Thingvellir National Park is a cultural landscape representing mediaeval Norse/Germanic culture.
It lies in the the southwest of Iceland near the peninsula of Reykjanes and the Hengill volcanic area.
The valley is one of the most important places in Icelandic history. In the year 930, the Althing, one of the oldest parliamentary institutions of the world, was founded. The Althing met yearly, where the Lawspeaker recited the law to all of the gathered people and decided disputes as well. Criminals were also punished at these assemblies; to this day, visitors can see the Drekkingarhylur ("drowning pool") in the river, where woman lawbreakers were drowned.
Map of ThingvellirLoad map
Thingvellir National Park has to be one of the most geologically fascinating sites I have visited, sitting atop the rift between the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates. It isn't the geology on its own which got this park inscribed as a World Heritage Site, though it provides a stunning backdrop, particularly in winter as the black basalt cliffs stand in stark contrast to the snowy plains. But the geology is what made this an ideal site for the founding of the Althing, the oldest parliament in the world, which met at Thingvellir annually. At the base of the cliff formed by the edge of the North American plate is a rock outcropping the Icelandic people call the Lögberg, or Law Rock, which is now marked by an Icelandic flag. Here, the legislature would meet, and the law would be read to the people gathered on the plains below. The assembly was open to all free men, who would bring their families and camp on the fields of the rift valley in what must have been an incredible social gathering. The Althing no longer meets at Thingvellir, having moved to the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik almost 175 years ago. Still, Thingvellir National Park is a stunning site to see, and, after having visited the site this past January, I would love to return to see it in summer.
Logistics: Thingvellir National Park can be reached by numerous tours operating out of Reykjavik or by private transporation; there are numerous trails on site, as well as parking lots above and below the Althing site.
This was a really interesting and rewarding place to visit and as Paul Tanner states is an essential part of any trip to Iceland. We visited on a beautiful late September day when the bright autumnal colours were staring to show, and it made this a great experience.
Though somewhat intangible the relationship between the natural and cultural aspects of the site are very noticeable. The rift between the Eurasian and North American plates provide a large plain, ideal for the purpose of annual meetings whilst the banks of the plates themselves provide a great point from which to survey the whole area. The relationship between natural and cultural factors is something very noticeable in Icelandic history and culture, but this is one place where it is very evident.
The importance of the site historically is very important being the site of the world’s oldest Parliament, this being essentially the first political institution of the European ‘New World’. In terms of remains there is not much to see, just outlines from the walls of Buð small temporary booths used as houses when the Alþing was in session. There is a also a small church.
The drive out from Reykjavik is very nice, being well sign posted, and with some great scenery in the distance. The mountains and glaciers tantalise with glimpses of the more rugged natural delights that Iceland’s interior and North West Coast hold in store.
On the same day we also visited the spouting hot springs at Geyser, the Kevið crater, Skalholt Church, Sigur Rós’ recording studio at Álafoss, and the magnificent waterfalls of Gullfoss (perhaps my highlight of my all too brief view of Iceland). These can mostly all be viewed on the ‘Golden Circle’ tours running from Reykjavik, though it worked out better for us to hire a car. This also enabled us to round of the day watching the sunset over Reykjavik from the hot-pots of the Árbæjarlaug swimming pools, the perfect way to round off one of the best days of travelling I have ever had.
A trip out to Thingvellir is an essential part of any trip to Icelend - as well as providing an opportunity to see some Icelandic scenery (albeit a long way from the wildest!) you will reach a place which interesting both for its
a. Geology – this split in the rocks in the photo is the Mid Atlantic Ridge which runs across Iceland as it spreads at around 2 metres per century (Near Myvatn in the north there is a rather nice piece of evidence of this as a water pipe has been parted as it crosses the gap!)"Interesting" as this scenery might be however it is worth noting that it is NOT relelvant to the inscripion of this site which is inscribed on PURELY cultural grounds as a "Cultural Landscape"!
b. History – the site of what claims to be the oldest parliament in the world (starting in 930). The Icelanders gathered here once a year and the Speaker of the Parliament would stand atop the Logberg, or Law Rock, to read the law to the members in the valley below to the left. These are the aspects which Iceland and UNESCO (via ICOMOS) consider make this location a place of universal value!
If you haven’t got your own transport there are daily trips taking in Geyser as well.
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