The World’s Longest Running Parliament at the Continental Divide
The Alþingi at Þingvellir
The World’s Longest Running Parliament at the Continental Divide

Þingvellir National Park is perhaps
the most important historical site in
Iceland. From 930 to 1798 Þingvellir hosted
the Alþingi, a general assembly where many
of the major events in Icelandic history took
place. It is included on the list of UNESCO’s
world heritage sites as it is considered giving
‘a unique reflection of mediaeval Norse/
Germanic culture and one that persisted in
essence from its foundation in 980 AD until
the 18th century.’

A Nationwide Assembly of Free Men

Th e Alþingi initially was a general assembly
of the nation, where the country’s most
eminent leaders gathered to set laws and settle
disputes. Th e Alþingi was considered the most
important social gathering of the year and
lasted two weeks each time. All free men were
allowed to attend and the event frequently
drew a large crowd of farmers, traders,
storytellers, travellers and, of course, those
who had disputes to settle. Th ese guests would
each set up their own camps during Alþingi
and fragments of around 50 booths built from
turf and stone can still be found there today.
At the centre of the assembly stands
Lögberg, or Rock of Law, on top of which
an appointed offi cial would direct the events
and recite the laws of the land.

Decisions that Changed History
Many important decisions were taken at
Þingvellir and perhaps the most important
one was the adoption of Christianity in the
year 1000. At that time, Iceland was divided
into two factions: heathens and Christians.
Each faction had its own lawmaker and
refused to acknowledge the other group’s
legislation, thus threatening to dissolve
Alþingi. Famously, the two lawmakers
decided that the heathen lawmaker would
decide which faith should prevail.
Th e heathen lawmaker, named Þorgeir
Ljósvetningagoði, went to rest under a fur
blanket, under which he stayed the whole
night, before he gave his verdict: Iceland
would adopt Christ ianity, a lthough
heathens could practice their religion
secretly. Th is coined a common saying in
Iceland, ‘to lie down underneath the fur,’
which is said whenever a matter needs to
be given serious thought.

Parliament Under the King
The Alþingi took on a different role in
the later part of the 12th century, when the
executive power was transferred to the King
of Norway with the adoption of the new
legal corpora of the codex Járnsíða in 1271
and Jónsbók in 1281. Now Alþingi shared
formal legislative power with the king and
both the king and Alþingi had to give its
consent for laws to be passed. Toward the
end of the 14th century Norway and Iceland
were brought under the control of the
Danish monarchy through royal succession.
In 1662 Alþingi relinquished its autonomy
to the Danish Crown, including legislative
rights. Alþingi continued to be held at
Þingvellir until 1798.
Today Þingvellir is a protected national
shrine. According to the law, passed in
1928, the protected area shall always be the
property of the Icelandic nation, under the
preservation of Alþingi.

A World Heritage Site

Þingvellir National Park is not only impressive
for it’s historical importance, it is also a treasure
in its own right. In the last few decades,
research has made it clear that Þingvellir is
one of the natural wonders of the world, with
the geologic history and biosystem of Lake
Þingvallavatn forming a unique entity.
Being able to witness the evolution and
formation of new species in a place like
Lake Þingvallavatn is of immense value. Th e
Þingvellir area is part of a fi ssure zone running
through Iceland, being situated on the tectonic
plate boundaries of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
Th e faults and fi ssures of the area make the
rifting of the earth’s crust evident.
Preservation measures at Þingvellir were
modelled on the national parks that had
been established somewhat earlier in the
United States to stem changes to the natural
environment there resulting from encroachment
by settlers. National parks conserved
large uninhabited areas, which people could
visit and enjoy - but not settle or develop.

Preserved for the World’s Enjoyment
Iceland identifi ed a similar need to preserve
certain natural and historical sites for future
generations to enjoy them in their original
state. Today, Þingvellir is one of the most
frequently visited tourist sites in the country.
Each year, thousands of visitors go there to
become better acquainted with Iceland’s
greatest historical site and jewel of nature.

Tengt efni

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