One of the biggest treats in Svalbard for me was visiting the city of Pyramiden. It lies on the northernmost point that I have ever ventured to and walking through the city was truly a mind blowing experience. I booked the longest tour available, wanting to absorb the mood of it and the nature around it. Needless to say, even 50 more hours would not nearly be enough for my appetite, as it was so interesting to be there.
Imagine a godforsaken place, almost mythical, barely known to humans, both geographically and culturally incredibly separated from the rest of humanity. Now, that place would be a urban metropolitan area compared to Pyramiden, how much this place has no connections to the rest of the world (I am not insulting anyone, I adore such places and I am happy that they exist). Pyramiden is hidden deep at the foot of Billefjorden, surrounded by glaciers. On the opposite side lies large Nordenskiöldbreen glacier, a special place for itself which I will describe in a separate post. The only way to reach Pyramiden is by boat (usually tourist charters) in summer and snow scooters in wintertime. The city got its name from the nearby pyramid shaped mountain peak.
I am a true sucker for tragedies and disasters and ghost towns, particularly those caused by human error. Pyramiden is heavily advertised as a remnant of the soviet times, sometimes implying subtly that it has a horror dimension, but there is nothing “spooky” in it. It is almost offensive that everything off or atypical has to have that dimension. In case you do not know or you need to be reminded – a ghost town is a settlement which has been abandoned due to human intervention (Chernobyl), disasters caused by nature (Balmoral, destroyed by wildfire in Australia), wars (numerous croatian villages)… The world’s northernmost ghost town – Pyramiden – which was built in 1910 by the Swedes and bought by Soviets in 1927, was abandoned in 1998. There is no dramatic reason for this example; coal mining was just discontinued and the entire population moved back to mainland Russia. Well, almost entirely; there are a few people who reside here, and even less spend the entire year in this unusual place.
What I did not knew back then is that the top of the Pyramid mountain is ascendable. The view, which I saw on the photos of russian guides’ instagrams, is out of this world gorgeous. I’d book that climb in a second, that’s for sure. There is also a hotel opened for tourists; I had no idea about that. I was very disappointed, because that is something I would gladly pay for. Imagine waking up at such place. This environment is out of this world stunning, all possible angles should be viewed from.
Pyramiden is very peaceful and calm. The only sound comes from the wind dancing through the buildings like breath through the flute. We’ve entered several buildings (such as the cantine, sport’s center, culture house,… ) while the guide was telling stories.
We, who lived in socialist era of Eastern Europe, recognized instantly this place and its’ warmth, as we got our New Year (not xmas) presents from our parents’ employers in such places. What I liked the most about the culture house was the level of care and involvement in keeping this place incredibly tidy.
Besides being surrounded by mountains of monumental proportions, the city itself is a monument of its own kind – arctic temperatures and low humidity drastically slow down the decay of those man made structures. The teeth of time still bite and are quite sharp, so we get to see this.
Pyramiden, compared to Longyearbyen, does not have a systematic monitoring of polar bears strolling casually in this area, so we were strictly advised to stay as close as possible to the armed guide. Here, behind any building, a bear can jump from and attack.
If you ever visited any Russian city, you know it has a Lenin statue in the city center, as a tribute to the revolution’s leader and obviously the most important figure in the history of Russia. Here, in Pyramiden, lies the northernmost one, in a carefully picked place. The statue is placed towards the Nordenskiöldbreen glacier, with a fantastic view.
I like it how my trips occasionally uncover some of the traits I consider to be shoved deep under some dusty rug woven in my gray matter; this trip made me think, how do you recognize that you are a child who lived through a war? Easily, very easily. While walking through a ghost town you see other people leaving the designated path towards destroyed houses and damaged structures, and you feel the urge to instinctively scream “Stop! There could be mines there!” even though the place never had minefields.
After the excursion to Pyramiden was done, we proceeded towards the Nordenskiöldbreen glacier. On the ship we were served a portion of sauce bolognese with some veggies. The wind was blowing so hard that the entire content of the plate cooled down in 0,3 seconds from boiling hot to frosted.