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After a little less than an hour-long drive from Reykjavík along Route 36 across the Mosfellsheiði heath, the broad lava plain of Þingvellir suddenly opens in front of you. This has been the nation's most hallowed place since AD 930, when the settler Grímur Geitskór chose it as the first site for what is often called the world's oldest parliament, the Icelandic Alþingi (General Assembly).
In July of each year delegates from all over the country camped at Þingvellir for two weeks, meeting to pass laws and render judicial sentences. Iceland remained a nation-state, ruled solely by the people without a central government, until 1262 when it came under the Norwegian crown; even then, the Alþingi continued to meet at ingvellir until 1798, but by then it had long lost its lawmaking powers.