Barentsburg, Norway

Exploring Barentsburg, Svalbard’s Russian Mining Town

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Our first stop on my expedition trip around the island of Spitsbergen in the Arctic Circle was an eerie one indeed. A permanent Russian settlement that’s more or less autonomous, Barentsburg  is one of only three “inhabited” towns on the whole island and had this creepy feeling of a ghost town where something bad had happened in past years. (To my knowledge it has not.)

Wikpedia says: “The Russian-owned Arktikugol has been mining coal here since 1932, and during the Cold War Barentsburg was a hotbed of activity as the Russians attempted to expand their zone of control over the islands.”

It looked a bit like a construction zone in parts—only, there was nary a sign of an inhabitant, or worker in hard hat for that matter.

Barentsburg, Spitsbergen: An eerie Russian mining town in Svalbard

In fact, the 60 of us who disembarked in Barentsburg seemed to be the only people in the dilapidated town.

Barentsburg, Spitsbergen: An eerie Russian mining town in Svalbard

I was a bit taken aback by the whole setting, and while the background—the never-setting sun illuminating the glaciers over the horizon—was miraculous, the coal mining trade did nothing to further the appearance of the shoddy place.

Barentsburg, Spitsbergen: An eerie Russian mining town in Svalbard

There were houses, but no faces.

Barentsburg, Spitsbergen: An eerie Russian mining town in Svalbard

Do you think if I wait under that lamp post long enough, Mr. Tumnus will materialize and save me from this god-forsaken place?

Barentsburg, Spitsbergen: An eerie Russian mining town in Svalbard

Kidding, I found it fascinating. I was particularly enamored with the Russian text and propaganda—it reminded me so much of Cuba and the ubiquitous cartoon-like billboards there.

Barentsburg, Spitsbergen: An eerie Russian mining town in Svalbard

I’m not quite sure what purpose this building serves—town hall for the ghosts that haunt the place, perhaps?—as clearly I veered away from the tour to document the town in my own way.

Barentsburg, Russian mining town in Svalbard

There was a sole bar-cum-post office-cum-gift shop, which I found hilarious, but sadly took no pictures inside. And then, lo! I finally found some semblance of lifeforms: It’s Barry Manilow (circa 70’s during the height of his bad hair days) and his Band of Dancing Misfits!

Barentsburg, Spitsbergen: An eerie Russian mining town in Svalbard

To read more about my trip around the Arctic island of Svalbard, start here:

  • September 18, 2009

    This reminds me of the movie ’30 days, 30 nights’. Great view but where is everyone? 🙂

  • September 18, 2009

    This town looks so cool in an odd way. Can you imagine being there in the middle of the winter when it is dark all the time…

  • September 18, 2009

    That place looks . . . trippy. Trippy good, but wow. Especially with nobody there?! It is a wonder you didn’t run away screaming thinking you were in some kind of zombie movie. Acutally, that isn’t a bad idea. Someone should film a zombie movie there.

  • September 18, 2009

    Wish I did read Russian. I’d love to know what those signs say. Must check back in again and see if any other readers translate!

  • September 18, 2009

    Kind of creepy. Maybe everybody was in the mines. Yet, an interesting little town.

  • September 18, 2009

    Wow, thanks for sharing a spot that I don’t expect I’ll ever get to myself! Love the propaganda signage. I could read the little sign below the BAR sign, it read “bar”. Impressive, eh?

  • September 18, 2009

    What a foreboding chilly looking place. Nearly everything is grey, brown or white – an almost monochrome town.

  • September 18, 2009

    Looks very mysterious, and just the kind of place my family would go to! Great photos.

  • September 18, 2009

    We sailed past this town but did not stop. I like ghost towns.

  • September 18, 2009

    You’re right, it totally looks like the kind of town that used to be a happy, bustling little town, until that Wilson kid was born, and he never was quite right, and when he was 7 years old he sat in the front yard and ate a rabbit, and then other children started to disappear, one by one, and the town’s never been the same since. And Boo Radley appears outside the church every day at 2:00 to give tours.

  • September 19, 2009

    I loved the photos….but after MonsteRawr’s comment, I’m pretty creeped out 😆

  • September 20, 2009

    I am excited to follow along with you. I have only traveled to the same 2-3 places every year of my life, so I enjoy reading about other’s journeys. 🙂

  • September 20, 2009

    yes, this was sort of creepy – the colors are amazing. where do people live and shop?

  • September 20, 2009

    What a fascinating place near the end of the earth. I love stories like this and imagining what this place might have been in its heyday.

  • September 21, 2009

    Even if it is ramshackle, the scenery is GORGEOUS.

  • September 22, 2009

    What an interesting place, your pictures are great.

  • September 23, 2009

    Hi, got a link to you from Stacey@ Hodoeporicon:

    The first Russian text, with the kind of crazy-looking man in the left-hand part of the panel, is something of a bizarre curse/twisted Irish road blessing:

    …so, where ever you now
    still have yet to travel,
    On the road of any springtime
    You’ll yearn for the polar north,
    You’ll see but dreams of snow.

    That is – *I* think it sounds like a curse; it’s probably part of a Pasternak or Esenin poem, though.

    The second text is too small for me to make out all of it, but there’s something about mining (that’s the first word), then the second line says “in the bodies of rockets in the stars” and then the last line says “you give heat and light to all.”

    -Andrew, from Moscow, with loff

  • September 28, 2009

    They lied to you. Something really bad happened there. How else can you explain all that whacked-out, colorful signage juxtaposed on top of all that gray matter?? They’re definitely trying to hide something. I just watched a recent James Bond movie. Conspiracies abound right now. LOL

  • March 17, 2015

    Whoa…spooky. A scientist friend visited Svalbard, and encourage me to go. Were you able to get some solid hiking in?

    • March 17, 2015

      Alas, I was on an expedition ship so we just had an afternoon in each stop. I imagine there is a whole lot of great hiking accessible in the summer, though. There seemed to be a lot of wide open land!

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