This very popular site is a Kinder Egg for tourists, with its historical, cultural and geological importance.
Alþingi (“Althing” in English), the Icelandic Parliament, was established at Þingvellir in 930, and remained there until 1798. A National Park was founded here in 1930, marking the 1000th anniversary of the Alþingi. The park became a World Heritage Site in 2004.
I gave a brief history of Iceland in this post, where you see that Ingólfur Arnarson became the first permanent settler of Iceland. As the population grew, Ingólfur’s descendants dominated the south west regions of Iceland, and soon became the most powerful family on the island. Early on, district assemblies had been formed, but other chieftains felt a need for a general assembly to limit the power of Ingolfur’s descendants.
But why here? Well, as they were looking for a suitable place to host the general assembly, the owner of Bláskógar (the contemporary name for the Þingvellir region) was found guilty of murder, and his land was declared public. The Þingvellir area was then chosen as the spot for the General assembly, as the already existing buildings could be used as temporary dwellings, and the horses could graze in the forest. It was also accessible from the most populous regions in the other parts of the island. The longest journey a goði (chieftain) had to travel was 17 days, from the easternmost part of the island, struggling to get over mountains and glacial rivers.
With this first general assembly in the summer of 930, the Alþingi, the foundation of the Icelandic parliament, it is said the nation of Iceland was founded.
Every year for the two weeks duration of the Alþingi, people would flock to Þingvellir from all over the country. Merchants, sword sharpeners, and crafters would sell their goods and services. There were entertainment, there were ale-makers, news and gossip was shared, they participated in Playful games– all necessary ingredients in a good ol’ feast! The meet and greet at Alþingi, proved fruitful for farmhands seeking jobs, young people to meet and make their plans, and for stories to live on. Naturally this laid the foundation for the language and literature (remember the Sagas?) that have been a prominent part of the Icelandic people’s lives right up to present day. Also, the beauty of this place attracts many painters, sculptors and photographers.
Did you know that on Iceland, at Þingvellir, you can walk between the tectonic plates? It is totally awesome! Not sure what I am talking about? Wikipedia explains it beautifully:
“The lithosphere, which is the rigid outermost shell of a planet (the crust and upper mantle), is broken up into tectonic plates. The Earth’s lithosphere is composed of seven or eight major plates (depending on how they are defined) and many minor plates. Where the plates meet, their relative motion determines the type of boundary: convergent, divergent, or transform. Earthquakes, volcanic activity, mountain-building, and oceanic trench formation occur along these plate boundaries. The relative movement of the plates typically ranges from zero to 100 mm annually.”
Iceland is a product of continental drift, as the North American and Eurasian plates slide apart from each other at an average rate of 2,5 cm per year. As these slide apart, magma from the Earth’s mantle reaches the surface and erupts as lava and builds mountains. I remember very well the eruption at Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 and the effects the ashes had on the air traffick in Europe.
Here at Þingvellir, the continental drift makes clear cracks, faults and canyons – and as I said; you can go for a walk between the tectonic plates. You are, in fact walking between North America and Eurasia. It is so incredibly cool!
I have to say that Þingvellir is one of the most awesome places I have ever set foot; both because of its historic and cultural importance, but also that I got to walk between tectonic plates while pondering about Viking-life and their quests. I do not know if this makes me a nerd, or even insane (I have never been tested), but Þingvellir is on my top 5 list of awesomeness.
More adventures from Iceland is coming up, so please check back!