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The Thingvellir (or Žingvellir) National Park in Iceland has a long and distinguished history. The Icelandic Parliament was established there in AD 930, remaining there until 1789. The Thingvellir National Park was founded in 1930 to protect the remains of this site and also the natural aspects of the area. The Parliament helped to forge a common cultural heritage and national identity among Icelanders. The Althing (assembly) was held here, at which people could make speeches and present cases which were judged by the laws of the time. Thousands of people would flock here, setting up temporary houses and selling goods, watching entertainment and drinking ale.
The park is also significant for geographical reasons. It lies on the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, which are drifting apart at the rate of 2.5 cm a year. The North American plate in particular is especially impressive, towering over the flagpole on the Althing site.
The park is located in south west Iceland near Reykjavik, and is one of the locations on the popular Golden Circle Tour, which is the tour I took to visit. It would be possible to hire a car and visit the park yourself, however you'd need to be a confident driver and to know where you were going! For most people booking onto a tour would be the easiest way to see it.
The park was the final stop on the tour and as we drove towards our stop the driver pointed out the edge of the Eurasian plate. Over the years the plates have moved apart leaving a kind of low plain in between. Our coach stopped next to the North American plate which looms like a cliff over the plain.
As a group we walked for a couple of minutes up towards the North American plate, crossing a bridge and walking slightly uphill in the process. There were a couple of wooden platforms where you could stop and take photos. We stopped just beneath the plate at the point where the Althing used to be held. On the ground it was still possible to see the outlines of some of the huts built to house people attending the parliament. Our guide also pointed out the bridge at which women and criminals were drowned!
While anyone who wished could go back to the bus, most of us chose to walk up to the top of the plate and meet the coach which was going to drive round. This involved walking up a gully next to the plate. At this point a snowstorm came on and I felt as though I was in The Lord of the Rings!
At the top, the views were very impressive. We could see the sea to our right and the plain spread out in front of us. It was strange to think we had crossed over a divide in the Earth's crust.
Overall the Thingvellir National Park was a very impressive sight. I liked to think of ancient Icelanders meeting here to discuss their issues. It definitely helps to know something of the history and geography behind the place, and the guides are very knowledgeable about this. Definitely a must-see if you visit Iceland.