Sunday, 14 October 2018

The mighty Yenisei, one of the four great rivers of Arctic Siberia


2.Yenisei River

The majestic, awe-inspiring Yenisei is almost a whole world - a truly Siberian world, as its basin, starting in Mongolia, then spreads through ‎2 580 000 km² of central Siberia.

The upper part of the Yenisei River Basin includes Lake Baikal (see here), and nearby historic town of Irkutsk (also mentionned here) on the Angara river, the main tributary to the Yenisei. Both are central features of the History, geography and culture in Siberia, and have somehow become travelers utopian destinations.

The Yenisei at its source, at the lake Kara-Balik.

Rising in Mongolia, the Yenisei flows generally from south to north across central Siberia, traversing steppe grasslands, then taiga forest, and finally tundra as it runs into the Kara sea.

It may well be one also of the most beautiful rivers

With a length of around 4000 km, the Yenisei flows through a mountainous region in its middle section.

Mainly in the middle course, canyons, falls and rapids

Through the Khakassia region, before Krasnoyarsk, the river starts a quieter course amidst magnificent landscapes:

An important water flow into the Yenisei is brought from the tributary Kureyka river, with the most powerful falls in Russia:

On the Kureyka also exist hydroelectric dam and power station.

Russian cossacks first settled on the Yenisei in the early 17th century with the major settlement founded at Krasnoyarsk, ca. 1626. Now an industrial and rather unpleasant metropolis, still Krasnoyarsk is the centre of urban life in the heart of Siberia.

The Trans-Siberian runs across the Yenisei here on a bridge from 1896, "a typical parabolic polygonal truss bridge" awarded in Paris 1900 World Exhibition:

The Trans-Siberian line was one of the main factors of developpment of Krasnoyarsk; here, the river routes and the railway complement each other, creating a network for modern urban life to conquer this part of Siberia.

From Moscow, the train no. 55/56 ‘Yenisey’ takes 60 hours for a journey of over 4000 km.

The most distinctive features of Krasnoyark are the river banks and this concrete bridge from 1961, the Communal Bridge:

Pedestrian walk by yhe Yenesei. There is also a river cruise boat operating from Krasnoyarsk.

Communal Bridge at sunset

Trade barge on the Yenisei

Some miles downriver, before Lesosibirsk, the Yenisei is fed by its most important tributary, a long way far from its source in Lake Baikal: the Angara.

The Angara river is the main tributary to the Yenisei.

From here the river starts its flatland course meandering through the tundra. For centuries the Yenisei was the center of Siberian fur trade as well as hunting and fishing activities, but since soviet times there has been intense industrial development, particularly mining at Norilsk. Industry has been made possible by a series of massive hydroelectric dams on the Yenisei.

So this is what Norilsk looks like: "Harsh industrialized landscapes, smokestacks, pipelines everywhere, muddy wasteland instead of lawns or parkland, box-like heavy industry buildings and installations; grayness, gloominess".

Norilsk fumes over the Yenisei: the most polluted city in the world

The frozen Yenisei:
Frequently under -30ºC as it enters the highest latitudes deep north of the Artic Circle, the Yenisei freezes part of the year.

In this section, Dudinka is a huge river port serving Norilsk.

A small icebreaker forces its way through thick ice at Dudinka

Boy riding a bike on the iced banks of the Yenisei

This is one of the most dreadful regions in Siberia: following the Yenisei northwards, the town of Igarka was meant to be the terminal of the infamous railway from Salekhard which costed the life of many thousands prisoners of the Gulag. It was never built, but rusty remains of the rails and train engines keep the memory of the tragedy.

After Dudinka, the Yenisei starts a larger and larger estuary, then a delta until the final gigantic gulf into the Kara Sea.

The estuary

This is the longest (732 km) estuary in Eurasia, with a maximum channel width of approx. 50 km.

The delta consists of several branches constantly changing its course over the marshy terrain. Piles of driftwood are stocked in multiple sandy islets.

Finally, the Gulf. An important harbour lies there, the port town of Dikson. Founded in 1915 by Swedish Arctic pioneer Oscar Dikson, it's the northernmost town in Asia, at 73°30′ N, 80°31′ E,  known as "capital of the Arctic".

Dikson, a major port in the Northeast Route through the Artic Ocean.

Nuclear icebreaker 'Taymyr' operating at Yenisei Gulf.

Despite all the ugly urban and industrial environment of some sections, most of the Yenisei is still a place to enjoy and dream.

Evening at the Yenisei

Read more:

the mytical Lena, a Siberian river with History.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

The four great rivers of Arctic Siberia - the Ob, the Yenisei, the Lena and the Kolyma

Arctic Siberia may be barren and gloomy, still the tundra is crisscrossed by four of the great rivers of the world. Their basins carry a vast amount of freshwater rich in nutrients, flowing northwards to the cold iced seas - the Kara, the Laptev, the East Siberian, the Chukchi; so powerful that their warmer waters melt the ice floes and the Gulf area around their mouths is almost permanently navigable. They are the Ob, the eastern neighbouring Yenisei, both flowing into the Kara Sea; the Lena and the far-east Kolyma, which both empty into the Laptev Sea.

Ob Gulf:  66°32′ N, 71°23′ E.

Yenisei Gulf: 72°30′ N, 81°15′ E

Lena Delta: 73°11′ N, 125°19′ E
                   the most northernly

Kolyma Gulf: 69°30′ N, 161°30′ E.

