Þingvellir National Park holds an incredible place in both cultural and geological history. As the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Iceland, there are many reasons why it has become such a tourist destination.
It became a National Park in 1930 and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2004. It is located on the popular route known as The Golden Circle, which features other tourist attractions such as Gullfoss waterfall and Geysir Geothermal. Due to its scenic surroundings, the area has been well documented in memorabilia and photography. There are many reasons for this.
The settlement of Iceland by Norwegians in 874 began with the arrival of Ingólfur Arnarson. The communities that arrived in Iceland were from many different clans, creating a tense situation that led to violence between the groups who shared the same religion and language but held their own customs. The tension was exacerbated by the fact that Iceland was an island with scarce resources, which forced them to find ways to work together in order to survive. Soon, district assemblies formed all around the island with the majority of power still lying in the area around Reykjavik, something the rest of the settlers resented.
This pushed all representatives from all parts of the island to gather in a meeting to find a way to live more harmoniously and sustainably on a difficult island – Þingvellir. In 930, more than 30 representatives met in Þingvellir, thereby creating the first modern democratic assembly about 800 years before the next one would be created in other parts of the world. This would go on to take place annually and become the place where most of the significant turning points in Icelandic history were decided upon. Important events such as when Icelanders declared independence from Denmark in 1944, as well as the consensus to abandon the Norse Pagan belief in 1000 AD both took place there.
To add to this fascinating cultural history, Þingvellir also offers visitors the possibility to see Iceland’s geological processes on display. As Iceland is situated on the Mid-Atlantic Rift, it is the only place in the world where the rift is above sea level and in plain sight. Entering the park, the path takes you down a steep cliff that is actually the edge of the North American plate. Driving through the park and ascending on the other side will take you onto the Eurasian plate. Between them is the rift valley where Þingvellir lies. With the tectonic plates separating at about 2.5 centimeters each year. You can see the effects in the park where the whole area is filled with ravines caused by earthquakes over the past millennium.
Nowadays, visitors explore the site in a variety of ways, including hiking as well as snorkeling and diving in the crystal clear water of the rifts. Silfra is the most famous rift with its incredible visibility from over 100 meters. The location is also popular due to it being the filming location of popular TV show Game of Thrones.