Thingvellir: A Site to Behold
Be sure not to miss out on visiting Thingvellir during your stay in Iceland and see for yourself how it truly is a sight to behold.
One could argue that Iceland is most famous for its innovative music, breath-taking nature, questionable eating habits, and cranky volcanoes with tongue twisting names, not to mention its unexpected leading role in the economic crisis that shook the world in 2008. But there is so much more than meets the eye on this exotic and extreme island. Nestled in the North Atlantic Ocean, this big island has gems in abundance ready to be discovered.
Thingvellir carries a monumental meaning for the Icelandic people and for all fans of democracy, as the oldest existent parliament in the world was founded there by no other than the blood-thirsty and politically savvy Vikings in 930. Again, in 1944, Thingvellir became of significant and historical importance as the place where Icelanders declared independence from Denmark after a very long time of being colonized by their Scandinavian cousins. But Thingvellir is also a World Heritage Site and not only for historical reasons but also due to its breathtaking nature and unique geographical and geological position on the world map. Thingvellir, located where two tectonic plates meet; not the North American plate and the Eurasian plate as is often stated but the North American plate and the much smaller Hreppafleki plate (covering only about one tenth the surface area of Iceland). This tectonic plate rarely gets mentioned but it's wedged between the American and Eurasian plates that form the rest of Iceland leaving a narrow rift between itself and the North American plate. There is no better place to examine this wondrous gap as the watery nooks and crannies of Thingvallavatn Lake in the Thingvellir National Park.
Trapped between two continents?
Iceland is largely positioned on a divergent boundary between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. When the two plates move apart, volcanic materials rise up naturally, since Iceland also lies above a hotspot—explaining all the volcanic action and the explosive hot water that's bubbling up on the island. There is plenty of geological action here and thanks to this, Icelandic landscape has been formed by the dramatic forces of nature with spectacular results.
When the Eurasian and North American plates move, it results in an earthquake. At Thingvellir, the tectonic plates drift apart from each other and the land descends as a result. These ever-moving tectonic plates create a constantly changing landscape, like a never-to-be-completed picture being painted on a canvas through the millennia.
The silver lining
Silfra is hailed as one of the best scuba diving places in the world. Silfra is a rift in the Thingvallavatn Lake where the adjacent plates drift apart about 2 cm a year creating a magnificent underworld display. Back in the days of yore, the melted ice from a glacier located 50 km north of Thingvellir ran through a river that poured into Thingvallavatn Lake. The volatility of Icelandic nature was as great back then as it is now, a volcano called Skjaldbreidur, erupted close to Thingvellir in those days, blocking the river with its hot and steaming lava This incredible union of fire and ice resulted in water slowly trickling through the old lava, leaving us with the clearest and most pristine water.
The icy water may seem a bit daunting for some but its clearness gives divers an extraordinary underwater view of over 100 m. Various shades of blue and turquoise colors can be seen in the Silfra Lagoon, leaving divers lost for words to describe this wondrous phenomenon. This breathtaking underwater landscape is somewhat like an impressionist painting with its pitch-black lava rocks and caves, taupe sand, green algae and all seen through the clearest blue water.
Silfra is truly a unique and magical phenomenon and divers travel from all corners of the earth to experience its wonders.
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by Inga Thorunn Waage