Þingvellir

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Welcome to Þingvellir
ÞINGVELLIR IS ONE OF ICELAND’S most important historical sites, fundamental to the history of Iceland and the 
Icelandic nation. The Alþingi (parliament) was founded
 here around 930 AD, and assembled each summer until the 
end of the Old Commonwealth in the 13th century. After
that time it functioned as a court of law until 1798. Many
 crucial events in Iceland’s history took place here, such as the adoption of Christianity
around 1000 AD, and the 
foundation of the modern 
Icelandic Republic in 1944.
 Þingvellir thus has a special
 place in the Icelandic consciousness. Since 1930
 Þingvellir has been a National Park, and in 2004 it
 was added to the UNESCO
 World Heritage List.

The natural environment of Þingvellir is unique in the world. The geology of the region, together with the ecosystem of þingvellir Lake, Iceland’s 
largest natural lake, constitute a valuable whole. The ecosys
tern of the lake is rich and the catchment area of the lake which is about 1,300 km2, is a huge resource for future generations. Þingvellir lies on the junction of two tectonic
 plates, on the Mid Atlantic Ridge. The junction of the plates 
is more clearly visible here than anywhere else in the world:: the two plates are constantly diverging, causing fissures and
 gullies throughout the zone.

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Þingvellir is one of ‘ Iceland's most important historical sites, fundamental to the history of Iceland and the Icelandic nation.

General assembly founded
YOU ARE NOW STANDING at the edge of the ancient par
liamentary site. Here the Law Speaker recited the laws at 
Lögberg (Law Rock), and goðar (chieftains) enacted new
 laws in the Lögrétta (AlÞingi’s legislative assembly). Within 
the Þinghelgi (parliamentary site)  those who. attended were
 immione from vengeance and vendetta. At Alþingi people 
lived in shelters or “booths,” whose overgrown foundations 
are visible on the parliamentary site.
As the age of settlement (870—930) progressed, the settlers
 began to consider questions of government and the form of 
the new society. Regional assembles were held, as in Scandinavia. The first was founded in Kjalarnes, the land
 claimed by the first settler, Ingólfur Arnarson. The Book of
 Icelanders, written in the 12th century by Ari Þorgilsson 
the Wise, tells of a man named Úlfljótur who travelled to 
Norway to learn about legislative procedures; the fist laws 
enacted at Alþingi were called Úlfljótur’s Laws. The decision to locate the Alþingi at Þingvellir, which would be ac
cessible from all regions of the island, has often been attributed to Grimur geitskör.

The system of government of the 
Old Commonwealth (930 to 
1262/64) was based upon Germanic traditions, but the Alþingi
 is alone among the ancient Germanici assemblies in being exten
sively documented. While ancient
 law codes provide some insight 
into the division of powers
between goðar (chieftains) and 
their followers, the organisation of 
society was largely based upon a 
relationship of trust between the 
chieftains and the free citizenry.

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Why Þingvellir
THE SELECTION of Þingvellir as the
 assembly location was probably based
on a number of factors. The plains at Þingvellir were accessible from all the
 main cross-country routes, although
 those who had to travel farthest might
 have to ride for up to two weeks from
 their homes. They often had to ride
 right across the central highlands, 
where weather conditions were often
 hazardous. The site also provided 
plenty of firewood, grazing for live
stock, and drinking water.
According to Sturlunga saga the Öxará
 river was diverted to flow down to the
 plains, in order to ensure an adequate
 water supply for those who attended
 the assembly.

Þingvellir in the Icelandic sagas
PINGVELLIR PI.AYS AN IMPORTANT PART in medieval 
Icelandic literature, for instance in accounts of two of the
 most renowned warriors of the sagas of Icelanders, Gunnar 
of Hlíðarendi, the doomed hero of Njáls saga, and the wild
 poet and Viking Egill Skallagrímsson.

It happened one day that Gunnar was walking from the Law
 Rock. He passed below the booth of the people from Mosfell.
 There he saw some women coming towards him, and they were
 well dressed. The woman in front was the best dressed. When
 they met, she greeted Gunnar at once. He took pleasure at this
 and asked who she was. She gave her name as Hallgerd and
 said she was the daughter of Hoskuld Dala-Kollsson. She spoke
 boldly to him and asked him to tell her about his travels, and
 he said he would not refuse her. They sat down and talked.
She was dressed like this: she had on a red gown, much ornamented; over that she had a scarlet cloak trimmed with lace
 down to the hem. Her hair came down to her breasts and was
 both thick and fair. Gunnar was wearing the stately garments
 given him by King Harald Gormsson; on his arm he had the
 bracelet from Earl Hakon. They talked aloud for a long time.
 Eventually he asked if she were unmarried.
And Egils saga recounts a story of Egill Skallagrímsson, who 
in his oid age decided to ride to the assembly.
“I’ll tell you what I’ve been thinking, “ he said. “ I want to go
 to the Thing with the two chest full of English silver that King
 Athelstan gave to me. I’m going to have the chests carried to the Law Rock when the crowd there is at its biggest. Then I’ll toss the 
silver at them, and I’ll be very much surprised if they all share 
it out fairly among themselves. I expect there’ll be plenty of
 pushing and shoving. It might even end with the whole Thing 
breaking out in a brawl.”

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The junction of the tectonic plates is more clearly visible here than anywhere else in the world.

