Saturday, November 7, 2015

Þingvellir National Park, Iceland

Þingvellir National Park, Iceland

After leaving Reykjavík, we were off to see the Golden Circle, which includes Þingvellir, Geysir, and Gullfoss. We started in Þingvellir National Park, which is located on the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. In most places, these plates can just slide past each other, but here, they break apart, as much as 1mm to 18mm per year, resulting in dramatic fissures and earthquake activity. This photo is from the entrance to the park, just past the visitors center. It is actually a pretty small rock fissure, but somehow I can capture the feeling of the earth separating more on this small scale than in the larger rifts we walked through.

The Almannagjá fault in Þingvellir National Park, Iceland

The path from the visitors center takes us on the Almannagjá fault toward the Lögberg, the Law Rock. This gives you a better sense of how big the rifts can get along the tectonic plates in the Þingvellir plain. It also shows you how popular this site is -- look at all the visitors!

I love these textured rocks -- I don't know what process gives them these striations, though. Is this the result of the lava flows from volcanic activity or the stress of the tectonic plates? (Maybe, as Q said, these were giant fingerprints!)

Another cool textured rock. This trip made me wish I had taken a geology course in college. Or that I just had a geologist along to explain things to me.

We stopped to take a selfie as we walked through Þingvellir.

And there were mysterious paths into the rocks . . . but signs forbade us from straying off the main path, as it damages the fragile plants. (We saw other visitors doing so, though, much to our annoyance.)

Of course, Iceland is full of hidden treasures.  Did you know that in his book, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Jules Verne placed the passage leading to the center of the earth at the mountain Snæfellsjökull in western Iceland?  

Þingvellir is also a key historic site.  Beginning in AD 930, the Icelandic national democratic assembly (Alþingi) was held yearly in Þingvellir. (This remained the national legislative assembly until 1271, at which time governance was surrendered to the Norwegian crown, though Þingvellir continued to be used as a courtroom until 1798.) People traveled from all over Iceland to attend -- here they would pass new laws, make criminal judgments, create marriage contracts, and enjoy the opportunities for trade and entertainment.

This is the view from the Lögberg (Law Rock). Here the Law Speaker would recite from memory the existing laws of Iceland (one third of the laws were recited each year, along with the rules of the parliament). The early Icelanders re-routed the river to provide water to the site of the Alþingi -- unfortunately, this caused problems later on with flooding and made the site almost impassible in some years.

The annual Alþingi acted as a national court, where criminal cases were heard and punishment enacted. Punishments might involve fines, outlawry, flogging, or execution. This is Drekkingarhylur ("the drowning pool"), where, up to the early 18th century, women who were convicted of adultery, incest, or infanticide were drowned. (Men convicted of capital crimes weren't drowned -- they were burned or hanged.)

Q got to clamber on the rocks near Öxarárfoss (a waterfalll flowing from the river Öxará over the Almannagjá rift). The story is that this is where the river was redirected by the Vikings for the Alþingi.

Q gets up close and personal with Öxarárfoss. 

Closeup of Öxarárfoss in Þingvellir National Park, Iceland

The water is flowing by, but I can capture just this one moment with my camera.

One of the reasons I enjoy posting photos and travelogue is to better remember our journey. Without a story, the memories tend to fade away. But when I capture a moment in time and place it into a narrative, I get to keep the memory. (Or, as cognitive science would argue, I construct the memory. Whatever. I still get a memory.)

Next up: Geysir


  1. You are doing a wonderful job of preserving those memories.

  2. You are doing a wonderful job of preserving those memories.