Scotland image
site sponsors site searchview new listingsmake a submissionupdate your email address

Orkney Isles - The Curious Development of the Orkney Isles


The Orkney Islands is an archipelago located somewhat around 16 kilometers (10 miles approximately) off the shore to the north of Scotland. It is also known simply as Orkney (from the Gaelic: Arcaibh). The archipelago is comprised of around 70 islands of which just a little over 25% of them are populated (20 islands). They extend for about 50 miles in length and a little less than 30 miles in width.

To its eastern side, the archipelago faces the Northern Sea, which separates it from the other renowned archipelago of Scotland; the Shetland Isles

Also, as is the case with the other known archipelago of Scotland, the largest populated island of the whole group is known as the Mainland. The Mainland measures around 523.25 square kilometers (202.03 sq mi), which makes it one of the largest island not only of the Scottish territory, but of the whole British Island territory. Its main town and administrative centre of the archipelago is the town of Kirkwall.

Short History

Many excavations performed in the area, date the origins of civilization on the islands as far back as six thousand years BC. This is a clear sign of the presence of Mesolithic nomadic tribes at the time. Besides these discoveries, there is evidence that confirms that many civilizations lived in this area throughout the centuries. Proofs of this are the ruins of the broch towers, which shows not only that there were settlements at the time, but that they were organized and structured.

Even though far from land and all the violence and trouble that it encompassed especially during the war periods, the Orkney Isles fell victim of another kind of aggressive behavior: Invasion and colonization.

A fact that radically changed the culture of the isles as well was their “forced” Christianization around the year 1000 AD. This happened when the inhabitants of the area were threatened to death if they didn’t immediately fully embrace the Christian faith.

And so it was that for around six hundred years (from 876 AD to 1472), the Orkney Isles were under the dominion of Norway, which occupied the entire northern Scotland region during the Roman invasion era. A curious fact worth mentioning is that the islands remained under Norwegian domination until the marriage of James III of Scotland and Princess Margaret of Norway. At this time, the father of the bride, Kristian I, was unable to afford her dowry, so he gave back to Scotland the sovereignty of not one but both archipelagos previously under Norwegian control: The Orkney Isles and the Shetland Isles.

Nowadays, after a small, yet important participation on both World Wars, the Orkney Isles have suffered the constant problem of ever decreasing population, going from 26,000 people by mid 19th century, to just 17,000 a hundred years later. However, the last century saw the isles recover their former prosperity somewhat, which is mainly due to their unique social organization as a classless society.