Þingvellir (Icelandic: [ˈθiŋkˌvɛtlɪr̥] (listen)), anglicised as Thingvellir,[Note 1] is a national park in the municipality of Bláskógabyggð in southwestern Iceland, about 40 km northeast of Iceland's capital, Reykjavík. Þingvellir is a site of historical, cultural, and geological significance, and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. The park lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. To its south lies Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland.
Þingvellir National Park (þjóðgarðurinn á Þingvöllum) was founded in 1930, marking the 1000th anniversary of the Althing. The park was later expanded to protect the diverse and natural phenomena in the surrounding area, and was designated as a World Heritage Site in 2004.
|Þingvellir National Park|
Þingvellir from the information centre overlook
|Area||9,270 ha (35.8 sq mi)|
|UNESCO World Heritage Site|
|Official name||Þingvellir National Park|
|Location||Southern Region, Iceland|
|Criteria||Cultural: (iii), (vi)|
|Inscription||2004 (28th Session)|
Location of Þingvellir in Iceland
The name Þingvellir is derived from the Old Norse Þingvǫllr, from þing (“thing, assembly”) and vǫllr (“field”), meaning assembly fields. Compare the English thing and weald (“Thingweald”) from Anglo-Saxon þing and weald. The site takes its name from Alþing (Althing), the national parliament of Iceland, which was founded at Þingvellir in 930 and held its sessions there until 1798. A thing was a form of governing assembly found in Germanic societies, and a tradition that endures to this day in one form or another across Northern Europe.
Although the name Þingvellir is plural, the older form Þingvǫllr is singular, and the modern singular form Þingvöllur can still be heard.
The name is most commonly anglicised as Thingvellir, and might appear as Tingvellir, Thingvalla or Tingvalla in other languages. The spelling Pingvellir is also seen, although the letter “p” does not correspond to the letter “þ” (thorn), which is pronounced [θ], like the th in thirst.
Þingvellir became a national park as a result of legislation passed in 1928 to protect the remains of the parliament site, thus creating the first national park in Iceland. The park was decreed "a protected national shrine for all Icelanders, the perpetual property of the Icelandic nation under the preservation of parliament, never to be sold or mortgaged."
According to the Book of Settlements (Landnámabók), the settlement of Iceland began in AD 874 when the Norwegian chieftain Ingólfr Arnarson became the first permanent Norwegian settler on the island. Over the next centuries, people of Norse and Celtic origin settled in Iceland. Early on, district assemblies were formed, but as the population grew, there was a need for a general assembly. The descendants of Ingólfur who dominated the region of southwest Iceland had become the most powerful family in the country, and other chieftains felt a need for a general assembly to limit their power.
Grímur Geitskör was allotted the role of rallying support and finding a suitable location for the assembly. At about the same time, the owner of Bláskógar (the contemporary name for the Þingvellir region) was found guilty of murder. His land was declared public, and then obligated to be used for assembly proceedings, and the building of temporary dwellings, and the forest to be used for kindling and the grazing of horses. The Þingvellir area was chosen for this reason and for its accessibility to the most populous regions of the north, south and west. The longest journey a goði (chieftain) had to travel was 17 days, from the easternmost part of the country where mountains and glacial rivers proved bothersome obstacles.
The foundation of the Icelandic parliament is said to be the founding of the nation of Iceland, and the first parliamentary proceedings in the summer of 930 laid the ground for a common cultural heritage and national identity. Þingvellir played a central role in the history of the country, and its history runs almost parallel with the history of the Icelandic Commonwealth.
The Alþingi (assembly) at Þingvellir was Iceland's supreme legislative and judicial authority from its establishment in 930 until 1271. The Lögberg or Law Rock was the focal point of the Alþingi and a natural platform for holding speeches. The Lawspeaker, elected for three years at a time, presided over the assembly and recited the law of the land. Before the law was written down, he was expected to recite it from memory on the Lögberg over the course of three summers along with the complete assembly procedures every summer. Inauguration and dissolution of the assembly took place at the Lögberg, where rulings made by the Law Council were announced, the calendar was confirmed, legal actions were brought and other announcements made which concerned the entire nation. Anyone attending the assembly was entitled to present his case on important issues from the Lögberg.
