Iceland's National Shrine - on the World Heritage List in 2004.
Thingvellir occupies a very special place in the hearts and minds of Icelanders. In 930 the Icelandic Parliament was founded there. Thus the medieval Icelandic commonwealth was established. Many important events in the history of the country have taken place here, e.g. the official adoption of Christianity in the year 1000. Late in the 18th century Parliament discontinued its use of this site and in 1845 it was re-established in Reykjavik, after a bitter struggle led by Icelandic students at the University of Copenhagen. In 1928, Thingvellir became the first National Park in Iceland.
Geographically speaking Iceland belongs to two continents, namely Europe and America. These two continents are drifting apart, due to the tectonic plates, at the soaring speed of 2 m per century, and that process can be easily appreciated in Thingvellir. The land here is constantly sinking due to the land-masses splitting apart, and thus a huge graben, or rift valley, is forming.
The old Parliament site lies at the northern end of lake Thingvallavatn, the biggest lake of the country. The run-off river of the lake is Sogid, an excellent fishing river. Most of the water entering the lake however is ground-water, coming from the highlands to the north of Thingvellir. The only surface river running into lake Thingvallavatn is Oxara, which tumbles in a beautiful waterfall down into canyon Almannagja. Almannagja is in a way the western-most boundary of the great rift valley of Thingvellir. The ecosystem of the lake is surprisingly varied, with many different species of fish and birds. Under the water lies hidden the most spectacular landscape, making diving in the cold lake a unique experience. Lush growth lines the lake; low trees, bushes and flowers.
Þingvellir - Thingvellir and Icelandic Independence
On 17 June 1944 Iceland was proclaimed a Republic at the Althing meeting place at Thingvellir. This event marked the culmination of Iceland's struggle for independence, which began in 1262. The independent Icelandic commonwealth was founded in 930 AD, but was lost in 1262, when Iceland swore fealty to the king of Norway. When Norway came under the crown of Denmark in 1380 Iceland followed, and remained under Denmark until 1944. The struggle for independence began in earnest in the early 19th century, and resulted in the restoration of the Althing in 1845, freedom of trade in 1854, a separate constitution in 1874, and home-rule in 1904. Finally a full independence, but under the King of Denmark, was obtained in 1918.
Christianisation of Iceland at the Althingi in 1000
The Christianisation of Iceland was unique. With Christianisation, the whole society turned its back on its traditional belief, Nordic paganism, and accepted Christianity. This happened at the beginning of the Althingi (Icelandic Parliament) in the year 1000 without substantial prelude. Icelanders, for the most part, accepted the Christian faith peacefully and without much preceding strife.
The aspect of this Christianisation arousing the most interest is when Thorgeir, a pagan chieftain from the Lake Ljósavatn area, who also held the position of Law Speaker-the only public office in the Icelandic Commonwealth-lay down under his pelt and uttered no word for two days. At the end of this period, he called together the parliament and, on the basis of the law he cited, stipulated that Icelanders should be baptized in the Christian faith. On the other hand, they were allowed to worship pagan gods secretly and practice ancient customs, such as the exposure of children and the eating of horse meat.
The first geologist in the world
The political activity at Thingvellir in the year 1000 AD gives a rare glimpse of the contemporary ideas of the Icelanders about geology and volcanic activity, during the great debate of the adoption of Christianity. In general the Icelandic sagas are virtually totally barren of any discussion of natural phenomena, being largely the accounts of historical and political activity, often presented in the form of a historical novel. Islendingabok or Saga of the Icelanders concerns the affairs of the people who lived between about 930 to 1030, at the height of the Icelandic Commonwealth. It includes an account of the historic Althing or General Assembly that met at Thingvellir in the summer of the year 1000 AD. After the Althing had agreed to adoption of the new religion, a messenger brought news of the outbreak a volcanic eruption in the Olfus district, and that lava was flowing towards the farm of Thoroddur, the speaker of the Althing and major proponent of the conversion. The hethins in the Althing then declared that it is no wonder that the gods had been angered by the proceedings of the Assembly, and attributed the eruption to their wrath. Then spoke the chieftain Snorri Godi from the Western District, and with logic and geologic insight laid the matter to rest: "What angered the gods when the lava flowed which we now stand on?" Thus Snorri godi and his contemporaries clearly realized that older basaltic formations, such as the bedrock in the Thingvellir region, were lava which had been formed by earlier volcanic eruptions.
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