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Do You Know That? Svalbard I.

Published: 26.2.2012
Ice archipelago, which lies midway between Scandinavia and the North Pole, there is hiding places perhaps more remarkable than it might seem. Mineral resources and unique geomorphological composition of local rocks and rugged landscape here attracted number of expeditions, adventurers, and in recent decades as well as tourists. Today we will look there as well.

On the imaginary centre of the Arctic Ocean lies archipelago with mysterious sounding name Svalbard. The equivalent of the name of islands, known to us as Spitsbergen, suggests that the archipelago is under the administration of the Kingdom of Norway and is the northernmost territory. The official language and currency are Norwegian Crown respectively Norwegian. Of the whole group of islands are permanently inhabited only three: West Spitsbergen (Spitsbergen NOR), Bear Island (Bjørnøya) and HOPEN.

The largest of them - the West is also the largest island of Norway, which is the main town of Longyearbyen, Svalbard.

The first modern-day settlers were not the Scandinavians, but the Russians and the Vikings, who come here for the first time they arrived during 12th century. The first mention we can find also in the Icelandic National Literature from1194. The first official discoverer was considered Willem Barents, a famous Dutch navigator, who landed up 1596th. Despite this act of sovereignty none denied the Norwegian-Danish territorial rights. In the following decades and centuries of the water become one of the most important whaling sites of the world. The main fishing base became Smeerenburg whose historic role has increased during the first expeditions to the Polar region and as well to the northernmost pole. There started many expeditions Norwegian Roald Amundsen and memorable years of airship explorer Umberto Nobile Italia, which it reached in 1928, "Northern turntables." Until the middle of 20th century the interest of scientists and geologists was focused especially on the interior of each other unexplored islands. After the attack USSR by Nazi troops were practically the entire population of the islands evacuated by the British Navy.

The subsequent liquidation of Spitsbergen infrastructure, settlements, production platforms, oil, coal mines and radio archipelago plunged back into medieval times. All this took place from the fear against occupying by Nazi Germany, which happened in June 1943 during a massive attack by the dreaded Navy cruiser Tirpitz. Small crews of several forts could not resist this massive invasion too long. Just in the last year of war in the recovered territories should be divided between Norway and the USSR, which would have accrued to Bear Island - Bjørnøya. This division, however, was never realized. Another key point in the history of the archipelago became in the period between 1973 – 1975th. The Norwegian Government announced 3 national parks and in the same moment the international airport Svalbard Lufthavn was built in Longyear.

Mineral resources (coal and oil) plus exceptional geomorphological subsoil of islands gave rise to the research stations of many countries, which permit is still valid agreement of 1920, which shows that Norway may also signatories to the agreement (as Czechoslovakia) in the same natural right to exploit mineral resources for science and research. Probably the most active of the nations were then in the 20th century Russia, which there built a settlement Pyramiden, now known as "ghost town". The original Swedish colony in 1920 was purchased in 1927 by the Soviets. Mining Pyramiden region and city has had its most famous era in the mid-century to 2000 permanent residents. Wooden houses of settlers, mining complexes, however, and researchers from the end of 1998 works just deteriorated.

Arctic climate works as a perfect preservative, and so is life "ghost towns”, as envisaged in the next 40 years. Most of the objects are freely accessible, but the risk of injuries, sinks into the manholes and other annoyances is so large that despite the considerable number of visitors there is extensive degradation of the former Russian colonies. Perhaps the biggest attraction here is a monumental bust of Lenin - the northernmost statue of its kind ever. Just how quickly they came and went as well. Rapid emigration of thousands of workers in 1998, it took literally one night. Note from Moscow sounded clear: "The ship that brought you the latest stock to come here, so what can pobre and that was back in Russia." Brief, clear and fast ... you get to Pyramiden only by boat, such as 50 km in the south of Longyearbyen. The town has at present only 5 to 10 permanent residents.

Other attractions and information about Svalbard can be found on our website as early as next Sunday!

Text: Jan Chaloupka

Photos: Blanka Pechačová

Photo gallery you can watch here – with kindly agree of author 

(Photos from Geologic expedition Svalbard 2011, Science Faculty of Charles University, Prague) 

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