The Law Council served as both parliament and supreme court. Laws were passed and approved there, and rulings made on points of law. The Law Council appointed members of the Fifth Court (a kind of appellate court) and the Lawspeaker, and took part in the election of the bishop. Unlike the Alþingi, the Law Council was a closed body in which only certain people enjoyed full rights: chieftains who held the office of goði, their Þingmen and later also bishops. However, everyone at the assembly was entitled to watch and listen to the Law Council at work.
From the earliest times until the 15th century, the Law Council met at Neðri-Vellir on the east bank of Öxará, but when the river changed its course around 1500, the council was moved to an islet in the river. In 1594, the Law Council was relocated to the foot of the ancient Law Rock, where it remained until the Alþingi was finally transferred from it in 1798.
The Alþingi was Iceland's legislative and chief judicial authority for the duration of the Commonwealth, until 1271. Executive power was in the hands of the chieftains and parties to individual cases. This proved to be quite an adequate arrangement for as long as the balance of power remained, but flaws emerged when it was disrupted.
In the final decades of the Commonwealth, there were clashes between chieftain families, which resulted in Iceland coming under the Norwegian crown. Executive power was strengthened under this new order, while legislative and judicial authority at first remained in the hands of the Alþingi, but was gradually transferred to the Norwegian and later the Danish rulers, until in 1662, the King of Denmark became the absolute monarch of Iceland.
Þingvellir was the centre of Icelandic culture. Every year during the Commonwealth period, people would flock to Þingvellir from all over the country, sometimes numbering in the thousands.
They set up temporary dwellings (búð, pl. búðir) with walls of turf and rock and temporary roofing of homespun cloth, and stayed in them for the two weeks of the assembly. There were no permanent buildings on Þingvellir apart from a farm and, later, two churches.
Although the duties of the assembly were the main reason for going there, ordinary people gathered at Þingvellir for a wide variety of reasons. Merchants, sword-sharpeners, and tanners would sell their goods and services, entertainers performed, and ale-makers brewed drinks for the assembly guests. News was told from distant parts; games and feasts were held. Young people met to make their plans, no less than leading national figures and experts in law. Itinerant farmhands looked for work and vagrants begged. Þingvellir was a meeting place for everyone in Iceland, laying the foundation for the language and literature that have been a prominent part of people's lives right up to the present day.
During the 19th century, Þingvellir emerged as a nationalist symbol. According to Icelandic political scientist Birgir Hermannsson, "Thingvellir can be likened to a church or building which serves as a pilgrimage destination and as a site for the nation-state’s ritual ceremonies."
The continental drift between the North American and Eurasian Plates can be clearly seen in the cracks or faults which traverse the region, the largest one, Almannagjá, being a veritable canyon. This also causes the often measurable earthquakes in the area.
Some of the rifts are full of clear water. One, Nikulásargjá, was bridged for the occasion of the visit of King Frederick VIII of Denmark in 1907. On this occasion, visitors began to throw coins from the bridge into the fissure, a tradition based on European legends. The bottom has become littered with sparkling coins, and the rift is now better known as Peningagjá, or "coin fissure".
Þingvellir is situated on the northern shore of Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake of Iceland. The river Öxará traverses the national park and forms a waterfall at the Almannagjá, called Öxarárfoss. On the lake's northern shore the Silfra fissure is a popular diving and snorkelling tour location.
Þingvellir was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site based on cultural criteria. It may also qualify on geological criteria in the future, as there has been ongoing discussion of a possible "serial trans-boundary nomination" for the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which would include other sites in the Atlantic such as Pico Island.
