Frozen Ghost Town

Svalbard

Deep in the Arctic, where the winters freeze flesh and the summers are ruled by the midnight sun, lies a rocky scrap of land called Svalbard.

In 1927, the Soviet Union set up a coal mining city there. It was home to over 1,000 Russians and lasted for seventy years. They called it Pyramiden, for the nearby pyramid-shaped mountain.

They built statues of Lenin. They imported a grand piano. Their “refrigerators” were just boxes sitting outside.

Then, on January 10, 1998, they abandoned Pyramiden, leaving behind what might be the coldest ghost town in the world.

I’ve written before about my fascination with remote places, and this spot hits all the right notes. Frigid mountains, remote island, brooding architecture. What I wouldn’t give to visit this place…

What’s that? I can?

Yes, in fact, the rest of the island is far from uninhabited. The largest city – Longyearbyen – has an airport, restaurants, and even tour guides. And as Pyramiden is only 50 kilometers away, it’s become an attraction itself. Visitors hoping to explore the lonely ruins are finding them ever less lonely. There are plans build a hotel. The Danish rock band Efterklang even recorded sound effects for their new album in Pyramiden. (Which, don’t get me wrong, is wicked cool.)

As a species, this is what we do: we explore, we domesticate, we make things safe and accessible and tidy. And sitting here in a warm thermostat-controlled house, sipping coffee, I hardly have room to complain. Still, there’s something sad about the taming of a ghost town.

We’ll just have to find someplace more remote to visit. I call dibs on Europa.

More pictures of Pyramiden here.

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7 responses to “Frozen Ghost Town

  1. How different modern day ‘ruins’ look and survive in a cold climate than they do in the tropics… The cold has conserved it intact… I can understand how it would enchant the adventurous heart! Read you soon, Alexandra

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