What is Thingvellir? (with picture)

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

Thingvellir is a historic valley in Iceland. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 2004. The valley is the site at which Iceland’s first parliament was convened, and the site at which independence was declared.

The Althing was the parliament of Iceland, and is among the oldest parliaments in the world, along with the Manx Tynwald and the Faroese Logting. The word Althing means simply All Thing, reflecting its importance as an embodiment of all of Iceland.

The flag of Iceland, where Thingvellir is.
The flag of Iceland, where Thingvellir is.

The Althing was first convened in the year 930 at Thingvellir. This assembly at Thingvellir represents the founding of Iceland as a Commonwealth, and it would continued unbroken until its union with Norway. Even during the time of union, Thingvellir remained the site of the Althing’s meetings, until the end of the 18th century, when it was discontinued. It reconvened in the mid-19th century, although it moved from Thingvellir to the capital of Reykjavik, and has been held there ever since.

A number of historic events occurred at Thingvellir. One of the most influential in Icelandic history was a convening of the Althing in the year 1000. At this meeting, Thorgeir Ljosvetningagodi declared Christianity to be the official religion of all of Iceland. Upon leaving Thingvellir, he tore down statues of Norse gods throughout the nation, and cast them into the so-called Waterfall of the Gods, Godafoss.

The convening of the Althing at Thingvellir was a popular event. All of the various lords of Iceland would come together to decide new laws, discuss matters of the realm, and pass down judgment. The public was also invited to attend, and the meeting at Thingvellir became a popular sort of fair, attracting people from all over the country to revel and hear their leaders speak.

Visitors to Thingvellir can also see the Drekkingarhylur, or Drowning Pool, which is near the site. At the convening of the Althing, the Lawspeaker would read the laws of the land to all who attended, and would mete out justice to lawbreakers. Women who were guilty of a capital crime were drowned in the Drekkingarhylur.

A visit to Thingvellir is a must for anyone visiting Iceland. It is a place of astounding natural beauty, as a result of two large plates meeting and forming an immense plain, and one would be hard pressed to find a site with more historic weight. Standing in that plain, one can easily imagine the world’s first truly modern parliament meeting more than a thousand years ago, coming together as a commonwealth to work for the common good.

Well within distance for a day trip to Thingvellir are a number of other remarkable Icelandic sites worth a visit. Skalholt Church, the eponymous hot springs of Geyser, and crater at Kevid, and the awe-inspiring waterfalls of Gullfoss.

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    • The flag of Iceland, where Thingvellir is.
      The flag of Iceland, where Thingvellir is.