ICELAND ADVENTURE - DAY 9 – Plains of Parliament
ICELAND ADVENTURE - DAY 9 – Plains of Parliament
Day 9 map
From the Hotel Elderstar in Hverageroi we head north to Lake Thingvallavatin (or Pingvallavatin, depending on how you translate the first Icelandic letter which we don’t have in the English alphabet), the Plains of Parliament and then on to Reykjavik to round out our Iceland Adventure.
Lake Thingvallavatin sits in what’s called a “rift valley” A rift valley is where two masses of earth’s crust (in this case tectonic plates) are moving away from each other. In some places as the two sides move apart what’s in the middle sinks (subsides) forming a low valley (Death Valley is an example). In other places the separating plates form a crack, or fissure, through which lava wells up from below to fill the void. Sometimes this lava just oozes out but in many cases, especially in Iceland, the lava shoots up along several miles of these fissures forming a long skinny volcano. As we drove up the east side of the lake we were right next to one of these rift fissures. This one marks the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. The actual boundary zone between these plates is a mess of fractures and fissures several miles wide that is not fully a part of either tectonic plate but more like a geologic jumble in-between the two. But this place gives a good example of a rift fissure where two continental plates are moving away from each other.
Fissure between North American and Eurasian tectonic plates
Fissure between North American and Eurasian Tectonic Plates
The lake itself is the largest lake in Iceland covering 32 square miles. It’s deepest spot is at the northern end where it is 374 feet deep. In and around this lake are many cracks and fissures in the earths crust, some above water and some below. Many of those are filled with crystal clear water making this lake a haven for scuba divers.
PLAINS OF PARLIAMENT
An area at the north end of the lake is known as “The Plains of Parliament”. The parliament was formed here around the year 930 AD and as that parliament still exists today makes it the oldest extant parliamentary institution in the world. When it was formed it marked the beginning of the Icelandic Commonwealth. Later when Iceland came under the rule of Norway in 1262, this parliament continued to operate and did so until 1799 at which time is was suspended for 45 years. It was then restored in 1844 when it was moved to Reykjavik where it remains today.
During it’s heyday, the parliament, made up of the most powerful men in the country, met once a year on these cliffs and fields to decide legislation and dispense justice. As all free men could attend the assemblies this gathering turned into the most popular social event of the year drawing large crowds who camped (if that’s the right word) on these fields. Some put up stone walls or other semi-permanent housing but many just set up camp as it were.
The centre of the gathering was Law Rock, a rocky outcrop on which the Lawspeaker took his seat as the presiding official of the assembly and anyone who cared to listen sat on rocks and ledges all around. His responsibilities included reciting all the laws in effect at the time. OK, get this. At that time the laws of Iceland were not written down. So, the Lawspeaker recited the laws from memory and the only way to know what was and was not legal was to go to this gathering and hear him recite the laws. Eventually (I’m not sure when) it got too much for the Lawspeaker to remember all the laws and they started writing them down so he could read them. I imagine this made things a bit more consistent.
This annual assembly was a combination of our Legislature, Supreme Court, Land Registry, and Attorney Generals office. Disputes were settled, laws created, exemptions to laws granted, land granted or taken away, criminal sentences imposed and many times carried out. One area is called the “Drowning Pool” where at least 18 women were executed by drowning between 1618 and 1749 after being sentenced to death for various crimes. The Drowning pool is in a little river very close to Law Rock. Some accounts say that drowning was reserved for the women. The men were merely burned at the stake. I don’t know which is the better deal.
The “gathering” each year must have been quite a circus. Some notable events that took place at these gatherings was the adoption of Christianity around 1000 AD and the Founding of the modern Icelandic Republic in 1944.
As time went on, some permanent buildings were erected and some government workers lived here year round.
Church at Plains of Parliament
Some remaining permanent buildings
Church and permanent structures
In and around the Plains of Parliament are many more fissures, both large and small. Some are downright canyons while other are barely wide enough to see down into.
Large canyon formed by a fissure near Law Rock
Water flowing down a fissure. A little downstream from here is the drowning pool
Small fissure filled with water
From here we drove into Reykjavik, our last destination of the tour. More about Reyhjavik in the next installment
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Thanks for reading -- Dan
Keywords: church, dantravelblog, dantravelblogiceland, drowning pool, fissure, iceland, lake thingvallavatin, plains of parliament, travel blog, travel log
I envision this made things more predictable. This yearly gathering was a mix of our Legislature, Supreme Court, Land Registry, and Attorney Generals office. Debate were settled, laws made, exceptions to laws without a doubt, arrive conceded or taken away, criminal sentences forced and commonly.
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