The Rift’s the Thing


From the western lip of Almannagja Fissure, the view spans continents: the fissure is the western boundary of a graben (a depressed block of rock bordered by two parallel faults) that marks the Mid-Atlantic Ridge cutting through Iceland. The 8 km long fissure is one of the rift features that makes Thingvellir National Park such a dramatic setting, caught between the North American and Eurasian plates. The tectonic plates pulling apart formed the landscape into lava fields and rift scarps, with tall cliffs and shallow rift lakes forming a backdrop to a cultural landscape that is equally impressive. Thingvellir National Park was the site of the Althing, the Icelandic national assembly, from 930 to 1798 C.E. For the Norse, a “thing” was a governing assembly of the free members of society, where laws were set and disputes were settled. Fragments of the stone and turf booths where attendees of the Althing met in the open air are still visible in the park; it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004 for its significance to Icelandic culture and history.


Image credit: Ragnar Sigurdsson ( (distributed via

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