Thingvellir is nowadays a famous and well known touristic attraction in Iceland. Its convenient location, close to Reykjavik, makes it easier to reach. Any traveler that decides to take the demanded Golden Circle tours, go and check Thingvellir. But, what makes it interesting or worth visiting? Let’s find out the History behind Thingvellir National Park.
As the title states, Thingvellir is a National Park, so what we know for sure is nature is an important factor. Thingvellir is a plain in a rift valley just to the north of the largest lake in Iceland. The coolest thing about this natural wonder is you can walk between two worlds. In this open wide landscape is where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet. While walking through this valley, you can actually see the mid-Atlantic ridge.
We might not be able to notice it but Iceland is actually growing! Both tectonic plates are drifting apart about 2cm every year. So just imagine the power hidden underground keeps pulling both sides apart. If this does not sound impressive enough, then check out Silfra. It is a fissure located in Thingvellir National Park where you can actually dive in. You would be literally swimming between two continents. Here, the water is one of the clearest in the world. Scuba Diving in Silfra and snorkeling tours here are indeed a spectacular activity.
If you thought this was all we can tell about Thingvellir National Park, then you are wrong. This place a box full of surprises. Besides being a geological pearl, it is the heart of Iceland’s political history. This area is where the Icelandic Alþing gathered.
The Alþing is Iceland’s national parliament. The place where powerful people meet to discuss about laws, regulations and conduct court cases. This parliament’s meeting started to take place at about 930 AD, making it one of the longest running parliaments in the world. The Alþing that currently exists in Iceland is actually derived from the same exact organization.
Almost one thousand years ago, politicians and powerful people of the nation would travel there, listen carefully to the people’s need, study and check the laws. Celebrations, weddings and other kind of meetings would also take place here.
Thanks to the Landnámabók (book of the settlement), written in the XII Century, we know how Viking seafarers from Norway tried to make their way to Scotland or the Faroe Islands. Because of the winds and currents, they actually ended up in Iceland. After the first colonies settled, we had several groups of people from different backgrounds. Most of them from different areas of Scandinavia. It came a point where these groups would meet and socialize with each other. Sometimes, this would cause trouble and disagreements. They would disagree on possessions of land, of fishing turns or area. Back then, there were not an official channel to complain or regulate the daily life.
The History Behind Thingvellir National Park
That is when local leaders decided to create what we can call small assemblies called þing (thing). People would come and gather to listen to their chieftain and debate about norms, regulations, complaint about a murder, if something was stolen of thought unfair. This system ended up being centralized for the whole country. And that is pretty much how the alþing as created.
Þingvellir (Thingvellir) means nothing but “The assembly plain” because of this part of Iceland’s story. So now when you visit Thingvellir National Park, just remember this. You will be basically at the heart of one of the World’s oldest parliament.