Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Longyearbyen, an arctic capital in glorious surrounding landscape

Svalbard is a norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean whose largest island is Spitsbergen. Svalbard was discovered in 1596 by the Dutch navigator Willem Barentsz.

The town of Longyearbyen, at the mouth of Adventfjord.
[source Way Kay, Amsterdam]

Longyearbyen (pop. ~ 2100 inhabitants) is the administrative center of Svalbard.

At 78°13′N, 15°33′E, Longyearbyen is also the world's most northerly town.

Located in the shores of the great Isfjorden, more precisely at the mouth of the smaller Advenfjord, the town is surrounded by a breathtaking artic scenery of mountains, fjords and glaciers.

It was founded in 1906 by the american industrialist John Munroe Longyear, who established the archipelago's major economic activity, coalmining - the industry most people on Svalbard still rely on today.

Longyearbyen, main street

The town center in a warm summer day

and in early spring

From October to April, there is darkness or permanent twilight, but then the sun doesn't set at all in May, June, July, and most of August. The yearly return of the sun is celebrated with merry festivities.

Dark red is probably the most frequently-seen shade of pigment in Longyearbyen , but the color palette of newer houses adds variety and beauty to the Arctic townscape.

Longyearbyen's building code requires that houses be painted in colours that complement the earth tones of the tundra.

A residential area - colourful houses contrast with the white environment

Since the 17th century, people of different nationalities came to Svalbard for various activities: hunting, trapping, research, but most of all mining for coal, for wich Longyear founded the town.

The old mining cableway

The small mine in Longyearbyen is now used mainly to supply the town's own power plant.

The town has grown from a mining settlement into a municipality with some 2 000 temporary residents. Each year, about 100 people leave and other 100 move into Longyearbyen : scientists, tourist guides, miners, administrators, and other residents from more than 30 countries.

World's most northern church
at 78°13′N 15°33′E

Built of wood, Longyearbyen church was inaugurated in 1958

Church detail

The church café

Today, the community offers a wide range of activities and facilities, including a swimming hall, a sports hall, a large store and a shopping mall, pubs, cafés and restaurants, seven hotels, one church, shops, a cinema...

The Svalbard Hotel lounge terrace bar

Restaurant Kroa

The recent cultural center and cafe Kulturhuset, for exhibitions and concerts

Huset Café, a historical place, opened in the fifties:

Huset, the oldest café in town, restaurant, cinema and concert hall.

View from Huset's window

The local shopping mall Lompensenteret

The school

The northenmost school in the world, with children from 13 different nations.


Svalbard Museum

The Treaty of Versailles, at the end of World War I, made Svalbard part of the Kingdom of Norway but allowed citizens of other signing nations equal rights to residence, property, commercial activities and research on the island. That's the reason why many were attracted to the island.

UNIS - University of Svalbard

The University Centre in Svalbard represents four Norwegian universities and provides university-level education in Arctic studies.


Recently, with the opening of an international airport with scheduled frequent flights and the increasing number of arctic cruise ships visiting the town and the islands, tourist business is expanding and some fine hotels have arised, like the Radisson Blu or this Spitzbergen Hotel :

View from a hotel window

The surrounding arctic landscape

Longyearbyen is surrounded by mountains, fjords - the Advenfjorden and the Isfjorden - and glaciars - Longyearbreen, Larsbreen, Monacobreen, Esmarkbreen.

The Isfjorden

Isfjorden was first observed by Willem Barentsz as early as 1596.

The Isfjorden as seen from Longyearbyen

A Basque whaling ship from San Sebastian was the first to establish a temporary whaling station here in 1612. Since 1613, French, Basque, and Dutch whaling ships resorted to Trygghamna (safehaven) on the north entrance of Isford.

Trygghamna offers good mooring conditions and the sheltered harbour is protected from most winds.

The landscape around this large bird cliff is lush and impressive.

Villa Fredheim
one of the most well-known hunter's cabins.

Gammelhytta (the old Cabin), built by norwegian hunter Daniel Nøis during his stay in the winter between 1911 and 1912, is part of the Villa Fredheim hunting station, in Isfjorden, where since 1911 his nephew Hilmar Nøis lived for 38 years hunting polar bears, foxes and bearded seals for the lucrative fur, reindeer and ptarmigans also for the meat.

It´s an historic example of old hunting cabin building - moss was used for filling the walls, birch bark covered both the walls and roof, and turf was put up along the walls and on the roof.

Larsbreen, the glacier just outside Longyearbyen

Down along the glacier, Nybyen, where UNIS studentes lodge

Esmarkbreen glacier, across the Isfjorden

In the right hour of the day, the scenic Esmarkbreen reflects a striking blue light.

Monacobreen, the Monaco glacier

A 6 km wide front

The Fram cruise ship visiting Monaco glacier

The region has a rich fauna: reindeer, polar bears, arctic foxes, seals, walruses, whales and birds - ptarmigan, guillemots, ducks, terns...

Svalbard rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta hyperborea)

Eider duck, a sea duck (Somateria mollissima), in Adventfjorden

The arctic flora in spring and summer is amazing - some 170 flowering plant species in Svalbard, displaying a rich variety of colours that richly decorate the white or gray soil.

Polar campion (silene uralensis)

Mountain Avens (dryas octopetala)

19 april - the first sun after the long arctic night


Svalbard's Global Seed Vault

I published before on Ultima Thule a post on the Global Seed Vault, here.

Ny Ålesund

You can also find a post on the historic and scientific settlement of Ny Ålesund, in extreme north Svalbard, here.