Because of its natural environment, Þingvellir has been a subject in the works of a number of Icelandic painters, including Johannes Sveinsson Kjarval and Ásgrímur Jónsson. The National Gallery of Iceland owns more than 150 paintings by Ásgrímur Jónsson that have Þingvellir as their subject. Þingvellir grew popular among artists because not only for its natural environment, but also because it was close to the capital of Iceland, Reykjavík and thus relatively inexpensive to travel there.
Þingvellir National Park is popular with tourists, and is one of the three key attractions within the Golden Circle. There is a visitor centre, where visitors can obtain interpretation of the history and nature of Þingvellir. There is an information centre near the camping grounds. There are hiking trails. Scuba diving has also become popular at Silfra Lake as the continental drift between the tectonic plates made it wide enough for divers to enjoy unparalleled visibility.
The Alþingi (parliament (Icelandic) and anglicised as Althingi or Althing) is the national parliament of Iceland. It is the oldest surviving parliament in the world, a claim shared by Tynwald. The Althing was founded in 930 at Þingvellir ("thing fields"), situated approximately 45 kilometres (28 mi) east of what later became the country's capital, Reykjavík. Even after Iceland's union with Norway in 1262, the Althing still held its sessions at Þingvellir until 1800, when it was discontinued for 45 years. It was restored in 1844 and moved to Reykjavík, where it has resided ever since. The present parliament building, the Alþingishús, was built in 1881, made of hewn Icelandic stone.The unicameral parliament has 63 members, and is elected every four years based on party-list proportional representation.The constitution of Iceland provides for six electoral constituencies with the possibility of an increase to seven. The constituency boundaries and the number of seats allocated to each constituency are fixed by legislation. No constituency can be represented by fewer than six seats. Furthermore, each party with more than 5% of the national vote is allocated seats based on its proportion of the national vote in order that the number of members in parliament for each political party should be more or less proportional to its overall electoral support. If the number of voters represented by each member of Alþingi in one constituency would be less than half of the comparable ratio in another constituency, the Icelandic National Electoral Commission is tasked with altering the allocation of seats to reduce that difference.The current speaker of the Althing is Steingrímur J. Sigfússon.Bjarni Benediktsson (born 1908)
Bjarni Benediktsson (30 April 1908 – 10 July 1970) was Prime Minister of Iceland from 14 November 1963 to 10 July 1970. His father, Benedikt Sveinsson (1877–1954), was a leader in the independence movement in Iceland and a member of the Althingi from 1908 to 1931.
Bjarni studied constitutional law and became a professor at the University of Iceland at age 24. He was elected to the city council in Reykjavík in 1934 as a member of the Independence Party and from 1940 to 1947 was mayor of the city.
In 1947 he became Foreign Minister and served in various posts in cabinets until 1956. Bjarni was mainly responsible for Iceland joining NATO in 1949, against significant opposition, and for giving the United States Air Force a lease on Keflavík Airport near Reykjavík, which was of major strategic importance during the Cold War.Bjarni was caricatured by the Nobel prize winning writer Halldór Laxness in his 1948 play Atómstöðin (The Atom Station).In 1956, when the left-wing parties formed a coalition government, Bjarni, out of office, became editor of Morgunblaðið, a leading conservative newspaper.
In 1959, when the Independence Party formed a coalition government with the Social Democrats, Bjarni became Minister of Justice. Two years later he was elected chairman of the Independence Party and in 1963 he took over from Ólafur Thors as Prime Minister. He served in this position until his death, which was caused by a fire at a government summer house at Þingvellir; his wife and grandson also perished in the blaze.
Bjarni was the father of Björn Bjarnason and Valgerður Bjarnadóttir, as well as the father-in-law of Vilmundur Gylfason. Bjarni was the great-uncle of his namesake Bjarni Benediktsson, who became Prime Minister in January 2017.Bjarni Thorarensen
Bjarni Vigfússon Thorarensen (December 30, 1786 – August 24, 1841) was an Icelandic poet and official. He was deputy governor of northern and eastern Iceland. As a poet he was influenced by classicism and romanticism. Politically he was aligned with the Fjölnismenn and favored the reestablishment of the Althing at Þingvellir. He was a friend of Jónas Hallgrímsson whose own poetry was influenced by Bjarni's work.
