Amphibious Trilogies


DAY 11 on the Arctic Floating University Expedition
Tuesday 2 July 2019
time, extraction, pausing

Pyramiden, an abandoned coal mine settlement, last sold in 1927 to the Russian state-sponsored company Arktikugol Trust, lies on the Billefjord approximately 100 km from Barentsburg. The town is relatively flat, huddling in the valley of the Pyramid mountain. “Pyramiden”, named after the shape of the mountain and the mine that consumed coal.

I have imported a Google Map satellite image of the settlement to show what it is like when covered by snow. I take a look at Google Earth to retrieve the actual date of the imagery, 4 March, 2014. It seems that something has gone wrong concerning the position of the hexagonal shape of the town, nicknamed Tulip. The two fine lines going upwards from the mine works are rail tracks. They took mine workers up to the higher mine entrance to dig for coal, going ever deeper into the mountain when the lower seams became exhausted.

Having survived WW II and the fall of USSR, on 1 April 1998 the last coal was extracted. Falling price of coal, rising costs, difficult extraction conditions and the Russian air accident at Operafjellet (1996) claiming 141 lives (mainly coal miners) are said to have contributed to the closure of the mine. By the end of the summer the settlement was abandoned, leaving behind buildings full with items of an urban industrial settlement. All mining operations were moved to Barentsburg. Pyramiden has become ghost town, a popular destination for tourists. An urban town pausing on the brink of time. Keeping hold of an Russian outpost on Spitsbergen.

A tour guide hustles us along, through buildings, roads and pathways. He tells us that are only eight inhabitants in Pyramiden, two of them are left in the winter season. A nomadic lifestyle. I pause to take a photo of the grass lawns that thrive on imported soil. It seems out of sorts in this Arctic outpost. On the mountainside pinkish Carboniferous sandstone whisper to an age when Svalbard was situated just north of the equator some billions of years ago.

A room with a view, plants wither, intentionally, a strategy for tourism, to keep nostalgia alive.


Click & Drag: Rotate the view.
Right Click & Drag: Pan the view.