A gathering place
ÞINGVELLIR WAS CERTAINLY full of life during the assemblies of the Old Commonwealth era. Peddlers, swordsharpeners tanners and brewers offered wares for sale,
 clowns performed tricks. Banquets were held. Casual 
labourers looked for work, beggars asked for alms. At the assembly one could hear news of faraway places, and various
 contests were held. Þingvellir was where people came to gether from all over the country, laying the foundation for 
the shared language and literature that has been at the very 
heart of Icelandic culture ever since.
People continued to go to Þingvellir throughout the history of
 the old Alþiingi from 930 to 1798, although it declined in im
portance after the end of the Old Commonwealth, ultimately becomming a simple court of law. Due to its symbolic place in 

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the Icelandic consciousness, in the late 19th and 20th centu
ries Þingvellir was restored to importance as a location for 
national ceremonies.

Þingvellir had many advantages as a location for the Alþingi 
(parliament), but over the centuries the remarkable natural
 environment also led to some problems. Subsidence in the
 Þingvellir rift valley is believed to total about four metres
 since the Alþingi first assembled around AD 930, and this meant that water flooded over
 the assembly site. Þingvellir 
Church is believed to have 
been moved to a new site in
 the 16th century due to
changes in the water level. The
 Lögrétta (Law Council) was 
also relocated in 1594 due to
 flooding. Severe subsidence 
during the earthquakes of
 1798 caused more difficulties: grassfields were inundated and new fissures opened. At
 Vatnskot the ground subsided by two metres, and Hallvegur,
the old Þingvellir road, disap
peared under water.

Þingvellir church and house
THE FIRST CHURCH at Pingvellir was built on the initia
tive of St. Olaf, King of Norway, who sent church timbers
 and a bell to Iceland shortly after the adoption of Christian
ity around AD 1000. The present Þingvellir Church was consecrated in 1859. The tower was rebuilt in 1907. Behind
Þingvellir Church is the National Cemetery, which dates 
from 1939. Poets Jónas Hallgrímsson (1807-45) and Einar 
Benediktsson (1864-1940) are buried there.
The Þingvellir manorhouse was built in 1930 for celebrations of the millennium of the Alþingi, and in 1974 the 
building was extended by two gablgs, when the 1100th anniversary of the settlement of Iceland was celebrated. The
manorhouse is now used by the National Park and the
Prime Minister.

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The hole in the trail
Until 2011 the gravel path in the Allmannagjâ fault
 extended all the way to the top. On March 31st 2011
 a hole appeared in the middle of the gravel path
 in Almannagjá. After close investigation a larger
 and deeper  fault beneath the trail was discovered.
 The fault was about 10 m deep and extended 15 m
 under the trail toward southwest, effectively a
 deeper extension of the ravine. The ravine beneath
 the road is narrowe'r from top to bottom and was full
 of large rocks and boulders.

Likely cause
The most likely cause for the hole in trail was that 
a large boulder in the upper layer of rubble had
 loosened and fallen down further into the crevice,
 followed by smaller rocks and gravel. A thin crust
 of gravel material remained and was slowly eroded 
by rain and snowmelt resulting in the hole that
 appeared in the trail. It is possible that the rocks. were loosened by earthquakes in 2000 and 2008. The 
effect of the earthquakes was clearly noted in the
Thingveltir even though the epicenter was far away.
 Later it was decided to build a wooden footbridge on
 the of the rift. .

Old routes
One of the old routes to Thmgvellir followed the western shore of Thingvallavatn but land subsidence due 
to earthquakes in 1789 caused the route to be sub
merged. As a consequence, an alternative route to
Thingvellir from the west was constructed through 
Almannagjá. Road construction commenced in 1831 
and was completed in 1907.


The last cars drove through Almanna
gjá on November 1st 1967 when the
ravine was finally closed to vehicles.
 Until that date the road through
Almannagjá was the main public
 road through the Thingvellir area.

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Booths
THIS IS SNORRABÚÐ (Snorri’s Booth) one of the most 
clearly visible booths at Þingvellir, named after Saga-age
 chieftain Snorri Þorgrimsson. In the 19th-century, romantic
 poet Jónas Hallgrímsson (1807-1845) wrote in his poem Ísland (Iceland) verse translation by Dick Ringler.

Overgrown traces of buildings are visible on the parliamen
tary site at Þingvellir: these are (remnants of shelters or
 "booths” in which people stayed during the two-weck sess
ion of the Alþingi (General Assembly) each summer. Traces 
of about 50 booths have been found, along both banks of the Öxará river and by the slope to Hotel Valhöll.

New booths were invariably built on top of remnants of 
older ones. Hence the visible remains we see today date
 mostly from the last two centuries of the Alþingi at Þing
vellir, the 17th and 18th centuries. The precise form of the 
booths is not known, but probably walls were built of rock 
and turf, and roofed with fabric draped over a wooden 
frame. Little is known of the booths of the Commonwealth Age (930 to 1262/64), but written sources indicate that they 
were often large and closely spaced. The 12th-century law
code Grágás (Greylag) and the sagas of Icelanders provide
 some evidence on booths, e.g. that goðar (chieftains) should
 roof over the booth with woollen cloth, and that they should
 provide accommodation in booths for their followers.

Temporary shelters and tents of various kinds were also 
erected by visitors to the Alþingi. Latter-day booths were
 probably smaller than those of earlier centuries, as the function of the Alþingi changed from that of a legislative assembly
 to a simple court of law.