Bjarni's best known work is Íslands minni, also known as Eldgamla Ísafold.Golden Circle (Iceland)
The Golden Circle (Icelandic: Gullni hringurinn) is a tourist route in southern Iceland, covering about 300 kilometres (190 mi) looping from Reykjavík into the southern uplands of Iceland and back. It is the area that contains most tours and travel-related activities in Iceland.The three primary stops on the route are the Þingvellir National Park, the Gullfoss waterfall, and the geothermal area in Haukadalur, which contains the geysers Geysir and Strokkur. Though Geysir has been mostly dormant for many years, Strokkur continues to erupt every 5–10 minutes. Other stops include the Kerið volcanic crater, the town of Hveragerði, Skálholt cathedral, and the Nesjavellir and Hellisheiðarvirkjun geothermal power plants.
The name Golden Circle is a marketing term for the route, derived from the name of Gullfoss, which means "golden waterfall" in Icelandic.Grímur Geitskör
Grímur Geitskör (Grímur Goatshoe or Goatbeard) was responsible for establishing the Icelandic parliament Althing in what is now called the Assembly Plains or Þingvellir. In around 927-930 he made tour of Iceland and searched for the most appropriate place for the parliament. The place he chose was Bláskógar (the former name of Þingvellir) on the eastern edge of Þorsteinn Ingólfsson's estate. The location with its elevated cliff (part of the Atlantic ridge) and beautiful lake was chosen not only for its position with respect to important settlements but also because its owner had been found guilty of murder and had his land declared public. Grímur was the foster or half brother of Úlfljótr.Hengill
Hengill (Icelandic, pronounced [hɛɪŋcɪtl̥]) volcano is situated in the southwest of Iceland, to the south of Þingvellir. The volcano covers an area of about 100 km².
The volcano is still active, evidenced by its numerous hot springs and fumaroles, but the last eruption occurred approximately 2,000 years ago.
The volcano is an important source of energy for the south of the country, which is captured at the Nesjavellir power station (near the western shore of the lake Þingvallavatn) and the Hellisheiði power station (approximately 11 km southwest of Nesjavellir). Both stations are operated by Orkuveita Reykjavíkur (Reykjavik Energy).
The area with its mountains and hot springs is well suited for hiking and there are a lot of hiking trails.
The small town of Hveragerði with its multitude of hot springs is also part of the Hengill area.
Some folk tales and sagas are connected to the region. For example, a young farmer is said to have killed the sleeping troll woman Jóra while she lay in wait for innocent wanderers or horsemen on the trail over Dyrafjöll.Kaldidalsvegur
The Kaldidalsvegur is the shortest of the highland tracks traversing the Highlands of Iceland, therefore the nickname "highlands for beginners". Its name derives from the valley it crosses: kaldidalur means "cold dale/valley". Sometimes the Kaldidalsvegur is referred to as simply "the Kaldidalur".
The route begins a bit to the north of Þingvellir and to the west of the volcano Skjaldbreiður, which really comes up to its name (meaning broad shield). The track continues between the glaciers Þórisjökull and Ok and leads up to the north. To the east of Reykholt it comes near the Reykholtsdalur to Húsafell. Then it continues up to Hvammstangi at the Miðfjörður.
Signed as route 550 (formerly F550), the track is 40 kilometers long, and has no unbridged river crossings. (The Kaldidalsvegur is not an F road, and a four-wheel-drive vehicle is not legally required to traverse it, however many car rental companies forbid the use of their two-wheel-drive vehicles on this interior route.)
