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VIKING MONUMENTS AND SITES / Þingvellir National Park

Date of Submission: 07/02/2011
Criteria: (iii)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Ministry of Education, Science & Culture
State, Province or Region:
Bláskógabyggð municipality, district of Árnessýsla
Coordinates: N64 15 13,7 W21 02 14,1
Ref.: 5587
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party

Description

Part of transnational serial nomination

The Viking serial nomination comprises land-, sea- and townscapes stretching from the North Atlantic to the Baltic Sea. Among the thousands of Viking sites from the eighth to the twelfth centuries AD, these nine nominated properties from six nations are outstanding examples representing the wide diversity of this early maritime culture.

In the Viking Age the Norse peoples - the Vikings - developed a maritime culture which had an enormous impact on Northern Europe and beyond.  Within Scandinavia the Viking Period witnessed the transformation from tribal to state societies and a change of religions.  The three Christian kingdoms that developed from this transformation, and out of which the present Nordic States evolved, were by the end of the Viking Age an integral part of Europe.  Thus, in modern times, Viking culture has contributed significantly to the creation of cultural coherence, symbolic values and cultural identity in the Nordic region, and it continues to hold immense public appeal world-wide.  This culture and its heritage developed in close interaction within a unique natural environment. It is composed of distinctive urban landscapes and monuments. The culture also produced one of the world's great literatures: the Sagas, Eddic poetry and runic inscriptions.

Harnessing the technology of the ship, Vikings used the sea for expansion, exploration, long-distance trade and overseas settlement.  The travels of the Vikings brought them across the Baltic Sea and down the Russian rivers as far as the Black and Caspian Seas to Byzantium and the Caliphate of Baghdad, as well as west out into the Atlantic.  They were the first to settle in Iceland and the first Europeans to reach Greenland and North America about 1000 AD.  In so doing, the Vikings were the first people to succeed in opening routes across the northern hemisphere from North America to Asia, thus connecting different cultural regions of the earth.  Adapted to very diverse types of natural environments, success was on the one hand in the use, and at times ecological misuse, of regional resources, and, on the other hand, in the development of social and political systems. This combination formed the basis for a rich cultural region.  Internally, Scandinavia witnessed an economic, religious and social transformation aided by a boom in internal and cross-cultural communication during the Viking period.  New institutions were developed, smaller regions were merged into larger units and the Scandinavians took part in European development on a larger scale.  Scandinavia at the time of King Knut, in the early 11th century, was vastly different from the Scandinavia that was visited by the missionary Ansgar in the early 9th century.

The component parts cover a wide temporal and spatial range. They are of exceptional quality and diversity. They include trading towns, harbours, defensive structures, production sites, burial monuments, and assembly sites. Viewed as a whole these sites bear witness to the extent of Viking social and cultural development.

DESCRIPTION OF COMPONENT PART

Þingvellir is the most important cultural heritage site in Iceland, a national treasure and at the same time a major cultural treasure at global level. Its dramatic history from the establishment of Iceland's general assembly, the Althing, around 930 A.D.,  gives insights into how a Viking Age pioneer community organized its society from scratch and tells a unique story about legislative and judicial arrangements of the era and the evolulution towards the modern world. Þingvellir also combines in a single place a diverse assortment of natural phenomena.

History as preserved in this form sheds light on important elements in European constitutional development, all of which are linked directly or indirectly to the growth and ascendancy of the rule of law and can clarify our understanding of them. As a single, general assembly for such a large country, which later developed into a nation state, the Althing was remarkable in its day. What makes the Althing at Þingvellir unique in legislative and judicial history is its particular emphasis and detailed attention given to removing legal uncertainty and resolving disputes without a superior authority. There are extensive and detailed sources on the organisation of the assembly and its working procedures. The fruit of this activity is Grágás, one of the most remarkable legal codices among the medieval Germanic peoples. The Althing is unique insofar as the Icelandic Commonwealth reflected an exceptionally clear view of early medieval notions of law and authority. In shaping their new society, the Viking Age settlers of Iceland had to ponder more clearly the concepts underlying it, while those remaining in the places from which they emigrated could continue to adhere to ancient customs without paying any particular attention to them.

One remarkable feature of Iceland is that the Viking Age left behind some of its perpetual milestones, including the social structure, administrative procedures and political philosophy of the Icelandic Commonwealth. The Commonwealth established by the settlers of Iceland certainly preserved many traits of old European polities. At the same time it has been considered by some scholars as a precursor of polities later instituted on the other side of the Atlantic. Þingvellir is remarkable as the only Germanic assembly site where remains of administrative structures such as Lögberg (e. Law Rock), Lögrétta (e. Law Council) and Biskupabúðir (e. Bishops' Booths) have been preserved. Unique remains of manmade structures pertaining to the assembly and its functions dating from the 10th to 18th centuries can be found there.