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At the Law Council, the chieftains sat on a central platform, while their followers were seated in front and behind.

The Law Rock

LÖGBERG WAS THE FOCAL point of the old Alpingi 
(parliament), founded around AD 930. During the Old
 Commonwealth (930 to 1262/64), the Alþingi held legislative
 and judicial power, to define its powers in modern terms.
 But the system of government of the Old Commonwealth 
was quite unlike that of a modern state; authority was based upon a relationship of allegiance between chieftains and free 
farmers who became their followers. There was no machin
ery of government in the modern sense.

Here at the Law Rock in the latter part of June each year, the 
allsherjargoði (the leading chieftain and priest of the Old
 Norse religion) declared the session of parliament open, and
 declared sanctuary within the parliament site. The session lasted two weeks. During the time of the Old Common
wealth, the lögsögumaður (Law Speaker) recited aloud the
 laws in force, standing at the Law Rock. This was before the
I celanders had a written language, and so the rules of society
 were passed on orally. The Law Speaker recited one-third of 
the body of laws each year, but recited the rules of procedure
 of the Alþingi itself at every session. At the Law Rock, important speeches were made regarding the affairs of the
 country’s inhabitants; the podium was also open to all who wished to address the assembly.
 Chronology was corrected there, summonses
 were issued, and various events were made
 known to the assembly.

During the Old Commonwealth the position of
 Law Speaker was highly prestigious, he was the
 Aiþingí s only paid employee. Outside the sessions of the Alþingí however, the Law Speaker
 had no formal power in society. But knowledge
 of the law clearly brought Law Speakers and
 other chieftains considerable power in practice.

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Lögrétta Law Council
The general public could also observe the proceedings of the Lögrétta (Law Council), which
 was the highest authority of the Old Commonwealth. The Law Council enacted new laws and
 ruled on legal disputes; it had no power of enforcement, however, and the parties themselves
 had to ensure that judgements were enforced.
 Vengeance was a strong tradition, leading to
many bloody conflicts which are recounted in the
 Sagas of Icelanders, and in the “contemporary”
 sagas of the 12th and 13th centuries.

Sessions of the Law Council were steered by the
• Law Speaker. Chieftains and their followers sat on 
the Law Council: each chieftain could be accompanied by two followers. Scholars have disagreed
 on the number of chieftains on the Law Council,
 which has been estimated at 36, 39 or 48, and it is possible
 that the number varied during the Old Commonwealth
period. After the establishment of episcopates around 1100,
 bishops too sat on the Law Council.

At the Law Council, the chieftains sat on a central platform,
 while their followers were seated in front and behind. Only
 chieftains had a vote. Among their responsibilities was to 
elect the Law Speaker. It is not clear whether the consent of
 all the chieftains was required to enact new legislation, or 
whether laws were passed by majority vote. Perhaps the Law
Speaker played a major role in conciliating opposing parties
 when new laws were passed.

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"We shall go to Lögberg tomorrow and move the courts out for challenging at the latent when the sun is on the western ravine crag, seen from the Lawnpeaker's seat at Lögberg"

WE SHALL GO TO LOGBERG tomorrow (i.e. Saturday) 
and move the courts out for challenging at the latest when
 the sun is on the western ravine crag, seen from the 
Lawspeaker's seat at Lögberg. The Lawspeaker is to go first 
if he is in good health; then the chieftains with their judges 
if not prevented — otherwise each of them is to procure 
someone in his place. Then the chieftains are to seat their 
judges and the authority of any man now selected to act in
 a chieftancy has the same validity. The Lawspeaker shall
 decide and state where each coourt is to sit, and the Lawspeaker shall have the bell rung for the courts to move out.

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Courts of law
In the latter years of the Old Commonwealth there 
were five courts of law: one for each of the four
 Quarters of the country, and the fimmtardömur
(Fifth Court), which functioned as a court of appeal
 for cases not resolved at the regional Quarter
Courts. The Quarter Courts comprised 36 farmers
appointed by chieftains; they dealt with cases which
 had not been resolved at the local level. The Fifth
Court at Alþingi comprised 48 farmers from all 
Quarters, of whom 36 deliberated in each case.
The laws of the Old Commonwealth were partly
 written down in the early 12th century, after writing
 had arrived with the adoption of Christianity. That 
law code was later known as Grágás (Greylag). The 
law code adds yet more to the historical importance 
of Þingvellir, as Grágás is the most extensive extant 
medieval legal code from the Nordic world, and a
 unique source on the structure of the Old Com
monwealth. The extant text of Grágás dates from the 
12th and 13th century.
After the Icelanders submitted to the authority of
 the King of Norway in 1262-64 by signing the Gamli sáttmáli (Old Covenant), following a period of civil
 unrest, it was vital for the king to strengthen his position in
 Iceland. He did so by introducing a new law code. Before
 this time, judgements had been enforced by the parties in a
 case, but now royal officials undertook enforcement of 
penalties.
On the initiative of King Magnus Hakonson, later known as 
the Law-Reformer, the law code Járnsiða (Ironside) was 
written for Iceland, and adopted in 1271-73. Under the new 
laws the Law Council took over the judicial role of the old 
Quarter Courts and Fifth Court, and two royal officials, lögmenn (lawmen), were appointed. In 1281 a new law code,
Jónsbók (Jón’s Book), was introduced. This would provide
 the basis for Iceland’s legal system for many centuries and
 shape the Icelanders’ sense of justice.
The advent of royal rule also brought the payment
 of fines to the Crown for homicides. This entailed a
 fundamental change in the judicial system, as per
sonal vengeance for offences was no longer permit
ted. The king also had considerable powers over 
legislation in Iceland, especially after Iceland accepted absolute rule by the King of Denmark in
 1662. The Alþingi assembled at Þingvellir for a
 regular session for the last time in 1798, after which
 the Alþingi was abolished. When the new Alþingi
 was established in 1845, it convened in Reykjavik.

