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Pyramiden: Monument to a fallen empire

There’s a special beauty in the places abandoned by man. The negative space tells a story of the people who once filled empty hallways, ate at dusty tables, and slept in moldering rooms. Nowhere is this melancholy beauty more evident than in the former Soviet Mining colony Pyramiden.

In spite of the inhospitable environment, the threat of polar bears, and the months-long winter night, this mining colony was a plum assignment for many Russian and Ukraineian miners as the colony was supported at great cost by a Soviet empire eager to demonstrate its glory on the Atlantic doorstep of Europe and the United States. In this way the community of Pyramiden was a living monument to Soviet Communism – subsidized instead of self-sustaining. An illusion of utopia in the least hospitable place on earth.

Today the once opulent movie theater, athletic club, and dining halls lay empty – preserved by an environment too icy and barren for nature to reclaim.

The price of admission is steep: you have to get there. You can go by boat in the summer and (perhaps for a while longer) a snow machine across the atlantic ice in winter. Book passage from Longyearbyen or find your own way there- just be sure to check in with the caretakers in the old Tulip Hotel. After sampling their vodka, you might decide to stay the night- but you’ll always feel like an interloper in this open tomb to a fallen empire.

Andy is the Robinson in Smith Robinson.

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