Thingvellir: Site of Iceland’s first democratic assemblies
Thingvellir in Iceland is a unique national park that not only offers the visitor landscapes of great natural beauty, but also embodies the very core of Iceland’s social, political, and religious history. Thingvellir is one of the oldest parliamentary institutions in the world, and as such has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is here, on the shores of the largest lake in Iceland, that the general assembly, or Althing, first met in 930 to act as a forum for the Icelandic people. The assembly, comprising chieftains and their advisers, would sit for two weeks a year in the open air of the countryside in order to settle disputes, debate issues, and establish laws.
The Althing meetings took place at Lotborg (the law rock), and it was from this site that the law speaker proclaimed the laws of the commonwealth. The meetings at the law rock were also used to report news on significant matters, to inaugurate and dissolve the council, and to confirm rulings and laws. The importance of the law rock swiftly disappeared in 1262 when Iceland swore allegiance to its neighbor, Norway. For this reason, the precise location of the rock is uncertain. It is hoped that with further archeological research and resources this mystery may finally be solved.
In addition to being a political monument of great historical interest, the site at Thingvellir is also a place of geological interest. It is part of a fissure zone that runs through Iceland, which is set on the tectonic plate boundaries of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The resulting faults and fissures of the area are evident. Fractures the size of canyons traverse the region, and some contain exceptionally clear water. Legend has it that if you drop a coin and watch it fall to the bottom of one of these clefts—Peningagja (Penny Canyon)— then your dream will come true. This national park is a magical place indeed.