Thingvellir, the site of Iceland’s ancient parliament, is where the Thing-Men used to hang out at the Law Rock. And no, we’re not talking about action heroes or comic books.
We can’t think of a better subject for the second post of this blog on matters Icelandic than the place where some of the most important moments in Icelandic history have taken place.
Situated on the rift between the European and American tectonic plates, Thingvellir — literally “the Fields of Parliament,” — is where the Icelanders, fresh off the boats from Norway, founded Europe’s first parliament in the year 930, way before such things became de rigeur.
For a very long time it was the place to be — hanging out with all the Thing-Men and passing laws in cool places like the Law Rock.
Perhaps a bit less hardcore these days, the Althingi, as the parliament is still called, has remained in business since, except for a 40-year break in the 19th century. And although it has moved to some rather more comfortable surroundings, the modern day Thing-Men and Thing-Women occasionally convene at Thingvellir when they’re doing something they like to think is important, like declaring independence from Denmark (1944) and creating the biggest traffic jam in history when celebrating 50 years of independence from Denmark (1994).
Anyway, the place is quite nice to look at; nice enough to make the UNESCO World Heritage List so it should be good enough for you folks. If you don’t see it as a part of the Golden Circle Tour, at only 50 km from Reykjavík, it’s a short drive on your own.
One thing the guidebooks will probably not mention is the small circular patch of grass you can see next to the Thingvellir church. This is the place where, in a fit of post-independence fervour, the government decided to bury some of the country’s more respectable poets (just the ones who were already dead, of course.) Due to some kind of bureaucratic mistake, however, instead of the great poet Jónas Hallgrímsson (who you’ve never heard of), they buried a Danish baker lying next to him in a Copenhagen cemetery.
After all this became common knowledge, everyone involved became terribly embarrased, and this Icelandic version of the Parthenon is rarely mentioned these days. At least nobody told the helicopter pilot flying some reporters to Thingvellir to cover a recent press conference. He ended up mistaking the graveyard for a heliport. True story.