Iceland’s Golden Circle: Þingvellir
Today we traveled with a very nice person, a young hitchhiker from Belarus whose name is Sofia.
And that was not the only surprise for today. We knew they were in Iceland this week but we did not plan this meeting at all. This morning, while touring the Golden Circle east of Reykjavic, we met our very good friends from Toronto. It was an amazing coincidence:
The Golden Circle is a very popular tourist route in southern Iceland, covering about 300 kilometres looping from Reykjavík into the southern uplands of Iceland and back. In summertime, 30,000 visitors tour this area everyday. in other words it is very crowded but absolutely worth a visit.
If you are planning to tour the entire island, I recommend keeping the Golden Circle for the end of your trip. It’s like a cherry on the cake or rather icing on the cake.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Thingvellir National Park (Þingvellir) is of immence historic and symbolic importance to Icelanders. It was for long the site of the original Alþingi, the national parliament of the settlers, and the setting for many of the most important events in the history of the island. The first general assembly came together for the first time here before 930 AD.
The first church was built here first in 1018. The building we see on the picture is from 1859.
Þingvellir lies at the junction of the American and Eurasian tectonic plates. at the western end of a rift valley which extends from the mountains to the northeast down to Þingvallavatn – Þingvellir Lake.
Over the past 10,000 years the earth’s crust has been subsiding and diverging here:
Here we are ready to begin our walk between the two tectonic plates!
Here are our friends from Toronto again:
And the beautiful valley:
Þingvallavatn or Þingvellir Lake is Iceland’s largest natural lake. The recent lava flows mean that the mineral content of the groundwater is high, and this is one of the contributory factors in the lake’s thriving ecosystem. The water is nutritious and rich in vegetation, though very cold.
More interesting facts about Iceland:
The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is geologically significant because it marks the boundary where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet and separate. Volcanic eruptions at this boundary create new ocean floor and at the same time push the two tectonic plates apart at rates of 1 cm to 20 cm per year, a process known as sea-floor spreading. As oceanic plates move apart, rock melts and wells up from tens of kilometers deep producing enormous volcanic eruptions of basalt, and building the longest chain of volcanoes in the world.
The place where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is best visible is at Thingvellir National Park, in southwestern Iceland. The continental drift between the North American and Eurasian Plates can be clearly seen in the cracks or faults which traverse the region, the largest one, Almannagjá, being a veritable canyon.
The section of the ridge that includes the island of Iceland is known as the Reykjanes Ridge. The ridge is spreading at an average rate of about 2.5 cm per year. Over the past 10,000 years the Thingvellir Rift Valley has widened by 230 feet (70 m) and sunk by 131 feet (40 m). Not only is the mid-ocean ridge changing the geography of Iceland, it’s also responsible for the volcanic activity which created the island. As the two tectonic plates shift, fissures periodically form in the crust that allow molten rock from underground to surface as lava, creating Iceland’s many volcanoes. Iceland is one of the most geologically active places on Earth with more than 15 volcanoes that have erupted in the last century.