Thingvellir, Iceland - Thingvellir National Park; Boston, MA - The John Adams Courthouse



Thingvellir, Iceland - Thingvellir National Park; Boston, MA - The John Adams Courthouse

Catalog Entry

Thingvellir National Park is a beautiful historic site in Iceland about fifty kilometers outside of Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland. It was originally the location of the Althing, Iceland’s central location for law and order that was established by Vikings who settled there hundreds of years ago. The Althing has since been relocated to Reykjavik for a more modernized government, however, Iceland’s government is still referred to as the Althing. Not only this, but Thingvellir is now regarded as a National Park and historical site.

This is due to the importance of this location and its relation to the history of Iceland becoming its own nation, with its own parliament, set of laws, and traditions. Even furthermore, this was one of the first locations of its type: “The Althing (Parliament), a supreme court of legislature and laws in the land, is held there; it is the oldest one in the world, founded on the Mount of Laws at Thingvellir, 930 AD” (Magnusson 435). Thingvellir is an extremely important historical site, as not only is it Iceland’s first location for parliament, but it’s the first location of parliament in the world. This need for parliament arose because Iceland was populated by a seafaring nation, the Vikings. They were a group of people who identified as the same, however, they had no land to call their own. This changed as outlined in Erik the Red’s Saga: “Afterwards Aud set out to seek Iceland, having twenty free men in her ship. Aud came to Iceland, and passed the first winter in Bjarnarhofn (Bjornshaven) with her brother Bjorn. Afterwards she occupied all the Dale country between the Dogurdara (day-meal river) and the Skraumuhlaupsa (river of the giantess’s leap), and dwelt at Hvamm” (Kunz 654). Aud then had crosses erected symbolizing the new land becoming Christian, and many wealthy Vikings as well as those fleeing from their crimes came to reside in Iceland. This brings about the need for a government and set of laws for this new nation of people. Hence Thingvellir and the Althing was founded as a location of Vikings to make laws. The crosses at Thingvellir can still be noted today, as the building in view looks like a church at first glance. This is not the case as it can be seen as more of a courthouse for the Vikings to pass laws and keep order amongst themselves.

This is why a local historical site that can be connected to Thingvellir is the John Adams Courthouse in Boston. While it may not be a beautiful Icelandic national park, it is the original location of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and the Court of Appeals. This building was recently renovated and renamed as it was formerly known as the Suffolk County Courthouse, originally built back in 1893. It was the original location for the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts well over 100 years ago. As described by Stephen G. Breyer after the renovations, this building was always meant to be a place for justice for the people: “When we built our courthouse in Boston, I felt strongly that it belonged to the taxpayers who paid for it. It should be apparent that such a courthouse--a public building, a beautiful building on a beautiful site--does not belong to the judges, nor to the lawyers. It belongs to the people of Boston” (Breyer 1). This describes the Supreme Court and how it is a building made for the public; it was originally created for the need for law and order in Suffolk County and civilized and unified the area.

Thingvellir has the same sort of effect on the people visiting this historic site and has always had this effect amongst Icelanders as the following quote notes: “[B]y staging the drama in the place which is so often seen as the symbolic center of the Icelandic nation, the place where history meets nature, people and parliament declared openly their union with the past” (Halfdanarson 8). This quote notes the connection between the history of Iceland and how Thingvellir effected the growth of the country. The same can be said for the John Adams Courthouse, as when it was originally built in Suffolk County it helped unify the State and created law and order in Massachusetts as a whole.


"Erik the Red's Saga." The Sagas of Icelanders: A Selection. Edited by Jane Smiley, and Robert Leland Kellogg. Translated by Keneva Kunz. Penguin, New York, 2001, pp. 653–74.

Hálfdanarson, Guðmundur. “Þingvellir: An Icelandic ‘Lieu De Mémoire’” History and Memory, vol. 12, no. 1, 2000, pp. 4–29. JSTOR,

Loeffler, Jane C. "The Importance of Openness in an Era of Security." Architectural Record, vol. 194, no. 1, Jan. 2006, pp. 81-83. EBSCOhost,

Magnusson, Kristjan H. “Iceland -- The Land of Ice And Fire." The American Magazine of Art, vol. 21, no. 8, 1930, pp. 435–438. JSTOR,


Kisha G. Tracy

Catalog Entry Author(s)

Corey Hayashi, Student, Fitchburg State University

Accessible Description of Image(s)

First image: You are looking from on top of a rocky hill. A line of pine trees with think, blade-like leaves diagonally rims the side of the hill. The tree line starts a third of the way up the left side of the photo and ends three-fourths of the way to the right of the photo's bottom. A path leaves the diagonal line of trees only to head to the right. This encases two picnic tables between the trees and path. Further up the photo mostly consists of different colored and shaded grassy ground. A river, which looks to be draining out of a marsh-like land with a bridge, cuts from the left of the photo to the right. Past the river are five joined houses and a church which is further to the left of the houses. The houses seem to only have a single door and a few large pine trees are at the back of them. Past the houses the terrain seems to be some random, rocky, ten-foot cliffs with the houses starting at the very bottom. Past these cliffs the terrain is smooth until the bases of some mountains and hills come into view.
Description by: Elrik Iarson, Student, Fitchburg State University


“Thingvellir, Iceland - Thingvellir National Park; Boston, MA - The John Adams Courthouse,” Transforming Perceptions of Cultural Heritage through Image, accessed August 14, 2018,

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