Pyramiden – Norway: The northernmost ghost town in the world

More than 1,000 people once lived in the town of Pyramiden on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. Today the settlement is abandoned, but the buildings are so well preserved that it almost seems as if time has stood still.

It was rich coal deposits that once drew people so far north. The first were the Swedes, who founded the settlement of the same name at the foot of the Pyramiden mountain in 1910.

According to Visit Svalbard, Spitsbergen’s official tourism board, the coal mining rights were sold to the Soviets in 1920. In the years that followed, the Soviets turned the town into what was then the largest settlement on Svalbard, built houses, a school, a kindergarten, a gas station, a restaurant and even a hotel. At times more than 1000 people lived and worked in the pyramids.

Falling coal prices and a plane crash

The mine operated continuously for 53 years. But then coal prices fell and mining in the mine became increasingly difficult and expensive. A tragic plane accident in 1996 also contributed to the decision to close the mine: On August 29, a charter plane coming from Russia crashed into a mountain while approaching Svalbard’s capital Longyearbyen, killing all 141 occupants. The victims were mostly miners from Russia and Ukraine who were on their way to work in Pyramiden.

In 1998 the end of the mine and thus also of Pyramiden was finally sealed. The last residents left the city in 2000, and according to “Spiegel Online”, Pyramiden became the northernmost ghost town in the world. For six years, the settlement was exposed to storms, snow and cold and fell into disrepair.

Like time travel

But then the tourism potential of the former mining town, which is located around 50 kilometers north of Longyearbyen on a fjord near the Nordenskiöld glacier, was discovered. According to “Visit Svalbard”, eight people now live in pyramids again in the summer months, take care of the maintenance of the houses and roads and offer guided tours for tourists. The hotel also reopened after renovations in 2014.

The tourism office writes on its website that anyone who visits the pyramids today feels as if they have been transported back to the time of the Soviets in a time machine. “When the mine was closed and the settlement abandoned, everyone seemed to have left in a hurry. There were cups on the tables, newspaper clippings hung on the walls and skis stood in the corridors.” And Lenin still watches over the buildings in the form of a bust in the city’s central square.

Information for visitors to the ghost town Pyramiden

Those who want to visit the pyramids can do so on guided tours from Longyearbyen, by boat in summer and by snowmobile in winter. These excursions include a guided tour of the settlement and it is possible to enter some of the buildings. A night in the Pyramiden Hotel costs the equivalent of just under 180 euros for a double room with a private bathroom, breakfast is included. There is also a restaurant in the hotel.

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