9th century and settled on the islands while searching for new beginnings.

Adhering to the Viking traditions the constitutional basis for the Faroe Islands was based on the principle that all free men could participate in the Althing. The Althing (later renamed the Føroya Løgting) was a legislative outdoor assembly held in the capital of Tórshavn.

For several hundred years the Faroe Islands were under the Norwegian sovereignty but when Norway was accessioned to Sweden the Faroe Islands came under the sovereignty of the Danish Monarch in 1814.

Despite having been under foreign sovereignty, the Faroe Islands have managed to preserve their cultural heritage and language. In 1850 the Faroese were granted two seats in Danish Parliament.

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The Nordic origins are evident in the Faroese culture. It is distinctively apparent in the Faroese language which derives from ancient Norse. Although the Danish King outlawed Faroese orthography in schools, churches and official documents during the 15th century, the archipelago managed to maintain an extensive oral tradition, rich in verbally transmitted stories and poems.

Traditionally set to customary vocal music, the stories are generally divided in to three categories: sagnir (historical), ævintyr (stories) and kvæði (ballads) and were eventually written down during the 19th century.

Particularly in the rural areas of the Faroe Islands the inhabitants have maintained their cultural heritage. A cultural tradition still practiced is the chain dance, typically accompanied by ballads – the kvæði. Due to the isolated nature of the Faroe Islands, the Faroese chain dance is the only European version of the dance which has survived, as the church banned it due to its pagan origin.

The dance, typically danced in a circle, reflects the events portrayed in the ballads.

To learn more about the culture of the Faroe Islands, visit: