Visiting Althingi, commonly known as the Parliament House, will give you the chance to see one of the oldest existing parliamentary institutions in the world, dating back to the year 930 AD. Not only is Alþingi the nation's oldest institution, it is also the highest in terms of governing stature. Its founding, at Þingvellir (Parliament Plains), marks the official birth of Iceland. Alþingi, at one time, was an assembly of the nation, where leading chieftains met to discuss various matters, pass legislation and dispensed justice. As the Parliament House remains a functioning governmental entity, it does not customarily accept visits from the public. It is sometimes possible to enter to observe legislators discussing matters, however no grand tour of the interior of the building is currently available.
The changing role of the Parliament House
Althingi today mainly serves as an official meeting place for government officials to discuss and pass legislation. There are 63 members of parliament, voted in by the public. In the past, these officials were known as Godar, however today they are referred to as Thingmenn - which translates to People of the Althingi or Parliament. When the University of Iceland was founded in 1911, it was given the use of the first floor of the building, as two of the collections had been relocated. The office of the Viceroy, and subsequently of the President of Iceland, was located in the building 1941–1973. The Parliament House was built in 1880 and stands on Austurvöllur square. Initially, the facilities were also home to three national collections including the National Library, the Antiquities Collection and the National Gallery. In 1908, an annex to the building, known as the Rotunda, was constructed to serve as a reception room for Ministers. This once important reception area now serves as a lounge area. Today, only the debating chamber, a few small meeting rooms, and the offices of some of the senior parliamentary staff are located in Althingishusid. The house is built of Icelandic stone, quarried in the rocky slopes of Skólavörðuholt. The exterior walls are bare dressed stone, while the interior is plastered. In many places you can see how weathered the stone is, and how the mortar now reaches further out than the rocks themselves. In 1879, parliament decided to pay for construction of the building out of public funds and the Parliament House originally was slated to stand on Laugavegur street. Once the original site is abandoned, it was decided that a smaller building would be constructed. The north side of the building bears an ornament - most noticeably the crown and crest of King Christian IX on the roof. Under the building's eaves, molded in metal numerals sits the date 1881. Hovering above a section of the second-floor windows are Iceland's guardian spirits: a giant, a great bird, a bull, and a dragon.