Blue skies and sunshine. Like night and day, Iceland transformed itself into the perfect morning on the first day of our drive. Packing everything into our cars, the first leg on our itinerary was the Golden Circle. I am not certain how the Golden Circle got its name. It is neither about gold or even in a shape of a circle (more like a triangular). But whatever its name is, It is almost without doubt the most popular day tour from Reykjavik.
Covering some great attractions, namely Þingvellir, Gulfoss and Geysir, it is easily done in a day. Especially if you have your own self drive car. Taking road no.1, we headed north out of Reykjavik towards the town of Mosfellsbær. Then a right turn at a roundabout after the town and we were on the main road to Þingvellir.
Almost soon after, the landscape changed before us. From buildings and houses, we could only see snow covered hills. Thankfully, the roads are ploughed but even then, there were patches of snow on the road sometimes. Driving on them was a new experience and we learnt what slippery meant in the Northern Hemisphere. So, we took our time and slowed down often. After all, we weren’t in a hurry to get anywhere. In fact, we probably spent more time stopping to take photos by the roadside. Here, we also learnt that Iceland can get very windy.
On one of our stops beside Lake Þingvallavatn, the largest lake in Iceland, the wind and hence wind chill was so strong, it just about forced us back into our cars after barely five minutes.
Of all the places we visited in Iceland, Þingvellir is the one with the deepest historical significance. Icelanders consider this place with national pride. And rightly so because in 930 AD, Vikings founded a parliament and commonwealth here. It is believed to be the first parliament in the world and also the longest running.
Although not much can be seen now as to why this place was picked, we understand the centrality of the location was one of the keys. In this case, the most any chieftain had to travel to get here was 17 days. (Presumably this was on foot.) There is also fresh running water, plenty of fields to set up tents and South enough to ensure that the weather remain kind.
So, for 2 weeks of the year, parliament or The Althing, would convene here. And as you can expect, whenever a group of bigwigs gather (think G7 summit), there will be a myriad of support staff from security detail to TV news crew, not to mention everyone else who are just there to catch up, eat, drink and be merry. I guess after a long dark winter, who is going to say no to meeting up with your fellow Icelanders in summer for a BBQ and some good ole viking beer!
It is not surprising to learn then, that this two week long Viking party can swell to over 5,000 people. I can imagine what a carnival it must have been. The whole area covered with tents. Merchants with their goods. Ale-makers selling their brew. Musicians entertaining the crowds. All the while, debate went on and rulings made. And so it went for over 800 years!
Although the last Althing was held here in the summer of 1798, Icelanders continue to use Þingvellir for whenever they can. In 1994, a celebration was held here to mark 50 years since the foundation of the Icelandic Republic. Then to celebrate the Millennium of Christianity, there was a two-day festival here in June 2000.
Today there is not much left of what happened here in the early days but nevertheless this place is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and continues to be a sacred site for Iceland and its people. So, what is the connection between the Althing and the Holy Grail that I mentioned in the title?
For this, we introduce the Italian, Giancarlo Gianazza, a former computer engineer who believes that Iceland holds a great secret that’s waiting to be found. His journey started when he read a history book about possible secrets in Botticelli’s 1492 painting, Primavera. Studying the work, now located in the Ufizi gallery, he concluded that the raised hands of the dancing figures in the painting was a code for the positions of the planets. From this he came up with the date March 14, 1319.
Gianazza also noted that Botticelli was highly interested in Dante and late in his career, Botticelli went on to illustrate Dante’s epic poem, The Divine Comedy, on sheepskin, with a separate image for each canto. It was a huge undertaking of which 92 illustrations survive today.
Like a trail of breadcrumbs, Gianazza then began to study Dante’s work The Divine Comedy where he found that the opening astronomical reference to the spring equinox corresponded to the exact same date he came up with in Botticelli’s painting.
Believing this was no sheer coincidence, he delved deeper into Dante’s work and came to the conclusion that, the Divine Comedy contains a host of clues to a hidden secret. In essence, it was like a treasure map hidden within the 14,000 lines of a poem! Believing that Beatrice’s throne and the Amphitheater of the Blessed are actual places, he used numerological techniques on Dante’s poem to come up with a location . . . . and that location was Iceland.
Going further, Gianazza believes that Dante was a hidden Templar. That in 1319, he visited Iceland, following in the footsteps of the Knights Templar before him to confirm the location which he then concealed in his work prior to completing it in 1320, a year before his death. Of course, this all seems farfetched and none of it can be confirmed with any likelihood. But like all intriguing theories, there is always something that adds fuel to the story.
So, like a real-life Robert Langdon, Gianazza followed the clues and visited Iceland. Using the map coordinates he decoded from Dante’s work, he discovered amazingly in Jökulfall Gorge, what he had hoped to find. A natural amphitheatre with a throne-shaped rock at its centre. Believing this to be the Amphitheater of the Blessed and Beatrice’s throne, he has since made out other references in and around the gorge – The Eagle, the Face of Christ, the Fish, the Nipple, the Helmet and the Lion. All mainly rock formations.
So then where to the Knights Templar come in? According to Gianazza’s theory then, the Knights Templar would have visited Iceland a hundred years earlier. This would be following 1209, where a new hiding place needed to be found following the wars against Cathar when the South of France was no longer safe. Would there be any records of this visit? Knights landing in Iceland would surely not have gone unnoticed among the chieftains of the time.
Here, Thorarinn Thorarinsson,a retired architect and lover of Icelandic history, provided Gianazza with all he needed. He found in historic records that during a meeting of the Althing in Þingvellir, the leader and poet Snorri Sturlusson turned up to the meeting in 1217 with 80 foreigners called Austmenn (men from the east). It says they were all dressed and armed in the same fashion. And since military troops in uniform only first appeared in Iceland in the 17th century, historians have never been able to explain this anomaly. Unless these men from the east were the Knights Templar.
So, as you can imagine, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle coming together, Gianazza was gripped by his theory. It all seems plausible that in exchange for helping Sturlusson become leader, he may have promised in return, the building of a secret underground chamber that would be filled over the years with holy relics and objects long forgotten, perhaps even the Holy Grail.
And since then, Gianazza has led an expedition every summer to Iceland to find this underground chamber. He does not know what it will contain, maybe even, Dante’s original manuscript to the Divine Comedy which has never been found. But to him, he believes it is a matter of when and not if.
Unfortunately, I have not read anywhere if Gianazza has met with any success to date on his trips to Iceland. It has been going on for more than a decade now. He may not have found anything (yet) but one thing is for sure, he has certainly fired up my imagination and the romantic notion that there are still mysteries in the world waiting to be discovered.
Image 10 & 11 : Wikipedia Commons