Text: George Vlachos & Anna Kokkinidou

Photos: Kostas Katsiamakas & George Vlachos

In June 2009, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to the Spitsbergen Island, in the Svalbard Archipelago. My travel to Svalbard has been an extraordinary experience for me, a true life-experience! For a week I found myself in a virgin arctic landscape, I had the chance to wander in the extraordinary arctic nature and the glaciers. Moreover I observed the amazing marine life of the region and its biodiversity, while we even went climbing on the indescribably beautiful mountains!

Spitsbergen Island from the air. Photo: © George Vlachos
Svalbard Archipelago area. Aerial view. Photos © George Vlachos

Svalbard is an Arctic Ocean Archipelago, somewhere in the midway between Norway and the North Pole. It is the northernmost part of Norway and consists of a group of small islands in the Arctic Ocean, ranging from 74° to 81° north latitude. The entire Archipelago covers an area of 61.022 km2; about 60% of which is covered by glaciers.
Three large islands dominate in the region: Spitsbergen, Nordaustlandet and Edgeøya. The Archipelago comprises the smaller islands of Svenskøya, Wilhelmøya, Prins Karls Forland, Kongsøya, Barentsøya, Kvitøya and Bear Island as well as other even smaller islands. The largest settlement is Longyearbyen, on the Spitsbergen Island.
The 1920 Spitsbergen Treaty recognized Norwegian sovereignty over Svalbard, and the 1925 Svalbard Act fully included Svalbard as part of the Kingdom of Norway. The official language is Norwegian, though some areas do speak Russian.

In the last century, mining by Norwegian and Russian companies has been the prime industry on Svalbard.

Room in a mining settlement. Photo: © George Vlachos
Mining equipment.Photo: © George Vlachos
Miner. Photo: © George Vlachos

Longyearbyen has subsequently grown into a diverse community with significant international research and educational institutes.

"Be careful. Polar Bears!!!". Photo: © George Vlachos

The Svalbard Airport, located in Longyearbyen, is the only airport of the Archipelago; it can be reached by plane from Tromsø or Oslo, Norway. The airport can be reached by buses or taxis available in Longyearbyen.

Longyearbyen. Photo: © Kostas Katsiamakas
Longyerabyen. Monument to the miners, the founders of this community. Photo: © George Vlachos