Abandoned mines can seem like they are a dime a dozen, but the derelict outpost on the archipelago of Svalbard, above Norway’s arctic circle, remains unlike any other on the planet.
Throughout the 1900s, everyone had their hands in Pyramiden at one point or another… until suddenly no one did. Founded by Swedes on a Norwegian island chain in the Arctic Ocean in 1910, the terrain was sold to the Soviet Union in 1927. For the next 70 years, a hearty band of Soviets mined the remote settlement on behalf of Trust Arktikugol for its coal deposits, until word was passed down in 1998 that the operation was to be shuttered. Then, in a matter of mere months, the place was unceremoniously abandoned.
In the years since, little has changed in the former Soviet mining camp except for the demographics of Pyramiden’s residents. At present the island inhabited solely by wildlife, including seabirds, seals, the occasional polar bear, and roaming bands of explorers.
The village is home to the ghostly remains of a lost Soviet industrial way of life, literally frozen in time. According to an episode of the television series Life After People, it is estimated that Pyramiden will stand as it is for 500 years or more thanks to the extreme arctic climate – longer than any other modern human settlement on Earth. Block settlements continue to be lorded over by the world’s northernmost statue of Vladimir Lenin, whose lonesome gaze remains fixed upon the Nordenskiöld glacier butting up against the town’s backyard.
The most ethereal feature of the town is undoubtedly the so-called “bottle shop,” a house made entirely from white and green glass bottles, whose beauty, delicacy, and impracticality in the face of such harsh climates seem downright otherworldly.
Arriving by ship, visitors to the eerie settlement tromp through the remnants of Soviet culture, led by a gun-toting guide who will not hesitate to shoot in case of a bear attack. Most choose to explore for a few hours before being shuttled back to civilization, but those interested in staying overnight in a post-apocalyptic arctic landscape can arrange to do so ahead of time at the Tulip Hotel and Museum (open during the summer months).
The Atlas Obscura Podcast is a short, daily celebration of all the world’s strange and wondrous places. Check out this episode about Pyramiden.
Know Before You Go
Accessible only by sea or snowmobile.