The Parliament House is the elegant and historical home to Iceland’s Althingi (the National Parliament). Althingi  is one of the oldest extant parliamentary institutions in the world.

Viking settlers founded Althingi at Thingvellir, the Parliament Plains, in 930 AD.   Originally, Althingi met every summer. Community leaders, Godar, led the meeting. The Godar would discuss and pass legislation and dispense justice. Althingi drew large crowds and was considered one of the main social events in Iceland each year.

Modern day Althingi

Althingi held its sessions at Thingvellir until 1799, when the sessions stopped. A royal decree restored Althingi in 1844 and moved it to the capital city, Reykjavik. The role of Althingi has changed through the ages, although its main function is  still to discuss and pass legislation. Today, there are 63 members of the parliament, voted by the public. They are no longer called Godar, obviously, but are instead called thingmenn, which translates as “People of the Parliament”.

Parliament House – design and architecture

The Althingishus (Parliament House) was built in 1881, and it is one of the oldest stone buildings in Iceland.  It is a classical 19th century structure designed by the Danish architect, Ferdinand Meldahl. The house is made out of hewn Icelandic stone. The exterior walls are bare dressed stone, while the interior walls are plastered. In addition to this, you can see how weathered  the stone is and how the mortar now reaches further out than then rocks themselves.

There are two annexes in the building:  the Rotunda (built in 1908) and Skalinn (built in in 2002). Behind the Parliament House is a small garden, the oldest public garden in Iceland.

The façade (north side) of the building has various decorations, most noticeably the crown and crest of King Christian IX on the roof. Under the eaves, metal numbers mark the the date 1881 interspersed with stars. Above four of the second-floor windows are relief sculptures of  Iceland‘s guardian spirits: a giant, a great bird, a bull and a dragon.

The different roles of the Parliament House

Formerly, the Parliament House housed the Icelandic National Library and Antiquaries Collection and, later, the Icelandic National Gallery. The University of Iceland used the first floor of the house from 1911 to 1940. Additionally, the President of Iceland had his offices in the building until 1973.

Today, the Parliament House actually houses only the debating chamber, a few small meeting rooms, and the offices of some of the senior parliamentary staff. Committee meeting rooms, parliamentarians’ offices and most of Althingi’s secretariat are located in other buildings around Austurvollur square. Presently, there are plans to build a new facility west of the Parliament House to house these offices and meeting rooms.

Where is the Parliament House?

The parliament house is in the heart of Reykjavik in Austurvollur square.

GPS: 64.146737 N, -21.940184 W