Þingvellir, “Thing Fields”, anglicised as Thingvellir, is a place in the administrative district of Bláskógabyggð in southwestern Iceland, near the Reykjanes peninsula and the Hengill volcanic area. Þingvellir is a site of historical, cultural, and geological importance and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. It lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It is at the northern end of Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland.
Alþingi (“Althing” in English), the Icelandic Parliament, was established at Þingvellir in 930, and remained there until 1798. Þingvellir National Park (or Thingvellir National Park) was founded in 1930, marking the 1,000th anniversary of the Althing. It was later expanded to protect natural phenomena in the surrounding area, and became a World Heritage Site in 2004.
Þingvellir became a national park as a result of legislation passed in 1928 to protect the remains of the parliament site by creating the first national park in Iceland, decreed “a protected national shrine for all Icelanders, the perpetual property of the Icelandic nation under the preservation of parliament, never to be sold or mortgaged.
Þingvellir is notable for its unusual tectonic and volcanic environment in a rift valley. The continental drift between the North American and Eurasian Plates can be clearly seen in the cracks or faults which traverse the region, the largest one, Almannagjá, being a veritable canyon. This also causes the often measurable earthquakes in the area.
The Þingvellir area is a part of the North Atlantic rift system, almost entirely nested within the Reykjaneshryggur-Langjökull rift system. It can be described as an area of sea-floor spreading, displaying the close association of crustal rifting and volcanism. Þingvellir and the Great Rift Valley of Eastern Africa are the only sites on Earth where the effects of two major plates drifting apart can be observed.
Þingvellir is situated on the northern shore of Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake of Iceland. The river Öxará traverses the national park and forms a waterfall at the Almannagjá, called Öxarárfoss. On the lake’s northern shore the Silfra fissure is a popular diving and snorkelling tour location.
Some of the rifts are full of clear water. One, Nikulásargjá, is better known as Peningagjá (lit. “coin fissure”), as its bottom is littered with coins. After being bridged in 1907 for the occasion of the visit of King Frederick VIII of Denmark, visitors began to throw coins in the fissure, a tradition based on European legends.
Þingvellir was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site on cultural criteria. It may also qualify on geological criteria in the future, as there has been ongoing discussion of a possible “serial trans-boundary nomination” for the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which would include other sites in the Atlantic such as Pico Island.
Together with the waterfall Gullfoss and the geysers of Haukadalur, Þingvellir is part of a group of the most famous sights of Iceland, the Golden Circle.
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