Thingvellir: The Birthplace of Iceland

Cairn building is popular everywhere – no more so than at a viewing point over Thingvallavatn

Thingvellir (Þingvillir) is literally where it all started for Iceland, both politically and geologically:

Iceland sits on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge – a large underwater mountain range that runs the entire length of the Atlantic Ocean.  Here, the North American and Eurasian Plates are moving away from each other and as they do magmatic material erupts through fissures to “fill the gap” – until the plates move apart again, and again, and again…

Ground-splitting territory

Iceland is clearly more than “just” an underwater mountain range – and that is because it is situated atop a hot spot.  A hot spot is where the magma under the earth’s crust is anomalously hot compared to the surrounding magma.  It has meant that the volcanic activity in this region has been considerably greater than elsewhere along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

A bit of old ropey lava – aka pahoehoe

At Thingvellir, where the plates move away from each other at a rate of 7mm per annum, the resulting landscape is a valley that has widened by 70m and sunk by 40m in the last 10,000 years.

Standing on the North American Plate – looking over Eurasia

It is also the site of Iceland’s first parliament “The Althing”, which was founded in AD930.

Looking over towards Thingvellir Church

Local councils from around Iceland met on an annual basis each summer.  It is also the place where the Icelandic language was standardised, as were many of the cultures and customs.

Dramatic cliffs mark the edge of the North American Plate

On the edge – the North American Plate

The church that stands was only constructed in 1859, but was built on the site of the original church built in AD1000 when Christianity was adopted and paganism outlawed.

Thingvellir Church

It is interesting to note that the Icelanders changed the names of the week to reflect this religious changeover, but we English speakers have retained the references to the old Norse gods.

English              Old-Norse Root      Icelandic                 Translation

Sunday              Sun day                       Sunnudagur          Sun day
Monday            Moon day                   Mánadagur           Moon day
Tuesday            Tyr’s day                    Þriðjudagur          Third day
Wednesday     Odin’s day                  Miðvikudagur      Mid-week day
Thursday         Thor’s day                  Fimmtudagur       Fifth day
Friday                Freyja’s day             Föstudagur            Fast day
Saturday          Saturn’s day             Laugardagur        Wash day

More cracks in the Earth

Ӧxaráfoss – Axe Waterfall

The Ӧxará river provided fresh water for the summer get-togethers

Thingvellir with Thingvallavatn in the background

Unintentionally monochrome – Ӧxaráfoss on a grey day

Thingvellir became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004 and is one of the well-established stopping points on the Golden Circle – a popular day-trip for visitors based in Reykjavik.  The other main points of interest are Gullfoss and Geysir – although there are plenty other sights worth seeing along the way.  Each place we stopped at deserves its own post… so stay tuned for more!!

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28 thoughts on “Thingvellir: The Birthplace of Iceland

    1. Thank you so much Madhu – there’s plenty more to come… It’s taking me a bit longer to organise my thoughts on Iceland, and I’ve had quite a busy summer too 🙂

    1. Thank you Carla – Iceland was on my travel list for about 33 years… I hope it doesn’t take you quite as long to get there as it did me!!

  1. I love the little facts you mentioned in this post, Lu! Iceland herself is one of the most enchanting places on earth I’ve been dreaming going to.

    1. Thank you Emily – the first photograph shows “cairns” – totally man-made, they are more usually seen atop a hill or mountain – meant to mark the summit… but can be used to mark trails and pathways etc. I think here, they are just ornamental, otherwise perhaps they were trying to create a maze?!

      1. I actually haven’t visited any countries in the Eastern Europe/Russia region. Closest I got to the Russian border was hearing patrol boats whizzing up and down a lake in Finland 🙂
        Do you blog about your travels?

      2. Well, in real… I‘m trying, 🙂 when I have time. But you have such a nice and well done blog, I don‘t even hope to do something like:). I visited Tampere some days ago, Finland is a nice country… but cold)). Where have you been in Finland? Have you been in Tampere?

  2. Hi Lu! I’m Kathi and I love your blog and all the great pictures! So i’ve nominated you for the ‘Very Inspiring Blogger Award’. To find out more just check out the post on my blog. Thank you:)

    1. There is, apparently, one other place on solid ground (as opposed to under water) where you can see this – and that is the East African Rift system. It’s on the bucket list 😉

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