ArticleHere Is The Thing
…at least, if you describe it in English. It sounds more like “tiing” in Scandinavian languages because of a special character responsible for that particular sound, but the main meaning is the same. However, it's a secondary but a much more specific meaning, derived from an Old Norse word “althingi”, that became a linguistic phenomenon. Literally, “althingi” simply means “all things” - and that's exactly what all the tribe leaders discussed when they came together to determine how their tribes were going to live for the next number of years. Eventually, the word “althingi” itself acquired a new meaning - “General Assembly” - and the “thing” part of the word just piggybacked on that meaning. That's how it ended up in the names of several other Scandinavian Parliaments - like Norwegian “Storthing” (the “Great Assembly”) or Danish “Folketing” ("People's Assembly"). It's worth mentioning that closely related Sweden had chosen a similarly descriptive principle but a completely different association to name its Parliament - Rigstag (as well as German "Reichstag") means “Kingdom's Day” (as in “daily life”).
Nowadays, all those “things”, as well as any other Parliament in the world, are to be found in centrally located buildings, plain or majestic, in their respective countries' capitals. It wasn't the case in 930 AD when Icelandic tribe leaders decided to convene. Less developed building techniques and sheer numbers of “MP”s (that included not only the leaders themselves but also their numerous retinues) forced them to remain outdoors - that's how they ended up in a field that just happened to double up as a rift valley. Such a remarkable field deserves a name, so it was named…well, “Assembly Field/Thingvolluir”. English simplified the spelling and pronunciation to create a world-famous attraction, Thingvellir.
Thingvellir is a national park visited by about 1,500 people each day.
It does have a Visitor Centre with an interactive exhibition but some other words and descriptions are much more prominent on the Park's website - such as “camping”, “angling”, “hiking”. In other words, the Park is to be experienced - rather than just “learned from” - first and foremost. Its most representative pictures come from Nature itself/outdoors rather than indoor exhibitions. For instance, that
Thingvellir is popular throughout the year despite Icelandic weather occasionally being somewhat blizzardy in winter - yet, that alone wouldn't probably raise the Park's status above “just another National Park”. However, its location does that - due to its symbolism. It's unlikely that premedieval Icelanders had a clear idea about what a “rift valley” was - an area where two or more of Earth's tectonic plates decide that they've seen enough of each other, and it's time to part ways (that, among other things, explains why Iceland, in general, and Thingvellir, in particular, are teeming with geysers). Notwithstanding, they chose that rift area to ensure harmony by healing existing rifts and preventing future ones. That intuitive choice, combined with the fact that Icelandic Althing is the oldest Parliament in human history, is what turns the first Althing's location into such a special place on the planet.