Situated at the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, Pyramiden is an abandoned Soviet union settlement of coal miners. Pyramiden, if translated to English it means ‘pyramid’ named after the shape of the surrounding mountain range. The ghost town was founded by Sweden in 1910 and sold to the Soviet Union. Back in the day, the majority of the population was Ukrainian coal miners and staff.

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The settlement is in the middle of a beautiful valley of two mountains, covered in arctic snow over the harsh winter. Viewers get a glimpse of the immense Nordenskiöld glacier and various mountain ranges.

Once owned by Arktikugol, a Russian mining company that also owns a settlement of Barentsburg, Pyramiden was heavily populated by a thousand inhabitants. The physical infrastructure flourished maximum accordingly. The town served amenities like a cultural centre with theatre, library, art music studio, sports complexes, and a 24-hour active canteen. The town also had a school for educational growth.

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The 1980s record a glorious time in the history of Pyramiden in terms of human settlement. The town experienced the hustle of the busy lives of people. The inhabitants were assigned separate residential halls. The spaces were named according to the purpose they served; London was for single men, Paris was for unmarried women in the town, and The Crazy House, named after the children who played in hallways, was the dwelling for the families. 

At this time, tons of new buildings came into being and, each preserved the soviet style of architecture. The blocks had rounded edges to curb the arctic winter wind.

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1990s: Pyramiden

The upcoming years were full of struggles for Pyramiden. The extracted coal was of poor quality and could not be of any use. The Soviet mines ran a deficit and Trust Arktikugol had no money left. 

Later in 1996, a charter flight for Arktikugol destined to Svalbard crashed here with a loss of 141 lives. The company wanted to sustain both the settlement, Barentsburg, and Pyramiden but had no resources to manage both. This was the turning point in the history of Pyramiden.

Schools were shut, people started to leave, children returned home, and the business of extracting coal was coming to an end.

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Further, in 1998 the last coal mine was extracted from the grounds of Pyramiden, and the last resident left by 10th October, leaving the town deserted. After people moved out, Pyramiden was a habitat for the arctic foxes. 

The Russian government wanted to retain the settlement but ran out of capital to do so. Just like that, the town of Pyramiden was left to die. Although the Pyramiden was a newer and better settlement, the coal was depleted, and to sustain life in town, the company had to dig deeper into the grounds in search of more coal. Thus, Barentsburg was chosen over Pyramiden.

For the next 10 years, Pyradiem was a ghost town with a nostalgic smell of soviet style. In 2012, Alexander Romanovsky was the first person to bring back life in the soviet ghost town.

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Walking on the land of Pyramiden gives away the rustic smell of hammers and ornaments used by miners. The walls have stains and leave a soviet imprint, both indoor and outdoor. 

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The Preservation

In 2007, the ghost town saw the footfall rising. Explorers started visiting the town in search of adventure and learning. In 2008, an arrangement between Trust Arktikugol and the government came into action to revive the silent town. Gradually, promoted tourism brought Pyramiden to life. It can be accessed via boat or helicopter. 

Statistically, in 2014, Barentsburg experienced 13,000 tourist footfall, and Pyramiden welcomed around 7,000, raising 1000 to 2000 every year. Over time, the ghost town became an attractive tourist destination for the Norwegians and the Russians. Geologists, Archeologists, explorers, and many others come here. To cater to the flourishing tourism sector, the physical infrastructure of the town started to develop. The construction of motels, hotels, and pubs came into existence. 

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Pyramiden’s hotels are often overbooked, and guests do not even mind sleeping on floors to stay there. Such is the beauty of the Soviet town. The movie theatre was renovated and fully functional. The authorities hold a record of 1000 soviet movies, and one can pre-book accordingly.

Concerned authorities have preserved the architectural essence of Pyramiden. There are no restrictions in visiting the town, but the residential halls and houses are considered heritage sites. One cannot walk into any site without permission. Every day belongings and products like cloth hangers, handmade ornaments, furniture still lie in the voids of residential halls, preserving the culture of coal miners. The Pyramiden Hotel also accommodates the Pyramiden Museum showcasing the historical significance of the town. 

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The last record of Pyramiden’s residential history states that the town was home to 6 inhabitants in the summer of 2016. Further, there are no plans to revive the entire settlement. The empty houses and harbour sing the tales of the lost, and the legacy of Pyramiden still resides in the souls of those coal miners and their families.

Reference

Flora (2019). Pyramiden, Svalbard: Exploring the Arctic’s Soviet Ghost Town. [online] Flora The Explorer. Available at: https://floratheexplorer.com/pyramiden-svalbard-arctic-ghost-town/ 

Author

Vanshika was born and raised in Delhi. She is an aesthete, loves to explore the field of art, design, architecture, and everything in between. When it comes to writing, she has always been that kid confiding into diaries and penning down her thoughts. She strongly believes in learning and re-learning

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