Facts about Thingvellir
Location. Thingvellir is located in the SW- part of Iceland
in the District of Arnessýsla. Thingvellir is 50 kilometers from
Reykjavík, 46 kilometers from Selfoss and 82 kilometers from Borgarnes.
Its geographical position on our earth is 64,15o N.lat. and 21,7o Western
The entire extent, or boundaries, of the "Peace Sanctified" area
(an Icelandic National Park) is determined by limits established by two
major lavaclefts in east and west, by a mountain in the north and the shoreline
of Lake Thingvalla in the south. But a narrower, more precise and older
definition of Thingvellir is that it is: "the Peace-Sanctified"
area of the Old Thing (old gathering place) located within the higher brink
of the Almannagjá on its west, the Coins Cleft on its east boundary,
the "Citadels" (Kastalar) as its north boundary and to the south
by the coastline of Lake Thingvalla. Should you find yourself at any certain
moment located within these limits you should not doubt that you are at
Thingvellir is a "Peace -Sanctified" Shrine, belonging to all
Icelanders, in accordance with a Law of May 7th,1928. Thingvellir is under
the protection of the Althing and shall be the property of the Icelandic
The Thingvellir Committee is made up of three members of the Althing-Parliament
and it is elected immediately after every general election. It is the responsibility
of the Committee to arrange the management of the Thingvellir area and
issues regulations for its use and protection. The Committee engages the
services of an Inspector of the Sanctified Area. The present Inspector
(1998) is Heimir Steinsson.
Roads. The road from Reykjavík bypasses some farmhouses in the sparsely
populated in the vicinity of Thingvellir, while there is a great number
of summerhouses on the shores of the Lake. The road then crosses the Axe
River (Öxar ), and the Almannagjá (Everyman's Cleft). In the
midst of the lava then appears a camping site with a service center. From
there are roads to the north and in the southeast direction towards the
"low south" of Iceland. From the south there are roads leading
directly to the Thing-area. Another road leads across the lava to the Hotel
Valhöll (Walhalla) and then proceeds up to the old parliament site.
Jurisdiction. The Sheriff at Selfoss-town, the Police of Selfoss and the
special Inspector of the Park keep up the inspection at Thingvellir.
At the view dial on the right hand to the main road is an ideal access
to the historic Almannagjá and so to the whole route through the
Thing-area. This access route is the old riding path, which later became
the main road. However, for reasons of protection, this class has now been
closed to vehicles.
Valhöll Restaurant is situated close to the mouth of the Axe river.
Guests of Valhöll Restaurant come to the Axe River bridge after crossing
the Leirur camping place.
In the Thingvellir "parish" (Icel. hreppur, an old institution)
there are now only a few farmsteads left,and, indeed, this "hreppur"
has for a long time been one of the most sparsely populated in Iceland.
The Church in this place, however, had extensive estates in earlier times.
Today there are many deserted farms in this area. A Church is, however,
still situated in Thingvellir. A church has been there since the days of
"Olaf the Corpulent" (995- 1030), a King of Norway, who gave
the timber for its construction. This church was founded for missionary
purposes. "Olaf the Corpulent" also gave a bell for use at this
church. His half-brother, Haraldr hardradi, gave another bell, which may
have been used for sumoning the Althing meetings.
Burial Yard (special, apart from the ordinary one) is located behind the
Inspector's house. Two famous Icelandic poets are buried in this second
burial yard. They are Jónas Hallgrímsson (1807-1845) and
Einar Benediktsson (1864-1940). Long ago the Skald (poet) Thorleifr was
buried at Thingvellir. From his name are derived the place names Thorleif's
islet and Thorleif's Hill.
The Prime Minister of Iceland has the right to dwell at Thingvellir in
the upper store of the Inspector's house.
A view-dial (Hringsjá) stands on the Hakid-Rock, close to the old
riding path, with a number of mountain names, and other place names marked
on it by direction. Although these names are engraved on the metallic plate,
I repeat some of them here, for your information. - Hrafnabjörg (Raven's
Mountains) are coal-black and rise from their back- ground as a steep wall
in the east, when you look from the Dial. Tindaskagi (Peaks Promontory)
is seen farther to the north while Kálfatindar (Calves Peaks) lie
to the south. Skjaldbreid (Shield-Broad) is seen as an imposing, cone shaped
mountain in the north. Ármannsfell (The Abode of Armann the Good)
is seen due north from the view-dial location. For a long time people believed
that the Armann abode was the home of a good-natured being named Armann.
The fantastic Armanns-Saga relates details of his life at Armannsfell.
When the economic and mental renaissance of Iceland was taking its first,
small steps, forward in the 19th century, the renaissance is dated as having
begun with the magazine "Armann Alþingi" (1829). The magazine's
name refers to the same Armann, who according to the Armann Saga lived
Botnssúlur Pillars. are the highest moun-tains in the vicinity of
Thingvellir (1095 meters).
In the middle of Lake Thingvalla is located a volcanic crater named Sandey
The Thingvellir Lava extends from Raven's Cleft over and across Everyman's
Cleft. Towards the west can be seen lava that is said to be a product of
the Shield-Broad volcano. This explanation of the origins of the lava was
given by the Icelandic poet and geologist of the 19th century, Jónas
Hallgrímsson. This is the explanation generally accepted today,
after some other hypotheses had been tried without success. But the lava
along the eastern side of the Lake Thingvalla are of more recent origin,
and were produced by another volcano.