These rivers played an important role during the exploration and populating process of Siberia. River routes were the main ways of communication in Russian Siberia before the 1730s, when roads began to be built. Those rivers flow north to the Arctic Ocean, so it was quite vital to find branches that flow east-west with easy land transfers (portages) between them.

Colonization routes following rivers and portages

It took about 60 years (1580-1639) for the western russians, mostly cossacks and later tatars, to reach the Pacific coast leaving a trail of forts and colonnies by the rivers along their ways.

So, I'm starting a series of four posts, and this is the first, dedicated to the Ob River.

1. Ob River

The Ob (Обь) is the main river of Western Siberia. It rises from glaciers and streams far South in the Altai mountains and winds northwards until it empties into the Kara Sea.

Most of the course runs through terraced plains.

The Ob at Barnaul.

The Ob course acquires a larger dimension with the tribute of the Irtysh, a very long river coming from China, entering Russia at Omsk. The combined Ob-Irtysh huge basin (5410 km) consists of steppe, taiga, and finally tundra.

The confluence of the Irtysh and Ob rivers.

The Gulf of Ob

The Gulf is the outlet for the Ob River, as its delta is choked by a huge sandbar. The depth of the sea at this point is only 10–12 m, and the coastline is marshy.

Recently a large amount of giant snowballs appeared on the shores of the Gulf, probably ice floes that rolled on the sand. Rare.

The Ob flows by three important historic settlements: Novosibirsk, Surgut and Salekhard.

At Novosibirsk, an ugly and very large industrial center, were born Gogol and Chekov, two of the great Russian writers.

At Novosibirsk the new Bugrinsky Bridge (2014) over the Ob.

Novosibirsk was founded when the rail buiders were forced to stop at the Ob river, to build this bridge.

The old Trans-siberian rail bridge.

The main trade on the course of the Ob is related to oil and gas extraction, as some of Russia's largest oil and natural gas deposits are found in the river's middle and lower sections. In 1956, a large dam was built at Novosibirsk, which created a huge reservoir on the river. 

Surgut is quite an old town from 1594; copies of its old fortress and small wooden Kremlin has been carefully built as an open air Museum.

The Ob is also linked to the Gulag era, some of the worst camps and worst human disasters ocurred under Staline around the rail track called "Dead Road" between the Ob and the Yenisei.

Salekhard port on the Ob, just above the delta.

Salekhard , at 66ºN and not far from the Ob delta, is an historic treasure; since the 17th century center, mostly built in wood, the town has been later enrichened with religious and civil architecture. See here.

The main tributary Irtysh river

The great Irtysh river near Tobolsk

Tobolsk, on Ob's tributary Irtysh river, was the main town of Sibir, founded in 1590. It was a stronghold fort, a kind of Capital of Siberia, a base for further eastward exploration.

The Tobolsk Kremlin remains one of the most wonderful in Russia:

A cruise route has been working along the Ob river, between Salekhard and Omsk, with a stop at Tobolsk.

A portage leads to the Yenisei River at Yeniseysk, about 1400 km from Tobolsk.

Next soon:
The mighty Yenisei, Siberia's largest river.

Read more: see The Vega Expedition

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Ales Stenar, the Stones of Ale - a Viking memorial in Skåne, southern Sweden

This is probably the most fascinating and enigmatic pre-historic monument of Scandinavia. There, writing only started by the year 1000 under Christian culture. Without that skill, limited to runic stone carvings, Vikings left few testimonies of their era; that's why this is a preciously rare heritage, dated from about 600 DC.

The ship form Alignment stands on the green covered flat top of a high cliff.

Ales Stones (Stenar)
Scania, Sweden

Coordinates: 55° 23′ N, 14° 03′ W

It looks like a funereal vessel made of 59 obeliscs standing beteween the sky and the sea, in a pasturage on top of a steep cliff near the small fishing port of Kåseberga. Ystad is the closest town. Built by whom, why ? or what for?

The answer seems to be: quite probably a burial monument, maybe over an earthed grave, and dedicated to some Viking captain capsized with his ship and crew at this Baltic Sea coast; but some think otherwise: an astrononomical purpose (like Stonehenge), for the sun is perfectely aligned with the two extreme stones ('bow' and 'stern') at both solstices.

Datation is well established, between 500 and 1000 AC, during the late nordic Iron Age. But archeologists discovered that the stones stand on a much older funereal camera from ca. 5500 years ago. Maybe the alignment in the form of a ship's keel meant the transport of the underlying deceased to their eternal abode? But here, so far away from Caronte's bark ????...

Most of the megalyths are made of granite, except two of local sandstone and one of quartzite; those are probably not original, but later apports or substitutions. We can scarcely imagine how tons of boulders were lifted and dragged up the fields, up a steep slope, and finally aligned carefully and accurately with the celestial stars.

Why 'Ale' ?

The monument was known as Heds Stenar (Heesteena) in the 18th century ( and currentlu now by the locals), and there is a mention of Stene by the 17th century. The origin of the name is unknown.

The Swedish writer and film director Hasse Alfredson supported the hypothesis of Ales Stenar's astronomical purpose in 1970. With a simple compass he verified that the central line, main axes of symmetry of the 'ship', pointed to the sun at the solstices: in Summer, the setting Sun was aligned with the bow, in Winter with the stern.

Göran Lind, teacher at Lund University, declared in 1975 he had confirmed Alfredson ideas with more sophisticated equipment. Since then, several articles, some more esoteric than others, speculate about the geometric and cosmologic coincidences without full scientific evidence.

History's best treasures are frequently the ones we don't fully understand.