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 longitude.
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.
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 Nation forever.
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 at Armannsfell.
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 (Sandy island).
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. 5 km.
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 Park here.
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.