Midnight Latitudes: Pyramiden

Midnight Latitudes: Pyramiden

High above the Arctic Circle in Svalbard, a desolate archipelago situated midway between Norway and the North Pole, a Cold War outpost drifts further and further out of time. Free from looters and far from the vegetation and humidity that could reclaim it for nature, the Russian ghost town of Pyramiden looks much the same way that it did when it was first abandoned in 1998, during a hasty, unannounced withdrawal that still fuels rumours and legends on the island.

Callous Sky, Ordered Sea:

Callous Sky, Geometric Sea

Receding Shelf:

Receding Shelf: Across Billefjorden, 4km from Pyramiden, a 750m-high ice shelf makes its slow, steady march into the sea.

Urban Planning:

Urban Planning: The design of Pyramiden feeds into twin mine galleries that crawl up a kilometre of mountain to the mouth of the mine. The town’s location at the pit of a rock valley helps it function as one big resonance chamber, with door slams and rifle shots rattling through the townsite.

Listing:

Generational Planes: A 1940s-era schoolhouse lists to the side as a thicket of multistorey blocks, including its 1970s-era replacement, loom high behind it. Pyramiden was build in stages, with the modern town crawling up the valley further from the wharf. At its peak the town had 1200 residents.

Chief Architect:

Chief Architect: The bust of Bolshevik hero Vladimir Lenin keeps watch over the town’s main street, translated directly as the marble-mouthed “60th Anniversary of the October Revolution Street”.

Silo Fortresses:

Silo Fortresses

Grazing Lands:

Grazelands: A Svalbard reindeer, a boxy subspecies endemic to the archipelago, graze on an introduced grass still growing from soil brought from Ukraine to the high Arctic decades ago. Since the hardy Scandinavian icon has no natural predator here — they’re capable of outrunning a polar bear in spite of their shorter-than-usual legs — the Svalbard reindeer is as tame as cattle.

Bird Castle:

Bird Castle

Blocks of a Feather:

Blocks of a Feather

Bilingual:

Bialphabetical

Fuel for the Flame:

Fuel for the Flame

Sunlicked Boardwalk:

Sunlicked Boardwalk: Golden light brings a dour landscape to life. This far north, the sun doesn’t set from April through August, instead spinning around the sky in perpetual magic hour.

The Mountain and its Amenities:

The Mountain and its Amenities: A cavernous leisure centre anchors the base of the pyramidal, coal-rich mountain that gives the town its name.

Streamways:

Waterway, Former Walkway: Ice and runoff in a makeshift river basin shifts with the seasons, taking a stretch of the town’s kilometres-long boardwalk system with it.

Old Town:

Old Town: Elsewhere, boardwalks lead the way to the original Pyramiden townsite, much of it demolished many years ago.

Powderkegs

Powderkegs: Fresh snow sets into the crevasses of a nearby mountain. Known internationally since 1925 as Svalbard, Russia has retained the archipelago’s former name of Spitsbergen (“pointed mountains” in Dutch) to support claims that Russians were the first to discover the islands.

The Decaying Glacier:

The Decaying Glacier: Flecks of paint race climate change to further differentiate a mural of nearby Nordenskiold glacier from the real thing.

Canteen Mosaic::

Canteen Mosaic: An idyllic icescape once greeted hungry miners and their families at the entrance to the town’s canteen. With Pyramiden’s dorms lacking cooking facilities, all meals were served here.

Vertigo:

Vertigo

The Tale of Backboards and Scuff Marks

A Tale of Backboards and Scuff Marks

Balance Beam:

Balance Beam

Last Lap:

Last Lap: Built on the former site of an outdoor skating rink, an elaborate leisure centre with two pools and a fitness centre was one of the town’s final buildings constructed before the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Ghost Cinema:

Ghost Cinema

Spotlight on Balalaika:

Spotlight on Balalaika

библиотека:

библиотека: Stripped of their books, barren shelves and drawers of dewey decimal cards mark was was once the town’s library.

Panels and Beams:

Grand Balustrades

The Dumbwaiter's Last Drop:

The Dumbwaiter’s Last Drop: An elevator shaft connects the pantries and cupboards of the town’s canteen with its kitchen level.

Convection Heating

Convection Heating: Fans and industrial appliances in the canteen.

Solar Heating:

Solar Heating: Mottled sunlight warms a dead radiator.

Repainting:

Pantone Indecision: Irregular patches of peeled paint reveal the different colours the canteen’s walls have worn over the decades.

CLE_3911_sml:

A Candle in the Window

Russia's Norwegian Arctic:

Russia’s Norwegian Arctic: A Soviet ghost town in western Europe, Pyramiden is already a geopolitical anomaly even before considering the Svalbard archipelago’s unique status as a territory without a nation. Although administered by Norway, 42 nations (including Russia) have ratified a treaty granting the signees equal rights to engage in commercial activities on the islands.

Spherical:

Piñata Globe: The Bay of Bengal sinks into the earth’s core in a primary school classroom.

Cylindrical:

Can: One forgotten film reel among dozens in the projection booth.

Ice Sarcophagus:

Ice Sarcophagus

математика:

математика: Well-worn primary school textbooks wait patiently for the next generation of pupils.

Nap Room:

Scheduled Naps: Bedframes line the walls of a kindergarten nap room.

Fluorescent Bank

Fluorescent Bank

Malfunctioning Pause Button:

Malfunctioning Pause Button

CLE_3957_sml

Advanced Arithmetic

CLE_3934_sml

Kindergarten Throne

CLE_3959_sml

The Nightmare Room

Aspirational Thinking:

Aspirational: A bucolic diorama frames a primary school window a thousand kilometres from the nearest tree.

Gallery I

Gallery I: Stripped of its wood housing long ago, support beams offer little protection to the rail line that once linked mine to port.

Gallery II:

Gallery II

Mountain Crawler:

Mountain Crawler: Here in the mine gallery, rail tracks once ferried hundreds of miners a kilometre up the side of the mountain to the start of the coal seam.

Colonisation:

Colonising Species

Nerve Centre:

Nerve Centre

Author

Austin Andrews is a Vancouver-based photojournalist and occasional filmmaker with a penchant for finding the fantastic in the everyday. Contact him at austin [at] disposablewords [dot] net

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