I am quite sure that any person that wishes to visit Iceland have heard about Thingvellir National Park at least once in their lifetime. It is impossible not to know about one of the most popular touristic destinations in Iceland! Strangely enough, most people think it only offers a marvelous landscape. What most of them do not know is this National Park is a very important point for Iceland’s and the world’s democracy. Let’s find out why.

Visitor taking a photo to the landscape of Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir National Park – Where is it Located and what is it?

Well, let’s start at the very beginning. Thingvellir is about 45km away from Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. It will take around half an hour or 45 minutes to get there by car. That, of course, depends on climate and road conditions.

The Valley of Thingvellir is the result of the tectonic plates emerging from the ocean. This hilly, mountainous area is the visible part of the Mid- Atlantic ridge, which is the boundary between the North American and The Eurasian tectonic plates. The whimsical forms we can see in this valley reminds us of the strength and power of a planet that is alive and constantly changing. The feeling you get when you visit Thingvellir is humbling. How little we are compared to the forces of nature! The plain has mountains around it that reach 1000 meters’ high (3280 ft.). So if you have plenty of time, hiking this geologic wonder of Iceland can be a fabulous experience.

Thingvellir National Park – The history behind this geological area.

In case rugged, wide and wild landscapes are not enough to make you come and visit the area, wait and read.

There is a historical aspect to this place that is of great relevance for the world’s democracy history. In the western part of the park, you will find the “Lögberg” or the “Rock of the Law.” That is the exact area where the Icelandic parliament met for centuries. And for those who do not know this important fact, the Icelandic parliament is the world’s oldest parliament!

The origin of the Icelandic parliament is written in the pages of the Landnámabók, the book of the settlements. It is a medieval book that describes the settlement of Iceland by the Vikings in the 9-10th centuries.

Flag of Iceland waiving at the point where the parliament was set in Thingvellir National Park

These were hard times, Iceland did not have a mild climate and an easy soil to work on. People were coming from Norway, Scotland and Ireland, so having a place where everybody’s opinion could be shared, was crucial. The main chieftains and the powerful people of the island then created this assembly called Alþingi.

The Alþingi was established in 930 AD, here men decided on legislation, justice and debated on daily life issues. Any free man could attend these assemblies and any legal dispute of any settler was solved in this Icelandic commonwealth. Since its establishment, the Alþingi had had an assembly every year except in 1800, when another court tried to take over the Alþingi’s functions in Reykjavik.

Thingvellir National Park – Current Status

The Althingi or Icelandic parliament is no longer in Thingvellir National Park; it was moved to Reykjavik, the capital city. But you can still visit the park and the exact meeting point of the political power of Iceland for centuries.

Hike between tectonic plates at Thingvellir National Parkl

Iceland’s Thingvellir National Park: The Story Behind This Valley

As you can see, this area holds an outstanding universal value. Thingvellir means “Parliament plains.” So now when you come and visit this place, you will be aware of how important this site is both in geographical and political terms. Some good old democracy from Iceland, to the world!

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