Pyramiden is an old Soviet coal mining town located on the island of Spitzbergen in the Svalbard archipelago that belongs to Norway. The town was abandoned in 1998 when everybody was evacuated overnight.


The town was founded by Sweden, but in 1927 it was bought by the Soviet Union and it remained Soviet for the whole period of the Cold War. Formerly on the Norwegian soil, it was an independent Soviet settlement managed by a Soviet State company Arktikugol.
How did it happen that a Soviet town got under Norwegian jurisdiction? The whole Svalbard Archipelago did not belong to anyone back in the day – it was a no man’s land. However a collection of countries concluded a Svalbard Treaty agreeing to let Norway administer this territory. All the other signatories of this treaty could freely do whatever they please except for military activity. Soviet Union was the only outside power apart from Norway who used their rights granted by this treaty.

Having been named after the nearby pyramid-shape mountain, the town heavily relied on the same mountain for coal extraction. A lot of buildings were constructed during the Soviet times including the northernmost Lenin’s statue.

The town operated until 1998 when due to the hard economic situation of Russia, there were no more funds left for the northernmost town in the world anymore. Shortages, low salaries and poor living standards crippled the life in town. Furthermore, Pyramiden’s coal mines, in fact, made scarcely any money.


Swimming Hall, Pyramiden Ghost Town, Svalbard.

On March 31, 1998, the last coal wagon was extracted from the mine, and the last 300 workers – mostly men – left the town by boats and helicopters. Almost half of them stayed in Svalbard and continued working in coal mined in Barentsburg – the other, smaller Russian settlement on Spitsbergen –, while the rest returned to Russia.
Today the town is much the way it was abandoned in 1998. The cold climate and remoteness have helped to preserve the buildings intact. The interior of the buildings is close to the state there were in their prime. It is now tourist attraction with the chance for visitors to stay in the town’s old hotel. Half the year, however, the town is completely shut down due to the polar night.


Image sources:
Manuel Romaris
Dag Avango
Eva la Cour
Mark Marissink
Author: Monica Marques



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