Althingi was founded at Thingvellir in 930 (“the Assembly Fields” or “Parliaments Plains”). Althingi, which was held in summer each year, is one of the oldest extant parliamentary institutions in the world.
To begin with Althingi was attended by the community leaders, called Godar, and their supporters, called thingmenn. The Godar would discuss and pass legislation and dispense justice. Althingi was a huge assembly each year. It drew large crowds and was considered one of the main events in Iceland each year.
Modern day Althingi
Althingi held its sessions at Thingvellir up until 1799. Althingi was restored in 1844 and moved to the capital city Reykjavik, there it has be held ever since. The role of Althingi has changed somewhat through the ages. Still, its main function today is 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 Althingi or Parliament.
Parliament House – design and architecture
In 1881 the Althingishus (Parliament House) was built and is now one of the oldest stone buildings in Iceland. The house is made out of hewn Icelandic stone. It is a classical 19th century structure, designed by the Danish architect Ferdinand Meldahl.
There have been two annexes added to the building, the Rotunda in 1908 and Skalinn in 2002. Behind the Parliament House is a small garden, which is the oldest public garden in Iceland.
The house is built of Icelandic stone. The exterior walls are bare dressed stone, while the interior is plastered. In many places you can see how wheathered the stone is, and how the mortar now reaches further out than then rocks themselves.
The façade (north side) of the building bears ornament, most noticeably the crown and crest of King Christian IX on the roof. Under the eaves the date 1881 is marked inmetal numerals interspersed with stars. Over four of the second-floor windows Iceland’s guardian spirits are depicted in low relief: a giant, a great bird, a bull and a dragon.
The different roles of the Parliament House
Althingishusid has also 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, and the President of Iceland had his offices in the building until 1973.
Today, only the debating chamber, a few small meeting rooms and the offices of some of the senior parliamentary staff are actually located in Althingishusid. Committee meeting rooms, parliamentarians’ offices and most of Althingi’s secretariat are located in other buildings in the area around Austurvollur square. There are currently plans to build a new building to house these offices and meeting rooms in the area immediately to the west of Althingishusid.
Where is the Parliament House?
The parliament house is located in the heart of Reykjavik, more specifically in Austurvollur square.
GPS: 64.146737 N, -21.940184 W