Lögbergs location
The role of Lögberg disappeared early on in the history of
 the Alþing. Because of this, it hasn’t been possible to pre
cisely locate the Lögberg, though many think it was here at
 the rocky ledge at the top of the slope Hallurinn, where the
 flagpole is now.

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National festivals

IN REGENT DEGADES the Icelanders have celebrated their 
most important national events at Þingvellir: the first was 
the National Festival of 1874, when the Icelanders celebrated 
the millennium of the Settlement. The festivities reached their high point when King Christian IX presented the Ice
landers with their first constitution, which conferred limited 
legislative and budgetary powers on the Alþingi in 
Reykjavik.

In 1930 tens of thousands of people assembled at Þingvellir 
to celebrate the millennium of the foundation of the
 Alþingi. The Þingvellir National Park had been established
 by laws from 1928. The session of Alþingi was opened by
 King Christian X at the old assembly site; by this time
 Iceland was a sovereign state but still under the King of
 Denmark.

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The founding of the Republic
ON 17 JUNE 1944, Icelanders flocked to Þingvellir for the 
foundatiorr of the modern Repubic of Iceland. Due to the 
occupation of . during World War II,
contact between Iceland and Denmark had been cut off 
since 1940. This meant that negotiations between Iceland 
and Denmark on their future relationship could not take
 place. Disputes arose in Iceland on the planned foundation
 of a republic; some people wished to wait until the end of the
 war, while others wanted to act immediately. The latter
course was chosen, and on 17 ]une 1944 the Alþingi as
sembled here at .Lögberg (the Law Rock), as it had done from 
930 to 1798. The president of the Alþingi declared that the 
constitution of the Republic of Iceland had taken effect.
Sveinn Björnsson, who had served as Governor of Iceland, 
was elected the first president of the republic. The king of
 Denmark, who was at that time under, house arrest in Co
penhagen, sent a telegram congratulating the Icelandic
 people; this was read aloud at the ceremony wich was held
in pouring rain.

In recent years more festivities have been held at Þingvellir: 1974 the 1100th anniversary of the settlement was cele
brated, in 1994 the 50th anniversary of the Republic, and in 
2000 the millennium ol the adoption of Christianity in 
Iceland, which took place here at Þingvellir.

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Punishments at Alþingi

DURING THE TIME of the Old Commonwealth 
(930 to 1262) executive powers in Iceland were very limited.
 At the Alþingi (national assembly) at Þingvellir, laws were
 enacted, and cases were tried in accord with those laws, but
 verdicts had to be enforced by individuals.
In minor cases, fines 
were imposed, while
 graver cases entailed
 exile for three years or
 even lifelong outlaw
ry. If a convicted 
person flouted the
verdict and turned up
 where he was not 
allowed to be, he
 might be killed by the
 family of his victim:
 such cases of vengeance are common in the
Sagas of Icelanders.
After the Icelanders submitted to be ruled by the
 King of Norway in 1262,
legal codes provided for
 punishments to be implemented by royal officials
at Alþingi and regional
 assemblies.

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“If a man cuts at a man or thrusts at him..."

From the Grágás lawcode
IT IS PRESCRIBED THAT IF MEN MEET as they travel and one 
man makes what the law deems an assault on another, the penalty
 is lesser outlawry. These are five assaults deemed such by law: if a
 man cuts at a man or thrusts at him, or shoots or throws at him or
 strikes at him. And it counts as an assault if a man swings a weapon 
and a panel gives a verdict that he meant the stroke to land, and he
 was moreover at such dose range that for that matter it could have 
landed if it had not been stopped on its way, or that he could have
 reached him.

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“A man who slays a man or a woman shall be liable to lifelong outlawry..."


The Great Edict
PENALTIES WERE MADE far
more severe after the “Great
Edict” of 1564, which was concerned with punishment of
 such immoral acts as incest and
 fornication. Jurisdiction in
 such cases was transferred
 from the church to the secular
 authorities and during the 16th and 17th centuries, the authorities were zealous in their
 punishments. It was commonly believed that God would
 exact retribution from whole societies where sin and evil
 flourished, and so governments were keen to avert such 
divine wrath by exacting stringent penalties. Executions
 were intended to discourage other offenders, and they were
 a popular public spectacle.
For minor offences fines were paid, while corporal punish
ments such as flogging were also inflicted. For the worst 
forms of incest, the Great Edict prescribed that men should
 be beheaded, and women drowned. For the first few years
 after the verdict, the authorities were reluctant to impose
such drastic penalties, but resistance declined around 1600,
 largely due to a campaign of zero tolerance by Bishop
 Guðbrandur Þorláksson.
In the 17th and 18th centuries
 the most usual reason for the
 death penalty was incest, fol
lowed by the offence of
 infanticide in order to conceal
 the birth of a child. In the last
 decades of the 17 th century, executions at regional assemblies
 were abolished; all were to be
carried out at Alþingi, after a 
trial in the Lögrétta court. By
 the middle of the 18th century,
 all death penalties were being 
referred to the king, who com
muted sentences to life impris
onment, and subsequently to
 shorter sentences. The
 provisions of the Great Edict
 were not entirely abolished 
until 1838, when far less strin
gent penalties had become th
e rule.