A striking feature in the history of Þingvellir is the conversion of Iceland from heathendom to Christianity.  The inhabitants of a whole community changed their religion in a remarkably peaceful process approved by the Althing in year 1000. It is a prominent example of how the administrative structures of the Althing functioned at the time, with unanimous approval needed in order for matters to be resolved.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The selection of sites bears an exceptional testimony to a unique cultural tradition in which the ship became the essential feature. Due to the natural environment of lakes, rivers and seas, the use of waterways and the development of navigational skills had a long tradition. In the Viking Age, ship technology was taken to a new level. Vikings were the first to settle in Iceland and the first Europeans to reach Greenland and North America about 1000 AD.  In so doing, the Vikings were the first people to succeed in opening routes across the North Atlantic to North America and eastward to the Russian Plain and Byzantium, connecting continents and cultural regions. Internally, Scandinavia witnessed an economic, religious and social transformation aided by a boom in internal and cross-cultural communication during the Viking period.  The component parts represent key attributes of Viking culture while the ship is the common feature throughout. In modern times, Viking culture has contributed significantly to the creation of cultural coherence, symbolic values and cultural identity in the Nordic region, and it continues to hold immense public appeal world-wide.  The component parts demonstrate clearly the key features; expansion, cultural communication and a strong narrative tradition past and present.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Þingvellir is a national park entirely in state ownership based on the Þingvellir National Park Act no. 47/2004. The World Heritage site includes the assembly site and consists of the old national park established in 1930. In 2004 the national park was enlarged from ca. 50 sqkm to ca. 240 sqkm and the extension, as well as Lake Þingvallavatn, provide the bufferzone for the World Heritage site.  The core area is the Innermost Assembly Site, where the assembly representing the whole of Iceland, the Althing (Icelandic "Alþingi", meaning "general assembly") was held from around 930 to 1798.  Þingvellir is remarkable as the only Germanic assembly site where remains of administrative structures such as Lögberg (e. Law Rock), Lögrétta (e. Law Council) and Biskupabúðir (e. Bishops' Booths) have been preserved. Remains of many manmade structures pertaining to the assembly and its functions dating from the 10th to 18th centuries can be found there. In its entirety, the area of remains at Þingvellir is also unique in that remains of a large part of the attendees' booths can still be seen on the surface and the overall layout of the assembly area can still be envisaged.

Archaeological research has been carried out at Þingvellir. Researchers have considered the locations of places and events in saga literature, surveyed old sites, made maps, and published their findings. Cultural remains in the area are protected by the National Heritage Act no. 107/2001 and the Þingvellir National Park Act no. 47/2004.

The Þingvellir Commission is committed to protect the integrity and authenticity of the area on sustainable principles, to keep it for the enjoyment of generations to come.  

In the management plan for the Þingvellir National Park from 2004, the most important objective is to safeguard the nature, the historical area and heritage sites of the National Park for the future, while also making preparations for visitors, whose numbers are expected to rise steadily. The management plan is based upon a vision for the period until 2024.

Comparison with other similar properties

The transnational project unites properties already appointed as Viking Age World Heritage with the newly nominated sites of Danevirke and Hedeby as well as Grobiņa, the Danish ring fortresses, the Vestfold Ship Burials and Hyllestad Quernstone Quarries. They all rank among the most important historical places in the Viking Age and have moreover, as archaeological sites, contributed essential insights into Scandinavian culture of this period. In this period the Nordic region developed from being a peripheral zone of Europe to an integrated component of the Christian West. Of exceptional value is the good condition of preservation displayed through the project's combined monuments and ideally complemented by Iceland's rich supply of written records and by other outstanding archaeological finds, such as the ships from Gokstad, Oseberg and Roskilde. Corresponding nominations for the period between the 8th and the 12th century AD have to date not been represented on the World Heritage List. 

For the component part:

Although a number of medieval assembly sites are known in other European countries, particularly in Norway, Þingvellir is historically, archaeologically and symbolically the most significant. In other countries, the assembly sites are those of local or regional assemblies that performed a different role. The Althing as a general assembly represented the whole country and was in effect the capital of Iceland for two weeks each year where key legal and administrative decisions were made.

Þingvellir has more visible remains than any other thing site, and there are indications of very rich archaeological layers yet to be explored. No other sites show visible ruins, although mounds are extant at the Tynwald in the Isle of Man, Gulating and Frostating in Norway, and at the Thingmount in UK. In addition to physical remains and national status, the Althing site at Þingvellir in Iceland has extra values connected with its long history of continued use, documentation and knowledge of its governance role, transmitted down the centuries in the Icelandic sagas, and through its dramatic natural setting which has changed little since the 9th century. It has thus acquired symbolic associations with Icelandic identity and with Norse culture and is perceived as a place of outstanding aesthetic value.

The Tynwald on the other hand, although arguably older than the Icelandic Althing is heavily restored and landscaped, and sits in an urban setting. It has not come to be associated with feelings of identity, nor is it perceived as capturing the essence of Germanic law in such a way as the Althing. The Thingmount is largely unknown and, although in a beautiful setting, not associated with any communal memory of its function or significance. Further, most of the five Norwegian tings are marked with later 19th and 20th century monuments.  The Althing is thus unique through its extensive built remains, its unspoilt setting and for its strong and well known associations with Germanic Law and Norse culture.