There are a lot of unique things about Iceland. It is one country where you can go chase aurora borealis, dive between continents and experience amazing landscapes and thermal springs. Iceland is also one of the safest countries in the world. You can’t find mosquitoes in this beautiful country. In addition to that, there’s another great attraction – the oldest parliament in the whole world.
Also known as the Althing, the national parliament of Iceland is more than one thousand years old. The first session was held in 930 A.D – during the reign of the Vikings. The high and mighty of Iceland’s society attended the parliament once a year. The sessions took place in June where leaders dispensed justice and made legislative decisions.
The assembly was the major event of the year. All free men around the country were also allowed to attend the parliament session. Some of the groups that attended included parties involved in legal disputes, farmers and their families, craftsmen, travelers and storytellers. They all set up temporary camps for the entire duration of the assembly.
Under colonial rule, the parliament lost influence and only served as a court of law. This went on until the 19th century when the country experienced a growing nationalist movement. The urge for independence gained momentum and led to the creation of a new parliament within the same building.
For many centuries, Iceland was under the Danish and Norwegian Crown. However, the parliament remained functional. The only thing that kept changing from time to time was jurisdiction. The parliamentary meetings became unpopular and ineffective as the years went by. The last session took place in the summer of 1798.
The opening ceremony of the new Iceland parliament took place on July 1, 1881, in the Lutheran Cathedral, situated next to the government building in Reykjavik. Over the next years, the Althing became a tool to fight for Iceland’s independence
In 1907, more than 12,000 women signed a petition calling for universal suffrage. This compelled the Danish King to allow women to vote in 1915. This move was seen as a major boost toward the fight for self-rule. This culminated in the country’s freedom or self-rule in 1944.
What Are The Attractions At The Althing?
Although the inside of the Iceland parliament is not usually accessed by visitors, its frontage makes it one of the most notable buildings in Reykjavik. Ironically, the Althing building was regarded as the symbol of independence at that time when it was designed by Ferdinand Meldahl, a director of the Academy of fine arts in Copenhagen. Indeed, the emblem and crown of King Christian IX of Denmark are visible at the top of the northern building.
Although the architect was from Denmark, all the materials used to construct the building came from Iceland. The exterior of the building is noteworthy for its bare back rock. The outside architecture is complete with four bass beliefs just underneath the windows on the second floor – where the guardian spirits of Iceland are visible.
Thingvellir remained an important spot in Iceland’s political history despite the creation of the new parliament. It was in the same spot that the Danish king gave Iceland its first constitution in 1874. For several years, political leaders and other patriots used the building to champion freedom until 1944 when the country gained independence from Denmark.
The old parliament building was turned into a national park in 1928. How the park is described tells how important it is for the people of Iceland. The site has been marked as a “protected national shrine for all Icelanders”.
Today, the park is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the country. While it is seen by many as the oldest parliament in the world, Icelanders see it as a symbol of freedom and unity.