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"... men shall be beheaded, and women drowned.”

Punishments and placenames
IN OLDEN TIMES drowning was widely used as a method
 of execution. People were drowned in marshes, in fresh water
 and in the sea. In Iceland, provision was made in law for exe
cution by drowning from 1281, but written sources make no
 reference to such executions until after the Reformation in
 the 16th century.
At Þingvellir, women were drowned in Drekkingarhylur, but
 one case is recorded of a woman being drowned in the Öxará 
river below the meeting-place of the Law Council. No reli
able accounts exist of drownings at Þingvellir, but women are 
said to have been tied up in a sack, pushed out into the pool,
 and held under.
Many other placenames at Þingvellir derive from savage 
penalties imposed at Alþingi. In the Stekkjargjâ gorge are
 Gálgaklettar (Scaffold Cliff) and Gálgi (Scaffold). Thieves
 were regarded at the lowest of criminals, and were sentenced
 to hang. Others were beheaded on Höggstokkseyri (Execu
tion Block Spit), which may have been on an islet in the
 Öxará river. Brennugjá (Stake Gorge), west of Flosagjá, de
rives it name from the witch hunts of the late 17th century,
 when sorcerers were burned at the stake. Convicts were
 probably whipped and branded on Kagahólmi (Whipping
 Islet).

Seventy-two people are known with certainty to have been
 executed at Þingvellir from 1602 to 1750: 30 males were be
headed, 15 hanged, and nine burned at the stake. Eighteen 
women were drowned here in Drekkingarhylur.

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Welcome to Þingvellir
ÞINGVELLIR IS ONE OF ICELAND’S most important his
torical sites, fundamental to the history of Iceland and the 
Icelandic nation. The Alþingi (parliament) was founded
 here around 930 AD, and assembled each summer until the 
end of the Old Commonwealth in the 13th century. After
that time it functioned as a court of law until 1798. Many
 crucial events in Iceland’s history took place here, such as the adoption of Christianity
around 1000 AD, and the 
foundation of the modern 
Icelandic Republic in 1944.
 Þingvellir thus has a special
 place in the Icelandic consciousness. Since 1930
 Þingvellir has been a National Park, and in 2004 it
 was added to the UNESCO
 World Heritage List.

The natural environment of Þingvellir is unique in the world. The geology of the region, together with the ecosystem of þingvellir Lake, Iceland’s 
largest natural lake, constitute a valuable whole. The ecosys
tern of the lake is rich and the catchment area of the lake which is about 1,300 km2, is a huge resource for future generations. Þingvellir lies on the junction of two tectonic
 plates, on the Mid Atlantic Ridge. The junction of the plates 
is more clearly visible here than anywhere else in the world:: the two plates are constantly diverging, causing fissures and
 gullies throughout the zone.

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Þingvellir is one of ‘ Iceland's most important historical sites, fundamental to the history of Iceland and the Icelandic nation.

General assembly founded
YOU ARE NOW STANDING at the edge of the ancient par
liamentary site. Here the Law Speaker recited the laws at 
Lögberg (Law Rock), and goðar (chieftains) enacted new
 laws in the Lögrétta (AlÞingi’s legislative assernbly). Within 
the Þinghelgi (parliamentary site)  those who. attended were
 immione from vengeance and vendetta. At Alþingi people 
lived in shelters or “booths,” whose overgrown foundations 
are visible on the parliamentary site.
As the age of settlement (870—930) progressed, the settlers
 began to consider questions of government and the form of 
the new society. Regional assembles were held, as in Scandinavia. The first was founded in Kjalarnes, the land
 claimed by the first settler, Ingólfur Arnarson. The Book of
 Icelanders, written in the 12th century by Ari Þorgilsson 
the Wise, tells of a man named Úlfljótur who travelled to 
Norway to learn about legislative procedures; the fist laws 
enacted at Alþingi were called Úlfljótur’s Laws. The decision to locate the Alþingi at Þingvellir, which would be ac
cessible from all regions of the island, has often been attributed to Grimur geitskör.

The system of government of the 
Old Commonwealth (930 to 
1262/64) was based upon Germanic traditions, but the Alþingi
 is alone among the ancient Germanici assemblies in being exten
sively documented. While ancient
 law codes provide some insight 
into the division of powers
between goðar (chieftains) and 
their followers, the organisation of 
society was largely based upon a 
relationship of trust between the 
chieftains and the free citizenry.

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Why Þingvellir
THE SELECTION of Þingvellir as the
 assembly location was probably based
on a number of factors. The plains at Þingvellir were accessible from all the
 main cross-country routes, although
 those who had to travel farthest might
 have to ride for up to two weeks from
 their homes. They often had to ride
 right across the central highlands, 
where weather conditions were often
 hazardous. The site also provided 
plenty of firewood, grazing for live
stock, and drinking water.
According to Sturlunga saga the Öxará
 river was diverted to flow down to the
 plains, in order to ensure an adequate
 water supply for those who attended
 the assembly.

