The rocky promontory of Tinganes on the foreshore of Tórshavn has been the home of the Faroese parliament for over a thousand years. Initially the thing at Tinganes was a public assembly, or Althing, where all free men of the Faroe Islands could meet to discuss and decide on common matters. Later it became a løgting (lawthing), presided over by the løgmaður (lawman) and attended by representatives from each local region.
The thing met once a year during the summer, and was traditionally associated with Ólavsøka (St Olav’s Wake), held on the 29th July. It was held outdoors on the promontory, but later it moved into one of the small buildings on Tinganes. From 1274, the lawthing operated under Norwegian laws drawn up by Magnus Lawmender, as well as administering specialist Faroese laws, such as those found in the 'Seyðabrævið' (The Sheep Letter; 1298).
Towards the end of the 17th century the influence of the Løgting had begun to decline, and increasing power was held by representatives of the King. By 1816 it had been abolished completely, and the Faroe Islands became a Danish county, ruled by a prefect and his civil servants. However, in 1852, it was re-established and it has continued to grow since then.
Today the Prime Minister’s office is currently located in one of the buildings on Tinganes. The area is home to some of the oldest houses in the city, some dating to the 14th century and others from the 17th and 18th centuries, which are still in use today. There are also a number of rock carvings visible on the foreshore. It has been suggested that some of these carvings may relate to activities taking place at the thing.
St Olav's Day
St Olav's Day on 29th July is a national holiday. The official opening of parliament is also marked by a range of ceremonial and other festivities in the capital Tórshavn.
As well as the main thing held in Tórshavn at high summer, Faroe was divided into six thing districts: Suðuroy, Sandoy, Vágoy, Streymoy, Eysturoy and Norðuroyar, and meetings took place here in the spring, although there is one reference to an autumn thing. Meeting places often had ting (thing) or dóm (verdict) incorporated into the name, as in Tinghellan and Dómheyggjar.
The district things were lower courts and cases could be transferred to the althing, or løgthing, but this was not always done, and several sentences, even involving corporal punishment, along with death sentences, were passed and carried out at a district thing. Places of execution are therefore part of most district thingsteads.
In some villages, district things were held indoors, but oral tradition also tells of sites far out in the outfields, where the thing is thought to have been held in ancient times. In four of the districts there are references to ancient thingsteads away from the settlements, but near important infrastructural paths between the villages. In Suðuroy and Norðoyar these are located far up in the mountains, whereas in Sandoy and Eysturoy they are found in the lowland. In the same way as the main thing in Tórshavn is situated in the middle of the Faroes, these ancient thingsteads are located centrally in their thing district, with the best possible traffic links to the villages in the district. When the thingsteads were moved into the settlements, in most cases it was to the nearest one.
Names referring to gallows are found in five of the thing districts, and in all these cases the names are found nearby the historical rather than the ancient thingsteads. The gallows were usually placed on high ground where they were clearly visible. It was crucial that as many people as possible could see with their own eyes what would befall those who committed serious offences.
In Suðuroy the thing was held in the village of Ørðavík in the middle of the island, with the ancient thingstead in the mountains above the village. Members of the thing are said to have put up their tents at Tjaldavík, a distance to the south of the village.
The Sandoy thing district covered the islands of Sandoy, Skúvoy and Dímun. The thing met on the farm í Trøðum in the village heima á Sandi, where a stone bearing the name Tingborði (the thing table) is still located. Further east the ancient thingstead is said to have been at millum Vatna, the area between the two small lakes.
The historical thingstead of Vágoy was situated at Rygsgarður, in the village of Miðvágur. At Giljanes, on the border between the villages of Miðvág and Sandavág, a boulder named Gálgasteinur indicates the location of a former gallows.
Streymoy is probably the most populous thing district in the country and included the islands of Streymoy, Nólsoy, Hestur and Koltur. The thingstead was located in the village of Kollafjørður, where one of the houses is called í Tinggarðinum (in the thing farm). Slightly removed from the settlement there was a gallows, and stories are also told about a place where the condemned could save themselves if they managed to reach it.
The Eysturoy thing was in the village of Selatrað. Tradition points to a big stone called Tingsteinur, although the thing was presumably held indoors. Down by the shore we find the place name á Gálga. It is historically documented that a thief was hanged at Selatrað in 1626. The ancient thingstead is thought to have been quite a distance away at a place called Stevnuváli.
At Norðuroyar, the thing in the village í Vági, which developed into the town of Klaksvík, covered the northern isles of Borðoy, Kalsoy and Kunoy, and to the east Viðoy, Svínoy and Fugloy. The ancient thingstead, in the mountains north of Klaksvík, lies as near the centre of the thing district as possible. A big boulder called Tingsteinur stands there, and around it smaller stones have been erected.
Kunningarstovan í Tórshavn, Vaglið 4, P.O.Box 379, FO-110 Tórshavn