Thursday, 30 September 2010

Vardø, Norway's arctic fronteer

Vardø (pop. 2 600), facing the Barents sea near the russian border, is the easternmost town in Norway - east of Saint Petersburg and, strange as it may seem, east of Istanbul !

Location: 70° 21' N., 31° 02' E.

The port of Vardø, on the Barents Sea, remains ice-free all year round thanks to the effect of the warm North Atlantic drift. 

The rich fishing stocks in the sea around are the main reason for the town's existence. Fish processing plants and a rapidly-expanding tourist trade provide the primary sources of employment.

The town is also the northern termination of European route E75.

In August 1944 the allied bombings destroyed many of the old buildings and the town was almost entirely destroyed by fire. Nevertheless, there are many buildings which escaped the wrath of the flames. Vardø is home to North Norway's largest wooden building, the old primary school:

Another wooden landmark is
the home of the Chief Justice, built in 1919:

Vardø also is the most northerly fortress town in the world and the only town in Western Europe which lies in the arctic climatic zone. It is also the oldest town in northern Norway
The Pomor Museum,

Vardø's major attraction is the Vardøhus Festning, a fortress dating back to the late 13th century (although the present structure dates from 1734).The fort is an octagonal, star-shaped fortress built in the period 1734-1738.

Vardøhus Festning is home to two rowan trees which are carefully nurtured and warmed in winter since these trees cannot normally survive in Vardø's cold climate, north of the Arctic tree line. Originally, seven trees were planted in 1960; the one that survived managed to blossom twice, in 1974 and 1981. The tree finally succumbed to cold weather in 2002, but two new saplings have been planted in its place, at both sides of the officer's quarters entrance stairs.

The fort's garrison salutes the returning of the sun after the long arctic night with two shots every year. This is to mark the end of the Arctic winter darkness. Then students at the Vardø schools can leave for the rest of the day.
Vardø is a port of call on Norway's Hurtigruten ferry service.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Olonkinbyen, pioneer town for the XXI century

Olonkinbyen is a settlement on the Norwegian island of Jan Mayen, a XX century prefabricated arctic base in a desert island.

Olonkinbyen houses the staff that operates the weather station and the radio station. Currently there are 18 members stationed in Olonkinbyen who make up the entirety of the island's population, therefore making it the "capital" of Jan Mayen.

Jan Mayen is an integrated geographical body of Norway. Since 1995 it has been administered by the county governor of Nordland; however, some authority has been delegated to a station commander of the Norwegian Logistics Organisation-CIS, a branch of the armed forces.

Notice that Jan Mayen island is Europe! The mid-atlanic ridge crosses there - therefore the volcan - but the Jan Mayenians of Olonkinbyen are European.

Teams change every 6 months: an Hercules C 130 takes care of the transport, the airfield is safe. On the contrary, the sea coast is savage with very few points for landing in safety.

These planes fly to Jan Mayen from Bodø, it is a 1000 km flight of 2 hours. They also bring supplies and mail, but there is only 8 flights each year, so letters from home are scarce. On Jan Mayen there is a 1.5 km landing strip of gravel, used for the scheduled C130 landings, but also for other missions like ambulance planes to collect sick or injured fishermen.

The team in Olonkinbyen is mainly from Norway. They live in a complex of interconnected climatized containers studied for isolation and resistence and decorated inside as much as a small hotel as possible, with lots of labs and working offices; as for comfort, there is a media room, a library, a museum, even a swimmimg pool !

Interior: Room

Interior: corridor

Interior: museum

Interior: post office

The crew runs the navigation and meteorological stations and maintains the infrastructure - airstrip, power station, buildings.

airport building

As for visits, just some cruise ship in the summer, a polar bear comes now and then, and they have old cabins from the first settlers (fishermen) restaured for logging, mostly for scientific teams.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Rosslyn chapel

- a scottish wonder

Rosslyn Chapel is a 15th-century church in the village of Roslin, seven miles from Edinburgh in Scotland. The beauty of its setting and the mysterious symbolism of its ornate stonework have inspired and intrigued artists and visitors ever since. The chapel is famous both for its decorative art and its mysterious associations with the Knights Templar, the Holy Grail, and the Freemasons (Those were references in Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code").

The chapel was founded by Sir William Sinclair, of the St. Clair family, a Scottish noble family from Orkney who descended from Norman knights and, according to legend, linked to the Knights Templar. The foundation stone of Rosslyn Chapel was laid on St. Matthew's Day, September 21, 1446.

Rosslyn Chapel is relatively small and has an asymmetrical shape, owing probably to intended further construction. The arched stone ceiling of Rosslyn Chapel is finely decorated in squares with five pointed stars, ball flowers, tablet flowers, roses, a dove with an olive branch:

On the three pillars standing between the east aisle and the east chapel is a choir of 13 angels with musical instruments, representing the host of God. On the ribs of the intersections on the north and south sides are representations of various occupations in life.

Rosslyn Chapel is the home of the famous Apprentice Pillar, a decorated pillar that gets its name from a legend involving the mason in charge of the stonework in the chapel and his young apprentice.

The base of the Apprentice Pillar depicts eight dragons, from whose mouths emerge the vine that winds itself around the pillar. In Christian mythology, this represents the Tree of Life, but it probably was inspired by Norse mythology. The Norse Tree of Knowledge, Yggdrasil, holds up the heavens from the earth and the dragons of time gnaw at the roots of the Tree.

Location of Rosslyn Chapel

Friday, 3 September 2010

The Eskimo ball

The samples of a ball were found in archeological excavations of 1,5-thousand-year old inuit sites. The Eskimo ball was a symbol of the Sun, the image of the Universe for the indigenous people of northern Siberia, Alaska and Canada.

In earlier times the ball had basically sacral meaning, and people started to play the ball with arrival of a new hunting season.

The appearance of the ball symbolized the beginning of the new year. The game with ball was most important in ceremonies. To throw a ball in game to each other still symbolizes a message of goodwill and warm feelings, and the sound that the little stones make inside of a ball means repel bad luck and evil.

The remarkable Eskimo Nebula (NGC 2392), a planetary nebula (Hubble photo, NASA)