Þingvellir in the Icelandic sagas
PINGVELLIR PI.AYS AN IMPORTANT PART in medieval 
Icelandic literature, for instance in accounts of two of the
 most renowned warriors of the sagas of Icelanders, Gunnar 
of Hlíðarendi, the doomed hero of Njáls saga, and the wild
 poet and Viking Egill Skallagrímsson.

It happened one day that Gunnar was walking from the Law
 Rock. He passed below the booth of the people from Mosfell.
 There he saw some women coming towards him, and they were
 well dressed. The woman in front was the best dressed. When
 they met, she greeted Gunnar at once. He took pleasure at this
 and asked who she was. She gave her name as Hallgerd and
 said she was the daughter of Hoskuld Dala-Kollsson. She spoke
 boldly to him and asked him to tell her about his travels, and
 he said he would not refuse her. They sat down and talked.
She was dressed like this: she had on a red gown, much ornamented; over that she had a scarlet cloak trimmed with lace
 down to the hem. Her hair came down to her breasts and was
 both thick and fair. Gunnar was wearing the stately garments
 given him by King Harald Gormsson; on his arm he had the
 bracelet from Earl Hakon. They talked aloud for a long time.
 Eventually he asked if she were unmarried.
And Egils saga recounts a story of Egill Skallagrímsson, who 
in his oid age decided to ride to the assembly.
“I’ll tell you what I’ve been thinking, “ he said. “ I want to go
 to the Thing with the two chest full of English silver that King
 Athelstan gave to me. I’m going to have the chests carried to the Law Rock when the crowd there is at its biggest. Then I’ll toss the 
silver at them, and I’ll be very much surprised if they all share 
it out fairly among themselves. I expect there’ll be plenty of
 pushing and shoving. It might even end with the whole Thing 
breaking out in a brawl.”

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The junction of the tectonic plates is more clearly visible here than anywhere else in the world.

A gathering place
ÞINGVELLIR WAS CERTAINLY full of life during the assemblies of the Old Commonwealth era. Peddlers, swordsharpeners tanners and brewers offered wares for sale,
 clowns performed tricks. Banquets were held. Casual 
labourers looked for work, beggars asked for alms. At the assembly one could hear news of faraway places, and various
 contests were held. Þingvellir was where people came to gether from all over the country, laying the foundation for 
the shared language and literature that has been at the very 
heart of Icelandic culture ever since.
People continued to go to Þingvellir throughout the history of
 the old Alþiingi from 930 to 1798, although it declined in im
portance after the end of the Old Commonwealth, ultimately becomming a simple court of law. Due to its symbolic place in 

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the Icelandic consciousness, in the late 19th and 20th centu
ries Þingvellir was restored to importance as a location for 
national ceremonies.

Þingvellir had many advantages as a location for the Alþingi 
(parliament), but over the centuries the remarkable natural
 environment also led to some problems. Subsidence in the
 Þingvellir rift valley is believed to total about four metres
 since the Alþingi first assembled around AD 930, and this meant that water flooded over
 the assembly site. Þingvellir 
Church is believed to have 
been moved to a new site in
 the 16th century due to
changes in the water level. The
 Lögrétta (Law Council) was 
also relocated in 1594 due to
 flooding. Severe subsidence 
during the earthquakes of
 1798 caused more difficulties: grassfields were inundated and new fissures opened. At
 Vatnskot the ground subsided by two metres, and Hallvegur,
the old Þingvellir road, disap
peared under water.

Þingvellir church and house
THE FIRST CHURCH at Pingvellir was built on the initia
tive of St. Olaf, King of Norway, who sent church timbers
 and a bell to Iceland shortly after the adoption of Christian
ity around AD 1000. The present Þingvellir Church was consecrated in 1859. The tower was rebuilt in 1907. Behind
Þingvellir Church is the National Cemetery, which dates 
from 1939. Poets Jónas Hallgrímsson (1807-45) and Einar 
Benediktsson (1864-1940) are buried there.
The Þingvellir manorhouse was built in 1930 for celebrations of the millennium of the Alþingi, and in 1974 the 
building was extended by two gablgs, when the 1100th anniversary of the settlement of Iceland was celebrated. The
manorhouse is now used by the National Park and the
Prime Minister.

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Summer residence of the
in Prime Minister of Iceland

The Þingvellir house was built in 1930
 and designed by Guðjón Samúelsson.
 The Þingvellir house is the official summer residence of the Prime Minister of Iceland. It is used for receptions hosted 
by the Prime Ministers office.

The Kings House
In 1907 a house was built in the fields
 near the Öxarárfoss waterfall for the
visit of King Frederik VIII of Denmark. 
The house was subsequently named the
 "Kings House". Later, the house was
 lent as a restaurant. Before the celebration of the Althing's 1000 years in 1930
 the house was moved south over the Öxará river to the shore of Þingvallavatn. 
King Christian X and Queen Alexandrina 
of Denmark resided there during the
 during the millennial celebrations of the
 assembly. In following years, the government ministers, particularly the Prime
 Minister, used the house as a summer
retreat. The Kings House burnt down 10 July 1970. The Prime Minister at the time, Bjarni Benediktsson, his wife Sigríður 
Björnsdóttir and their young grandson Benedikt Vilmundarson died in the fire.

