Althing

Reykjavik, Iceland | C.930

Photo Credit: Oksana Smolianinova

The Althing – or Iceland’s Parliament – is the oldest continuously functioning legislature in the world. If that wasn’t enough to celebrate, in 1867, they convened to plan celebrations for the millennium commemoration of the settlement of Iceland (aka: Iceland’s 1000th birthday) Beyond hosting a national festival, the Althing decided to mark the anniversary with the construction of a new government building. The Parliament House, seen here, was the fruit of Iceland’s celebratory planning.

The small island-nation’s origins date back to circa 830, when Norse Vikings accidentally discovered the then-uninhabited island, after being blown off course during an expedition to the Faroe Islands. Delighted with their discovery–offered by a fortuitous gust of wind–they settled, formed the Icelandic Commonwealth, and launched discussions about forming a unique system of medieval government.

Within a century, by 930, the Althing was officially established. Initially held outdoors, proceedings began as an annual general assembly of the Icelandic Commonwealth. Chieftains, called “goðars,” met to create laws and settle legal disputes, drawing large crowds of farmers, traders, craftsmen, and travelers who gathered to take their cases before them.

The government building that still stands today, over one thousand years in the making, apparently has an undeniable durability to it. Perhaps because the seemingly no-nonsense structure is in fact constructed from volcanic rock, hewn from one of Iceland’s most iconic hills. Not only does the structure house the governing officials who are leading Iceland into the future, but it also carries the stories of the men and women who shaped Iceland’s past.

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