The Thingvalla Lake (Þingvallavatn) is the largest natural lake in
Iceland. It covers an area of 83 km3 ; it stands 102 meters above sea level
and is as much as 114 meters deep. The Lake is the homestead of the Murta,
a special variety of trout, a delicatesse of many gourmets. On the bottom
of the Lake lies a coat of "diatomite" (consisting of shells
of algae) North of Lake Thingvalla the Axe-River comes up from the Myrkavatn
(Dark Lake), flows across the Thing-area and eventually into the Lake.
The Axe River derives its name from a certain axe that was lost into the
river through the ice long ago. The early Thingpeople channeled the river
into the Cleft and onward through the Thing- area either for the purposes
of utility or for beauty. There are many instances in the old Icelandic
literature that show, that the sense of natural beauty was strongly developed
in the minds of the Godic population. This well awakened sense of natural
beauty was always healthy and robust, never sentimental.
The Almannagjá (Everyman's Cleft) is one of those wonders of nature
that is sure to impress anyone who is at all susceptible to such impressions.
The Almannagjá stretches from the foot of a mountain in the north,
due south through Thingvellir and down to the western side of the Lake
Thingvalla. The Cleft, therefore, extends a distance ca.8 km in length.
The western brink of Almannagjá rises much higher than the east
brink. But on the other side of the lava subsidence the positions are reversed
so that the east brink is higher and the west lower. The Hrafnagjá
(Ravens Cleft) runs parallel with Almannagjá at a distance of ca.
The Lava Plain is formed by a gradual subsi-dence that has sunk about 30
meters with respect to the surrounding lava plain. The basin of the Thingvalla-Lake
is in a prolongation of this subsidence in the volcanic area. There are
many clefts in the Thingvalla-lava and some of them have had special names
given to them due to their special apparent characteristics. South of the
view-dial the Almannagjá is called Hestagjá (Horses' Cleft)
due to the fact that the horses were kept there during the Thingtime. An
interesting cleft is called Coin Cleft (Peningagjá ) because of
the custom of throwing coins into it for luck.
In all the clefts of the Lava Plain near to Thingvellir the water is crystal-clear
having a temperature of 3-4 degrees Centigrade in summer and winter. In
very strong periods of frost when the temperature of the air drops quite
low, an icy-fog rises from the clefts, yet the water in them never freezes
- according to Gudmundur Davídsson, the first Inspector of the National
The Axe-River Islet was a famous place in Godic times. Its fame was based
most of all on the story of the struggle between Gunnlaugr and Hrafn over
Fair-Helga. The duel between Gunnlaugr and Hrafn was unfinished at Axe-River
Islet, but a year later they both died at each other's hands in Norway.
It was, however, the last official duel in Iceland, because the Godis found
the loss of those precious yong men too painful. The islet is no more to
be found there. The course of the Axe-River was constantly changing its
channel during the passing of time. Due to this channel action, even the
Lög-rétta building east pof the Axe-River had to be moved.
In 1594 the old Lögrétta had to be abando-ned for it was standingon
a steadily decreasing and disappearing islet of the Axe-River.
Geological formation of the Thingvellir area. Just as were a majority of
Iceland's geological for-mations, the Thingvellir area was formed by the
interaction of glaciers and volcanism in the Ice-Ages (the Quaternary Period).
It is therefore, quite a young formation, geologically, even on an Icelandic
scale of time. The area is within a belt of volcanism that lies from the
end of Langjökull in the NA to the tip of Reykjanes in the SW (and
even longer under the sea). The most noticeable features of the region
are: the Móberg (Palagonite) mountains, which were formed by volcanic
eruptions under the ice-shields of overlying glaciers of the glaciation
intervals. Secondly, the low-cone-shaped mountains which were also formed
by volcanic activity, but during an iceless interval. Then the landscape
has in time been eroded and moulded by the heavy glaciers of the Ice Age.
Fourthly, the area is extensively covered by lavas, all of which have been
produced after the last glaciation in Iceland. Fifthly, another main characteristic,
which we have named "the clefts" and the "land-subsidences"
have put their mark upon the landscape of the entire region.
The Continental Drift.The larger clefts in the Thingvalla-area are not
only evidence of land subsidence in this exact area, but even an illustration
of the Earths's stretching of its surface layers in different directions.
This movement of the Earth's surface layers in Iceland is a part of the
Continental Drift according to the theory of Alfred Wegener. The drift
in the part of the Earth where Iceland is located, occurs towards the east
and west, extending outwards from the middle of the mostly submarine Atlantic
Ridge. It just so happens that the Ridge lies athwart Iceland in its middle.
There are two volcanic belts related to this Ridge within Iceland. Thingvellir
lies on the western belt of volcanic activity.
The Age of the Thingvellir Area. There is a famous statement, made in Thingvellir
in the year 1000 - when people in general and the leading men of Icelan,
were quarreling over religion. The heathen people believed tht it was the
wrath of the Gods that caused a new volcanic eruption. whose flow of lava
was then threatening some farms soutwest-ward from Thingvellir. Snorri
Godi, an influential man of these times asked: "What caused the wrath
of the Gods, when the lava we now stand on came from the mountains?"
Prior to posing such a question, Snorri Godi obviously had understood,
that this lava was of the same nature as some lavas produced during his
own lifetime. In later times geologists found that on the whole, the Thingvellir
region is a remarkably young formation in the geological sense. They confirmed
and extended the initial finding of Snorri, that Thingvellir stands on
rather young rocks.