As history admirer and a person with high interest in visiting remarkable historic sites, to me visiting Þingvellir National Park turned out to be a chance to “shoot two birds with one shot” and it is so due to various values incorporated in the park. It is not only the remarkable and breathtaking nature travelers can enjoy while hiking around the area Þingvellir but even more – it is the precious historical importance that Þingvellir encompasses by now achieving an almost iconic status for the Icelandic nation. As probably most of the travelers who have stumbled on this page do not have too much of a knowledge on the history of Iceland, a brief description of what used to happen in Þingvellir might be needed. However, before carrying on with explaining the story of Þingvellir, we must point out that it has become one of the most popular tourist sites in Iceland and hence, if you are looking for solitude and do not enjoy much the company of other tourists, better chose some other time than summer to visit Þingvellir or at least head there early in the morning or late in the evening when the crowds are not so big.
The history of Þingvellir is strongly related with the functions and meetings of the famous Icelandic open-air assembly called Alþing (Althing). Such governmental assemblies that had regular meetings (mainly once a year) were common in most of the Norse lands and it is known that the one taking place in Þingvellir was organized each year from 930 to 1798 making Alþing to be Europe’s oldest national assembly. The assembly consisted of several institutions, namely – the Law Council, 5 courts and the Lawspeaker, and the main task of these at those times massive meetings were to “frame” or “form” the national law. These meetings were open to all free men who then gathered and discussed the laws, introduced their complaints, passed the laws etc. In other words – this is the place where some nationally and historically important decisions have been made.
The main sites remaining from the times when these assembly meetings were being held at Þingvellir, are the remains of more than 50 turf and stone booths which date back to 17th and 18th century. These booths mainly functioned for accommodating purposes for the attendees of the assembly. Even though any ruins from the very beginning of Alþing have not preserved (one of the reasons is the fact that buildings were reconstructed and rebuilt on the grounds of previous buildings), it is assumed that some remains from 10th century can be found underground. The place where the laws used to be re-cited and from where the highly important announcements were being made to all the participants of the assembly, is called Lögberg or Law Rock, and it has now been marked with Icelandic flag.
Besides the historical legacy which luckily is still present at Þingvellir, the special atmosphere of the area is also formed by the spectacular landscape which is scattered with caves, springs, canyons waterfalls and many other nature formations. One of the most gorgeous nature site to visit in Þingvellir National Park surely is Þingvallavant – Iceland’s largest lake.