The words quoted are those of Jack Kerouac in the book “The sea is my brother“, an incomplete story of Wesley, an American soldier who lives the sea as his only companion during his mission. On the ship to Pyramiden, the last Soviet outpost, now abandoned city in the Svalbard islands, I feel a bit like Wesley.
Crossing the fjords lasted three and a half hours: the mountains, sharp and trenches of Spitzbergen are imbued with a skilful Nordic past, with snowy peaks and flanks furrowed by flaps of snow and ice that reach the sea. We have seen a polar bear on a cliff, seals, belugas, while seagulls give way to puffins hovering lightly in the icy air. We reached the perennial glacier Nordenskjøldbree: the huge expanse of white and blue ice stands in front of the boat.
I am exited and impatient to get there. Every mountain, misty waterfall and every iceberg are free from every other’s will: everything follows its flow, simply existing at that moment.
Soon the ship would have turned to the right and we would have arrived in the bay of Adolfbukta where our destination stands: the city of Pyramiden. We berth at the worn wooden pier, whose planks are reinforced by rusty iron plates. As tourists come down from the ferry, some visitors, intrigued by my large backpacks, ask me if I will sleep in Pyramiden:
-Yes … Cool.
The large iron structures at the coast already begin to tell their past, and the Cyrillic inscriptions“пирамида” warn that it has arrived in Pyramiden, the mining town that since 1931 has welcomed the greatest experts and workers of the Soviet world . The years are those of Stalin five-year plan, aimed to make Russia an economic and war superpower above USA and Europe. To get to the complete rise of the USSR it was necessary to invest in coal resources and heavy industry and it is no coincidence that an ideal city like Pyramiden arose precisely at Svalbard.
The desolate territory was rich in carboniferous deposits, exploited until 1998, and the Soviet outpost constituted a real threat to America, which feared an attack from the Pole.
Pyramiden had about 1000 inhabitants in the sixties, while today it has only 12 and are the Russian seasonal workers who manage the Tulpan hotel and the visits to the ghost town.
If you really want to experience the sudden silences and glacial echoes of Pyramiden, you need to get a shotgun for the polar bears and sleep at least one night … exactly what we did. The summer nights on the 78th parallel are made of the midnight sun, the ideal condition for a group of urban explorers who want to enter in every part of the city. Once out in the square I felt terribly vulnerable and intimidated, and the only way I had not to think of a possible misfortune was to take pictures of everything I saw. There is no hospital in Pyramiden or a scheduled airport, there is no Wi-Fi, no television, no ATM or telephone, no cars: only coal, Soviet bricks, reindeer, arctic foxes, gulls and polar bears.
The most devastated area is the eastern part of Pyramiden, the one near the great mountain that gives its name to the city. Near the football pitch named after Yuri Gagarin is the sauna-bath, laundry for miners, the administrative office of the mine and the entrance to the gallery. Everything has remained motionless for decades and we have found that the smell of abandonment and rottenness is the same in all parts of the world. We also explored a part of the mines’ galleries, where we found the photographs of those responsible for certain tasks as a repair operator, drilling, and machinist for extraction. This is the Pyramiden that nobody show you during the guided tours: the popular one, which knows about life of people who have sacrificed themselves for an ideal and for their families. Pyramiden, which is not only a museum and an archetype for nostalgic communists, but the imperfect, decadent Pyramiden, free from any judgment of Trip Advisor. We can only imagine the heaviness of everyday life when we enter the old mechanical workshops: the heavy smell of diesel, the damp earth beneath our feet, the machinery intact, like the great lathe, enveloped in a primordial darkness.
In a moment we did the 2:00 am, battery after battery, card after card, and reluctantly, we leave the prohibited Pyramiden to refresh us in our wooden beds: the next day would be an hard one…
The second day of this great exploration will be available soon on Ascosi Lasciti … continue to follow us.