Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir National Park
Cultural Iceland Europe And North America BláskógabyggðMunicipality, District Of Arnessysla

The Althing and its hinterland, Þingvellir National Park, represent, through the remains of the assembly ground, the booths for those who attended, and through landscape evidence of settlement extending back possibly to the time the assembly was established, a unique reflection of medieval Norse/Germanic culture and one that persisted from its foundation in 980 AD until the 18th century. Pride in the strong association of the Althing to medieval Germanic/Norse governance, known through the 12th-century Icelandic sagas, and reinforced during the fight for independence in the 19th century, have, together with the powerful natural setting of the assembly grounds, given the site iconic status as a shrine for the nation.

Þingvellir (Thingvellir) is where the Althing - an open-air assembly that represented the whole of Iceland - was established in 930 and continued to meet until 1798. Over two weeks a year, the assembly set laws, seen as a covenant between free men, and settled disputes. The Althing has deep historical and symbolic associations for the people of Iceland. Located on an active volcanic site, the World Heritage site includes the Þingvellir National Park and the remains of the Althing itself: fragments of around 50 booths built from turf and stone. Remains from the 10th century are thought to be buried underground. The site also includes remains of agricultural use from 18th and 19th centuries, the Thingvellir Church and adjacent farm, and the population of arctic char in Lake Thingvallavatn. The park shows evidence of the way the landscape was husbanded over 1,000 years.

The assembly had several institutions: the Law Council, five courts and the Lawspeaker. The principal task of the Council was to 'frame the law'. The 12th-century chronicles, the Book of Icelanders (Islendlingabok ) describes the search for a suitable assembly site, convenient for the routes across the island. The site chosen, although towards the south of the island formed a suitable focus for the greatest concentration of the farming population. Remains at Thingvellir include fragments of around 50 attenders' booths. These booths, built from turf and stone with a canvas roof, provided temporary accommodation for those attending the assembly. They were frequently repaired or rebuilt on the same site. Those remaining seem to date from the 17th and 18th centuries (the final flourishing of the Assembly) and to have been built on top of earlier remains.

The hinterland of the Althing was agricultural land on which the prosperity of the island depended. No one now lives in what is now the National Park;three farms in the area when the park was established were bought out and the houses and buildings gradually abandoned. The last residents left in the 1960s. The park landscape contains abundant remains of structures associated with earlier agricultural use of the land, such as houses, outhouses and sheep pens, surrounded by their small subsistence home fields for arable crops and perhaps hay, and a network of tracks linking the farms to each other and to the Assembly site on which they converged. The vast open expanses of land around the enclosed fields was grazing land - for the sheep and cattle of the farms but also to be used by the horses of those attending the Assemblies. There are the remains of six farms, a summer farm or sheiling, a chapel and a brew-house. It is surmised that most of the remains date from the 18th and 19th centuries, although documentary evidence for specific settlements such as the Grimsstadir farm goes back to the 10th century.

The present Thingvellir Church, a protected building, dates from the 1850s, but it is on the site of a much larger church dating from the early 11th century. The neighbouring Thingvellir Farm is a relatively modern building in classic Icelandic form, which now serves as a country residence for the President of Iceland.