Þingvellir House
The current house at Þingvellir was built 
according to architect Guðjón Samúels
sons design in 1930. At first three "gableends” were built and they were used as the 
Park Manager's residence. After the fire
 that destroyed the King's house in 1970 it was decided to add two more gables to 
the house at Þingvellir to provide a new 
summer house for the Prime Minister.
The original part of the house ceased to
 be the Park Managers residence in 1995
 and now 4 out of 5 the gables belong to the Prime Ministers office. The fifth gable 
houses facilities for the Park Manager 
and the priest of the church at Þingvellir.



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Þingvellir
It is likely that in the medieval period
 there was a "longhouse" at Þingvellir,
but by the 19th century there was a
 south-facing gabled farmhouse. The
fields of the floodplain of the river
 Öxará we're granted to the national
assembly, the Alþingi, in the early 10th
; century and became known as Þingvellir
 (assembly fields). Alþingi was open to all
 Icelanders. The farmland was considered
 good and the woodland provided fuel and
 winter grazing for livestock. With the
 land came the fishing rights Þingvallavatn and the river Öxará. Skógarkot, 
Hrauntún, Arnarfell, Svartagil and Vatnskot were tenancies attached to the home 
farm at Þingvellir.

Þingvellir Church
A church has been at Þingvellir since
 shortly after Christianity was formally
 adopted by the Alþing in the year AD 1000. I
n the Kristnisaga it is stated that Olaf
 the Holy, King of Norway, who came to
 Power in AD 1015, provided wood in
 order to build a church at Þingvellir. It 
is not known for sure where the or
ginal church stood and most likely there were in fact two churches in Þingvellir, 
one for the parliamentarians and one for 
the local parish. Research shows that the 
church was moved to the place where it
now stands around AD 1500. The curent
 church was built in 1859 and consecrat
ed on Christmas day that year. The tower was added in 1907. There are three
 bells in the tower, one simply old (year unknown), another that was given to the 
church by Bishop Jón Vidalín (1698) and 
the third one, "Iceland’s Bell”, from 1944,
 the year that Iceland formally became a
republic. .

The Icelandic National  Cemetery
To the east of the church is the Icelandic National Cemetery, it was designed by 
Guðjón Samúelsson and constructed
 in 1940. Here rest the national poets 
Einar Benediktsson (1864 - 1940) and 
Jónas Hallgrímsson (1807 - 1845).

Parish Cemetery
The parish cemetery serves the local 
community that surrounds Þingvellir.
Indeed, many lie here that originate from
 farms now long abandoned e.g. Vatnskot,
 Gjábakki etc. The last church priest bur
ied here was Heimir Steinsson (d. 2000) who also served as the National parks
 manager. In relation to the 150 years anniversary of the church in 2009 a large
 part of the cemetery wall was rebuilt. In 2009 a new gate was built by students
from Hafnarfjörður Technical College
 using traditional woodworking skills.

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Groundwater origin
Þingvallavatn is Iceland's largest
 lake [84 km2). It is deepest by the 
island Sandey [114 m). Ninety percent
 of Þingvallavatn is fed by ground
 water [temp. c. 3°C ). The water orig
inates from Langajökull (a glacier)
 to the northeast and filters through
 the intervening, porous, lavafield. It
 travels for about 30 years and can run
 as deep as 60 m below the surface.
 Some of the water runs below the lake
 bed and comes out as geothermal
 water at Nesjavellir. The plumes of
 steam can be seen at the southwestern 
end of the lake. The remaining 10% of 
water either derived from direct rainfall (5%) or from surface water (5%), 
primarily from the river Öxará. The 
lake drains into Sogið at a rate of 107
 m3 per second.

Biodiversity
Biodiversity in Iceland is limited. Lake
 Þingvallavatn is no exeption. However,
 three freshwater fish species do live in
 the lake; trout, arctic char and stick
leback. It is believed that these three 
species were effectively trapped in
 the lake when the land rose after the
 retreat of the glaciers at the end of the
 last ice age (c. 10,000 BP). All three 
species of fish have since evolved in a
 variety of ways in order to exploit spe
cific ecological niches within the lake.



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Urriði (Salmo truttal)
Trout lay their eggs in gravel beds 
where the young fish remain before
 they mature. The trout in Þingvallavatn 
can grow to an exceptional size which
 over the years has attracted fishermen from all over the world. Fishing
 logs dated from the 19th and the 20th
 centuries show that it was not uncommon to catch trout of 20-30 pounds
 (10-15 kg). When the Steingrimsstöð powerstation was built in 1959 at the
 south end of Þingvallavatn, most of 
the spawning areas were destroyed. 
In the following decades, the trout
 population has remained low.

Bleikja (Salvelinus alpinus)
In Þingvallavatn there are four differ
ent subspecies of arctic char that are
all descended from the same stock 
that was trapped in the lake after
 the last ice age. The sub species are
 different in size, look, life cycle and
behaviour which reflects their adaption
 to different habitats and food available
in the lake.

Hornsili (Gasterosteus aculeatusl)
The Three-spined stickleback is the 
most common species of fish in the
lake with a population of c. 85 million 
and they are an important source of
food for the other fish species. Since
being trapped in Þingvallavatn at the
end of the last ice age, the stickleback
 has evolved into two different sub¬
species. One exploits the vegetated
 areas of the lake (up to 20-25 m deep)
 while the other inhabits the cracks and
 crevices in the lava of the shallow lake
 shore.

The fish and their associated subspecies in Þingvallavatn represent a
 good example of how species evolve in
 response to a restricted environmen
tal context.



