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Þingvellir National Park - The heart of Iceland

Þingvellir is the heart of Iceland for many reasons. But the most important one is that Þingvellir was the place of one of the first parliaments in Europe. 

The Alþing general assembly was established around 930, and Icelanders discussed all the significant events in Iceland’s history at Þingvellir until 1798. 

Þingvellir is nowadays a national park, and according to the Icelandic law established in 1928, the entire area must always be the property of the Icelandic nation to preserve the Alþing. 

Photo by Alex He

The first settlement in Iceland is also related to Þingvellir. Around 800 AD, the Viking period started in Iceland when, after internal disputes in Norway, people there decided to take their belongings and travel over the sea to Iceland. 

Starting with the arrival of Ingólfur Arnarson in Iceland in 874, the next 56 years after this moment were considered ‘The settlement period” of Iceland.

In Íslendingabók, Ingólfur Arnarson reached the Icelandic mainland for the first time in Reykjavik in 870 AD, and many others followed him.

Different groups with different beliefs formed the people that lived in the new land. Those differences and the limited natural resources people found in the new country led to violence between people. Once the population increased in Iceland, there was a need for laws. 

After the settlements were established, the first two district assemblies were formed, one in Þórsnes, near Stykkishólmur, and the other in Kjalarnes. Later, many other congregations were installed across the country.

With all those district assemblies, the power in Iceland was in the hands of the descendants of Ingólfur, who settled in Reykjavik. This created the need for one general assembly with representatives from all the district assemblies across the country. 

At the beginning of 830 AD, chieftains in Iceland they are agreed to send someone back to Norway to learn the laws and how people are organised there and bring those laws and customs to Iceland.

The man sent to Norway for this was Úlfljótur, and the first law made by the Alþing has his name – Úlfljót’s Law. After returning from Norway, his foster brother, Grímur geitskór, travelled around Iceland to the other assemblies to find support and a good place for forming a general assembly of Iceland. 

They decided on the first meeting of the Alþing at Bláskógar, now the place where is Þingvellir. This first meeting of the Alþing has marked the beginning of the Icelandic nation.

The land where Þingvellir was owned at that time by Þórir Kroppinskeggur. But because he had murdered a servant, he was punished, and all his land was given to the newly formed Alþing.  

Photo by Gunnar Sigurðarson

The relief of the area at Þingvellir was perfect for organising the meetings of the Alþing, and people decided to reunite there to discuss the nation’s problems. 

They did not have only one person to make all the decisions, but they all agreed on what they discussed there; everything was democratic. 

Þingvellir translates as ‘the fields of parliament’, and all the significant events in the history of Iceland were discussed and decided there. They even agreed on transitioning from the Asatru, the Old Norse pagan belief system, to Christianity in 1000 AD when the Norwegian invasion threatened them. 

In 1944 AD, at Þingvellir, the Alþing declared the independence of the Icelandic nation from Denmark and, at the same time, confirmed their first President. 

The Alþing still exists today but was relocated to Reykjavik after the Danish colonialism. The Alþing constantly functioned even through the Icelandic Civil War, and the only period when the Alþing stopped the meetings was during the Danish colonialism between 1799 and 1844. The Icelandic Parliament is the longest-running parliament in the world that still exists. 

You can find a more detailed history of Þingvellir and the first parliament in Iceland on the official website of the Þingvellir National Park

Photo by Danny Jongerius

The site’s history at Þingvellir contributed to the decision to make the area a National Park in 1930, precisely a millennium after the first meeting of the Alþingi. In 2004, Þingvellir National Park became a part of the UNESCO World Heritage. 

Þingvellir National Park is not only an important place historically speaking, but its geology is also unique worldwide. Þingvellir is located on the Mid-Atlantic Rift, the only place where the Rift is above the water level.

The Rift between the American and Eurasian plates is visible at Þingvellir. You can walk in the rift valley and see the walls of the tectonic plates. 

The tectonic plates are moving at 2,5 cm a year, visible within the park. Þingvellir is a volcanic area that is currently inactive, but there is a chance for some eruptions to happen. Many earthquakes are happening every day, more or less intense.

Photo by Freysteinn G Jonsson

Its significance and location within only a 45-minute drive from Reykjavik make Þingvellir National Park the most visited place in Iceland. It is also the most important landmark on the famous Golden Circle route. 

The site’s uniqueness at Þingvellir National Park amazed the Game of Thrones production team, and they filmed some scenes for season 5 of the famous series.

The National Park can be seen as the narrow path leading to the Eyrie when Littlefinger and Sansa Stark arrive at the Eyrie and when Catelyn Stark comes at her sister.

Another thing Þingvellir National Park is famous for worldwide is that there is a place where you can go snorkelling between the tectonic plates. Silfra is that place, and it is unique. To go diving there, you have to meet some requirements.

Read more about this on our blog about Snorkelling at Silfra

There is also a lake at Þingvellir National Park called Þingvellirvatn, and people can enjoy the fauna around it. From the lake, people can fish trout, and around the lake, many birds can be spotted, such as many species of duck, golden plovers and snipes.

Arctic Foxes and Minks are also in the National Park, so wildlife enthusiasts will have many things to see there.

Photo by Einar Jónsson

Þingvellir National Park is essential for the Icelandic community, so respecting the environment there is very important for them. If you plan to visit Þingvellir, please remember that the flora and fauna there are very sensitive.

Do not step on the moss; the moss covering the rocks is very sensitive and takes years to recover. The paths within Þingvellir National Park are marked, and it is recommended to follow them.

Icelanders are very protective of nature in their country, and it is a sign of respect to do the same once you are in Iceland. 

Visit Þingvellir National Park on a Golden Circle Tour and share with us your experience. 

Photo by Tucker Monticelli
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