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Pyramiden

Up on Norway's northernmost archipelago of Svalbard lies a relic of a Russian mining community. At its peak, Pyramiden used to be a hive of 1,000 people harvesting coal from the neighbouring mountains. Svalbard has a strange alien landscape with no trees and sedimentary, rock-filled terrain. During the winter it plunges into darkness and is bleak with snow and ice, but in the summer months, constant sunlight reflects off small patches of moss, giving the mountains an ethereal hue. The sky mists and clears quickly, filling with an incredible array of cloud species, whilst contrasts of the sea, glacier ice and gaunt rock are breathtaking.

Image above: Accommodation building's entrance

Image below: Recreation Centre's exterior facade


Although Pyramiden opened in the late 1930s, mining only got going after a sharp injection of funding at the end of World War II. Miners were paid handsomely, returning after a few years with a small fortune. Some decided to stay longer than their contract required because quality of life was top notch; everything was catered for. Workers and their families enjoyed a sports hall, a luxurious auditorium and cinema, music rooms, a well-stocked library, even a heated swimming pool. Everyone was assigned accommodation according to their marital status or duration of stay, whilst children were educated in school. There were no private kitchens, as everyone ate together in a large canteen.

Images above: The canteen and canteen kitchen

Images below: The recreation centre's stairwell, and the area's coal deposit

Providing all these amenities came at a huge cost to the state-owned coal mining firm Trust Arktikugol; everything that existed in Pyramiden was imported, such as the building materials and huge machinery. The majority of food supplies arrived by boat, although there was an effort to eat locally-sourced products. Chickens, pigs and cattle were reared for meat. Thousands of tonnes of fertile soil from Ukraine were shipped in to grow fruit and vegetables in greenhouses. The soil was also spread to create a large grassy green in the central square, looking bizarrely out of place against the rocky backdrop and glacier in the distance, showing there was a strict plan for how Pyrimiden was intended to look, with no expense being spared to achieve the perfect, self-sufficient, communist settlement. It was a Soviet foothold in the west, and this was perceived to be extremely valuable to the USSR .

Image above: Photograph of a tour guide taken by Karoline Torvund

Images below: The various buildings in the Pyramiden complex

There is a striking difference in building styles when comparing Pyramiden to the rest of Svalbard which is scattered with Scandinavian style huts, usually built as small as possible to conserve heat. Here, sturdy and intimidating blocks of brick tower over you, hiding interiors that were equally bold. These buildings stand up to the fiercely inhospitable landscape, where icy winds whip up dust from the sediment. The interiors were filled with colour, emanating classic Soviet era design. The respect for order was obvious in the symmetry of each room and building as a whole; everything was made up of clean lines. A broken tile or torn curtain became a focal point of disorder.

Image above: Gulls and mine

Image below: Interior photograph of the canteen

Pyramiden was abandoned in 1998 for reasons that are still murky. It is said that the mine was plagued with fires that burnt for a couple of years in the mid 90s. The fall of the Soviet Union also meant that the settlement had its state funding cut off, leading to poorer salaries and working conditions. Whatever the cause, the town was left to crumble.


–All photographs courtesy of Nick Fraser