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Welcome to Þingvellir
ÞINGVELLIR IS ONE OF ICELAND’S most important his
torical sites, fundamental to the history of Iceland and the 
Icelandic nation. The Alþingi (parliament) was founded
 here around 930 AD, and assembled each summer until the 
end of the Old Commonwealth in the 13th century. After
that time it functioned as a court of law until 1798. Many
 crucial events in Iceland’s history took place here, such as the adoption of Christianity
around 1000 AD, and the 
foundation of the modern 
Icelandic Republic in 1944.
 Þingvellir thus has a special
 place in the Icelandic consciousness. Since 1930
 Þingvellir has been a National Park, and in 2004 it
 was added to the UNESCO
 World Heritage List.

The natural environment of Þingvellir is unique in the world. The geology of the region, together with the ecosystem of þingvellir Lake, Iceland’s 
largest natural lake, constitute a valuable whole. The ecosys
tern of the lake is rich and the catchment area of the lake which is about 1,300 km2, is a huge resource for future generations. Þingvellir lies on the junction of two tectonic
 plates, on the Mid Atlantic Ridge. The junction of the plates 
is more clearly visible here than anywhere else in the world:: the two plates are constantly diverging, causing fissures and
 gullies throughout the zone.

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Þingvellir is one of ‘ Iceland's most important historical sites, fundamental to the history of Iceland and the Icelandic nation.

General assembly founded
YOU ARE NOW STANDING at the edge of the ancient par
liamentary site. Here the Law Speaker recited the laws at 
Lögberg (Law Rock), and goðar (chieftains) enacted new
 laws in the Lögrétta (AlÞingi’s legislative assernbly). Within 
the Þinghelgi (parliamentary site)  those who. attended were
 immione from vengeance and vendetta. At Alþingi people 
lived in shelters or “booths,” whose overgrown foundations 
are visible on the parliamentary site.
As the age of settlement (870—930) progressed, the settlers
 began to consider questions of government and the form of 
the new society. Regional assembles were held, as in Scandinavia. The first was founded in Kjalarnes, the land
 claimed by the first settler, Ingólfur Arnarson. The Book of
 Icelanders, written in the 12th century by Ari Þorgilsson 
the Wise, tells of a man named Úlfljótur who travelled to 
Norway to learn about legislative procedures; the fist laws 
enacted at Alþingi were called Úlfljótur’s Laws. The decision to locate the Alþingi at Þingvellir, which would be ac
cessible from all regions of the island, has often been attributed to Grimur geitskör.

The system of government of the 
Old Commonwealth (930 to 
1262/64) was based upon Germanic traditions, but the Alþingi
 is alone among the ancient Germanici assemblies in being exten
sively documented. While ancient
 law codes provide some insight 
into the division of powers
between goðar (chieftains) and 
their followers, the organisation of 
society was largely based upon a 
relationship of trust between the 
chieftains and the free citizenry.

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The junction of the tectonic plates is more clearly visible here than anywhere else in the world.

A gathering place
ÞINGVELLIR WAS CERTAINLY full of life during the assemblies of the Old Commonwealth era. Peddlers, swordsharpeners tanners and brewers offered wares for sale,
 clowns performed tricks. Banquets were held. Casual 
labourers looked for work, beggars asked for alms. At the assembly one could hear news of faraway places, and various
 contests were held. Þingvellir was where people came to gether from all over the country, laying the foundation for 
the shared language and literature that has been at the very 
heart of Icelandic culture ever since.
People continued to go to Þingvellir throughout the history of
 the old Alþiingi from 930 to 1798, although it declined in im
portance after the end of the Old Commonwealth, ultimately becomming a simple court of law. Due to its symbolic place in 

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The text is from the information board

the Icelandic consciousness, in the late 19th and 20th centu
ries Þingvellir was restored to importance as a location for 
national ceremonies.

Þingvellir had many advantages as a location for the Alþingi 
(parliament), but over the centuries the remarkable natural
 environment also led to some problems. Subsidence in the
 Þingvellir rift valley is believed to total about four metres
 since the Alþingi first assembled around AD 930, and this meant that water flooded over
 the assembly site. Þingvellir 
Church is believed to have 
been moved to a new site in
 the 16th century due to
changes in the water level. The
 Lögrétta (Law Council) was 
also relocated in 1594 due to
 flooding. Severe subsidence 
during the earthquakes of
 1798 caused more difficulties: grassfields were inundated and new fissures opened. At
 Vatnskot the ground subsided by two metres, and Hallvegur,
the old Þingvellir road, disap
peared under water.

Þingvellir church and house
THE FIRST CHURCH at Pingvellir was built on the initia
tive of St. Olaf, King of Norway, who sent church timbers
 and a bell to Iceland shortly after the adoption of Christian
ity around AD 1000. The present Þingvellir Church was consecrated in 1859. The tower was rebuilt in 1907. Behind
Þingvellir Church is the National Cemetery, which dates 
from 1939. Poets Jónas Hallgrímsson (1807-45) and Einar 
Benediktsson (1864-1940) are buried there.
The Þingvellir manorhouse was built in 1930 for celebrations of the millennium of the Alþingi, and in 1974 the 
building was extended by two gablgs, when the 1100th anniversary of the settlement of Iceland was celebrated. The
manorhouse is now used by the National Park and the
Prime Minister.

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