The other well known highland routes are Kjölur and Sprengisandur.List of national parks of Iceland
Since 2008, Iceland has three national parks. Prior to 2008 there were four national parks in Iceland; in that year Jökulsárgljúfur and Skaftafell were merged and incorporated into Vatnajökull National Park.Vatnajökull National Park and Snæfellsjökull National Park are supervised by the Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources, Þingvellir National Park is supervised by the Ministry for the Prime Minister.Lögberg
Lögberg, or Law Rock, was a rocky outcrop in south west Iceland, at the location for the assembly of the country's Althing parliament. The original Althing was gathered at Þingvellir, an area of dramatic landscapes which was easily accessible from the populated areas of the south west.
The exact location of the Lögberg is unknown, because of the changing geography of the rift valley over 1000 years. Two possible locations have been identified in Þingvellir, one a flat ledge at the top of a slope named Hallurinn (currently marked by a flagpole), the other in the Almannagjá fault against a rock wall. A site in the Hestagjá ravine has been put forward as ideal.The Lögberg was the place on which the Lawspeaker (lögsögumaður) took his seat as the presiding official of the assembly of the Althing. Speeches and announcements were made from the spot. Anyone attending could make their argument from the Lögberg. The gatherings were also convened and dissolved from it.The Lögberg performed its purpose from the formation of the parliament in 930. It ceased to be used in 1262, when Iceland took allegiance to Norway.Settlement of Iceland
The settlement of Iceland (Icelandic: landnámsöld) is generally believed to have begun in the second half of the ninth century, when Norse settlers migrated across the North Atlantic. The reasons for the migration are uncertain: later in the Middle Ages Icelanders themselves tended to cite civil strife brought about by the ambitions of the Norwegian king Harald I of Norway, but modern historians focus on deeper factors, such as a shortage of arable land in Scandinavia. Unlike Britain and Ireland, Iceland was unsettled land and could be claimed without conflict with existing inhabitants.
On the basis of Íslendingabók by Ari Þorgilsson, and Landnámabók, histories dating from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and providing a wealth of detail about the settlement, the years 870 and 874 have traditionally been considered the first years of settlement. However, these sources are largely unreliable in the details they provide about the settlement, and recent research focuses more heavily on archaeological and genetic evidence.Traditionally, the Icelandic Age of Settlement is considered to have lasted from 874 to 930, at which point most of the island had been claimed and Alþingi (Althingi), the assembly of the Icelandic Commonwealth, was founded at Þingvellir (Thingvellir).Silfra
Silfra is a rift formed in the divergent tectonic boundary between the North American and Eurasian plates and is located in the Þingvallavatn Lake in the Þingvellir National Park in Iceland.Skjaldbreiður
Skjaldbreiður, meaning the broad shield in Icelandic, is an Icelandic lava shield formed in one huge and protracted eruption roughly 9,000 years ago. The extensive lava fields which were produced by this eruption, flowed southwards, and formed the basin of Þingvallavatn, Iceland's largest lake, and Þingvellir, the "Parliament Plains" where the Icelandic national assembly, the Alþing was founded in 930.
The volcano summit is at 1,060 metres, and its crater measures roughly 300 metres in diameter.
Straddling the Mid-Atlantic ridge, the lava fields from Skjaldbreiður have been torn and twisted over the millennia, forming a multitude of fissures and rifts inside the Þingvellir National Park, the best known of which are Silfra, Almannagjá, Hrafnagjá and Flosagjá.Thing (assembly)
A thing was the governing assembly of an early Germanic society, made up of the free people of the community presided over by lawspeakers. The word appears in Old Norse, Old English, and modern Icelandic as þing, in Middle English (as in modern English), Old Saxon, Old Dutch, and Old Frisian as thing, in German as Ding, and in modern Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Faroese, Gutnish, and Norn as ting, all from a reconstructed Proto-Germanic neuter *þingą; the word is the same as the more common English word thing, both having at their heart the basic meaning of "an assemblage, a coming together of parts"—in the one case, an "assembly" or "meeting", in the other, an "entity", "object", or "thing". The meeting-place of a thing was called a "thingstead" (Old English þingstede) or "thingstow" (Old English þingstōw).
