Iceland: Þingvellir

July 7, 2012

From Geysir and Gulfoss we headed southwest toward Þingvellir National Park.  There was ample dramatic and beautiful scenery along the way.

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Lake Þingvallavatn is quiet, brooding, and beautiful in the gloom and mist.

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Þingvellir National Park is extremely important in Iceland for both natural and historical reasons, and it is one of the most visited tourist destinations.  It is a place of exceptional beauty and unique geological interest, lying on a fissure zone where tectonic plates meet on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.  And Lake Þingvallavatn is recognized for its globally unique ecosystem that is a result of the surrounding lava-covered watershed.

But the history of this place is a little bit mind boggling.

Þingvellir means “Parliamentary plains”. In the year 930 (or thereabouts), the AlÞing (general assembly) was founded at Þingvellir. It has since moved to the capital Reykjavik, but it still exists.  This is the oldest parliamentary system still in existence in the world.  It is now 1082 years old.

We walked up to the site of the original AlÞing.

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Lava!

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Here is where the general assembly convened every year between 930 and 1798, when it was discontinued and then resumed 45 years later in Reykjavik.  The central area with the Icelandic flag flying is the Lögberg (Law Rock), where the Law Speaker proclaimed the laws of the commonwealth aloud for all to hear, and anyone could approach and give speeches about important matters.  With the high wall of the fault line behind it, and the flat plain spread out in front, it is a convenient natural theater of sorts and is still used for important events.

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Just across the plain, on the other side of the river Öxará, is a little church and a few buildings next to it.  The church dates to 1859, although there was a Christian presence on the site since the year 1000, when on this spot, a pagan law speaker advised Icelanders to outwardly adopt Christianity, even if they secretly still kept to pagan beliefs and traditions.  That was the year Christianity began to take hold.  In the year 2000, there was a large celebration at  Þingvellir commemorating the millennium of Christianity in Iceland.

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Remarkably, there was a wedding being celebrated when we came upon the church, and the remarkable thing was that it seemed to be a bunch of Americans!  We only heard American English being spoken….no Icelandic.  Strange?!?

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We continued our loop through the park, past some of the riverside, with families of ducks here and there, and made it back to our car just as small feet were too tired to go any farther.

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We passed lots of huge 4×4 vehicles on our way out of the park.

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And had even more majestic scenery to enjoy on the drive back to Selfoss.

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