A Marvelous Thing
Fueled by the unspoiled natural beauty of the region, its relationship with auspicious events, and witness to the archaic laws of the times, Thingvellir National Park has long been treated as the spiritual hub of Iceland, emblematic of its Viking tradition.
It also happens to be the first tourist stop in your journey around the Golden Circle, the principal route that takes you to all the scenic spots around the island. Since the park happens to be one of the most visited attractions in Iceland, on your family trip you’ll very likely plan on spending time there, but before you do so, there’s a few things you need to keep in mind.
Lately, crowd management in the park has been a huge issue, and the delicate flora and fauna in the surrounding area have sustained growing pressure for this reason. So, if you’re a planning to visit this area with your kids, you should take extra precaution to make sure that they remain on marked pathways. The moss takes many decades to fully recover if trampled, but there are bigger problems abound, like the crevasses found around some of the rock faces that could be of a far more immediate worry.
There are other sources of pollution in the park, but all of them arise from humans not adhering to simple rules. One of them is from heavy metals seeping through the ground, a direct consequence of the indiscriminate coins that get constantly thrown into the lakes. Park rangers, however, have recently monitored this closely and cracked down on it frequently.
Thingvellir happens to occupy the vast area smack in the middle of two roughly parallel walls, and so is interesting from historic, geologic as well as geographic standpoint. Scrutinizing this carefully, you’ll be able to tell that the continents once drifted apart from what was the single land mass of Pangaea. In other words, it shows you the fault lines of continental drift. Just think about that! Here, one of the walls, the North American tectonic plate, visibly splits from the other, its Eurasian counterpart. The gap between them – the rift valley – is where Thingvellir sits. In fact, as you drive from Reykjavik into this steep valley, if you look back, you’ll be able to see the edges of the North American plate, where Reykjavik lies towards the west. If you reach the other end of the valley, you’ll be greeted by the edge of the Eurasian plate, home to the Vatnajökull glacier in the east.
For the history buffs, Thingvellir is also a place of extreme significance in the Icelandic society. The place is often said to be the scene of the birth of this nation. As early as 930 CE, with the magnificent natural backdrop of Thingvellir, the first parliamentary assembly was convened in Iceland, and continued for over 800 years. The dramatic history of the region recounts well how, against the harsh natural elements of the region, the first Viking communities built their society from scratch, and their gradual evolution towards a more modern society. In fact, within the park can be seen the remains of some fifty stone booths dating back to those times. Fueled by the unspoiled natural beauty of the region, its relationship with auspicious events, and archaic systems of law and order of the times, Thingvellir has long been treated as the spiritual hub of the country, emblematic of its Viking tradition.
But this place is also rich in flora and fauna, so don’t turn off all hopes of seeing some really elusive mammals around here. If you’re lucky you can even catch sight of creatures such as the Arctic fox. Although listed by IUCN as Threatened, they’re known to be occasionally found in the region. It’s image would serve as a poignant reminder that Thingvellir is as much for the living as for the dead, and it bears on us to ensure the species doesn’t slip away towards extinction just like the inhabitants of the territory it now roams.