The Anglo-Saxon folkmoot (Old English folcgemōt, "folk meeting"; Middle English folkesmōt; modern Norwegian folkemøte) was analogous, the forerunner to the witenagemōt and a precursor of the modern Parliament of the United Kingdom.
Today the term lives on in the English term hustings, in the official names of national legislatures and political and judicial institutions of Nordic countries and, in the Manx form tyn, as a term for the three legislative bodies on the Isle of Man.Tinganes
Tinganes is the historic location of the Faroese landsstýri (government), and is a part of Tórshavn. The name means "parliament jetty" or "parliament point" in Faroese.
The parliament met there for the first time in the Viking ages when Norwegian colonists placed their Ting (parliament) on the location in 825. It is one of the oldest parliamentary meeting places in the world, along with Tynwald hill in the Isle of Man and Þingvellir in Iceland. The Løgting has since moved to the north of the city, but the home-rule government still sits here.
The building on the outermost point on the small peninsula Skansapakkhusið, currently the government's main building. The small main street on the peninsula is called Gongin and is home to the oldest parts of the city. Many of the houses on Tinganes were built in the 16th and 17th centuries and are still in use today.
The peninsula divides the Tórshavn harbour in two parts, Eystaravág and Vesteravág.Young Independents
Young Independents (Icelandic: Ungir sjálfstæðismenn), abbreviated to SUS, is the youth wing of the Independence Party of Iceland.
Young Independents was founded at Þingvellir on 27 June 1930: the year after the Independence Party itself. Its current chairman is Ingvar Smári Birgisson, who was elected on 10 September 2017.
It is conservative, like its mother party, but often expresses more classical liberal views. The party can conduct its own policy and campaigns. In 2011, it criticised capital controls, subsidies to the Symphony Orchestra, and the application for EU membership. In February 2011, it ran an advert in Morgunblaðið that urged Independence Party MPs to vote against the government paying foreign liabilities accrued by Icesave. SUS put forward an alternative budget in 2010, and criticised Independence Party MPs for following convention by not voting against the government's budget.Its largest branch is its Reykjavík branch, Heimdallur.Öxará
Öxará (Icelandic: axe river) is a lake-to-lake river in Iceland in Þingvellir National Park, a tributary of Lake Þingvallavatn. It descends to the rift forming Öxarárfoss, a waterfall.Öxarárfoss
Öxarárfoss is a waterfall in Þingvellir National Park, Iceland. It flows from the river Öxará over the Almannagjá. The pool at the base of the waterfall is filled with rocks and is often extremely icy during winter.
The waterfall is one of the main attractions of Þingvellir National Park and there is a path from the nearby car park leading up to it.Þingvallavatn
Þingvallavatn, anglicised as Thingvallavatn, is a rift valley lake in southwestern Iceland. With a surface of 84 km² it is the largest natural lake in Iceland. Its greatest depth is 114 m. At the northern shore of the lake, at Þingvellir (after which the lake is named), the Alþingi, the national parliament, was founded in the year 930, and held its sessions there until 1799 and still as of today the name Alþingi Íslendinga is carried by the parliament of Iceland.
The lake lies partially within Þingvellir National Park. The volcanic origin of the islands in the lake is clearly visible. The cracks and faults around it, of which the Almannagjá ravine is the largest, is where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet. Silfra fissure is a popular scuba and snorkeling site. The only outflow from lake Þingvallavatn is the river Sog.
One of the noted features of the lake is the presence of four morphs of the Arctic charr.Þórarinn B. Þorláksson
Þórarinn Benedikt Þorláksson (February 14, 1867 – July 10, 1924) was one of Iceland's first contemporary painters, the first Icelander to exhibit paintings in Iceland, and recipient of the first public grant that country made to a painter.