From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Russian coal mining settlement
The town from above
The town from above
Heroic Soviet-style mural on the community centre building, Barentsburg
Heroic Soviet-style mural on the community centre building, Barentsburg
Barentsburg is located in Svalbard
Location in western Svalbard
Coordinates: 78°04′0″N 14°13′0″E / 78.06667°N 14.21667°E / 78.06667; 14.21667
Country Norway
Syssel Svalbard
island Spitsbergen
Population (2007)
 • Total 500
Time zone CET (UTC+1)
 • Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2)

Barentsburg (Russian: Баренцбург) is the second largest settlement on Svalbard, with about 500 inhabitants (2007), almost entirely Russians and Ukrainians. It is the site of the Barentsburg Pomor Museum.


Further information: History of Svalbard

Named after Dutch explorer Willem Barents, the town is a mining town, with coal mining conducted by the Soviet company Arktikugol since 1932. The population has declined over the decades, and in its heyday, over 1,000 Soviet citizens inhabited Barentsburg.


Although Svalbard is under Norwegian sovereignty, the unique Svalbard Treaty of 1920 allows citizens of signatory countries equal rights to exploit natural resources. Russia, along with Norway (via the Sveagruva mine and Mine 7), maintain mining operations on Svalbard as a result. Russia maintains a consulate in Barentsburg,[1] the northernmost diplomatic mission of any kind in the world. Barentsburg still has a Norwegian mail address and Norwegian phone numbers.

Economic basis[edit]

Barentsburg started as a Dutch mining town in the 1920s.[2] In 1932 the Dutch sold their concession to the Soviet Union.[3] Since 1932 the Russian state-owned Arktikugol Trust has been operating on Svalbard. The main economic activity is coal mining by the Arktikugol (Арктикуголь) company, although tourism is beginning to be developed.

Coal is still mined in Barentsburg and regularly exported to (generally) buyers within Northern Europe. The town relies entirely on mainland Russia for food and coinage. There have been instances in which not enough food was sent, and aid packages were sent from Longyearbyen. Also, the coal company has been known not to pay employees until they finish their three-year contract and return to Russia.[citation needed] Tourism is still only an embryonic industry and is not generating enough income to revive the town.


The distance from Longyearbyen to Barentsburg is about 55 km but there are no roads connecting the two settlements. Most contact between the two is by boat, snowmobile, or helicopter. There is a heliport (ICAO code ENBA) at Heerodden (78°06′03″N 14°11′46″E / 78.100809°N 14.196224°E / 78.100809; 14.196224) 4 km north of Barentsburg (with road connection). Tourist visitors usually arrive by boat, 2–3 hours from Longyearbyen. The coal is freighted by ship. The port is located in the middle of Barentsburg.

Science and culture[edit]

A museum of Pomor culture, Arctic flora and fauna, including unique archeological objects preserved in the permafrost, works in the town. Normally it is open when a daily boat from Longyear arrives (in summer months only), and by special arrangement. There is a sport complex, including a swimming pool with heated seawater. Beyond the mining-related activity, there is a scientific research center in Barentsburg. Each summer season, several dozen researchers from Russia and other countries work here, notably geophysicists, geologists, archeologists, biologists, glaciologists, geographers, etc. Year-round meteorological observatory and the northernmost cosmic rays station work in the town too.

Film, Dream Town[edit]

Adrian Briscoe completed Dream Town, a feature-length film about Barentsburg in 2014. Part documentary, part fantasy, Dream Town examines the stark reality of the miners, scientists, and children who live there and contrasts their unusual existence with fictional interludes they created with the director. From documentary to fiction, the film concludes with a series of resolutions centered on the themes of love, dreams and escapism.

Co-written by novelist Ray Robinson, Dream Town won the Best Picture award at both the Chicago Underground Film Festival and the Derby Film Festival, UK in the spring of 2014.

2006 fire[edit]

On October 17, 2006 Norwegian inspectors detected an underground, smoldering fire in Barentsburg, prompting fears that an open fire might break out,[4] which would have forced the evacuation of all of Barentsburg for an indefinite period of time, and also cause unknown environment problems for the entire archipelago. The fire was later contained.[5] Coal mining was restarted four and half years later, at the end of 2010.[6]



  1. ^ Russian Embassy in Norway website
  2. ^ Umbreit, Andreas (2009). Spitsbergen (4 ed.). Bradt Travel Guide. p. 35. ISBN 978-1-84162-240-8. 
  3. ^ Barr, Susan (2003). Norway, a consistent polar nation?: analysis of an image seen through the history of the Norwegian Polar Institute. Kolofon. p. 174. ISBN 978-82-300-0026-7. 
  4. ^ Norway Svalbard Coal Fire. International Herald Tribune. November 1, 2006.
  5. ^ Barentsburg: Kullbrann kan føre til evakuering Aftenposten 1 November 2006
  6. ^ Staalesen, Atle (2010-11-08). "Russians restarted coal mining at Svalbard". Barents Observer. Retrieved 2010-01-26. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 78°04′N 14°13′E / 78.067°N 14.217°E / 78.067; 14.217