Spitsbergen (Norwegian: Svalbard; Russian: Шпицберген, Sjpitsbergen) is an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, some 565 km north of Norway, which consists of three larger and eighty small islands. The island group has been part of the kingdom of Norway since 1920 with a separate status.

The geographical location is between 74 ° -81 ° N and 10 ° -35 ° E. The area is approximately 62,000 km², of which 60% is covered with glaciers. Depending on the season, 3000 to 4000 people live on the entire archipelago, half of them in the capital Longyearbyen. Inland the landscape is rugged with steep mountains. Most mountains are between 800 and 1300 meters high. The highest mountain peak is Newton tops (1713 meters). Perrier tops are almost the same height (1712 meters). In total there are six mountain peaks higher than 1400 meters.



In most languages, the archipelago is now called Svalbard" and "Spitsbergen" refers to the largest island of this archipelago. However, in Dutch and some other languages, such as German, Frisian and Russian, both are referred to as 'Spitsbergen' (as originally). Moreover, it is not unusual in Norway to designate the entire archipelago with Spitsbergen.

In the past

The written history of Spitsbergen began at the end of the sixteenth century when the archipelago was discovered by Willem Barentsz on his third expedition to find the Northeastern passage.

The stories of the survivors of that dramatic last voyage from Barentsz made it clear in the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands that Spitsbergen offered great opportunities for whaling.


Whale hunting


In the seventeenth century the fjords and seas of the archipelago became the hunting ground of mainly Dutch and English whalers. In the 17th century to 1660, the Dutch Noordsche Compagnie had tear-fried farms in Smeerenburg during the fishing season. Attempts have been made to permanently inhabit the settlement, but hibernation turned out not to be feasible in practice.

At the end of the 20th century, archaeological research was carried out into this settlement on the island of Amsterdamøya from the Netherlands. The ever-temporary nature of habitation meant that no nation felt the need to actually colonize the archipelago, although the Danish king claimed the islands.

Fur hunting

By the mid-eighteenth century, almost all whales around Spitsbergen had been captured. Countries such as the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands and England lost their interest in Spitsbergen. In this period the mainland of the islands became a new hunting ground, now for fur hunters. Initially, these came from Russia, the so-called Pomores.

A few years later, hunters from the north of Norway joined us to focus on polar bears. This hunt was primarily the site of loners and did not have the same dramatic consequences as the whale hunt.

The hunters operated on their own and had little need for any form of government. The islands therefore remained terra nullius.




At the end of the nineteenth century there was a growing interest in the polar regions in the western world. This also led to greater attention for Spitsbergen. The islands became a study object for geographers and geologists. It soon became apparent that Spitsbergen had rich coal reserves. The coal also seemed easy to win. This discovery led to a modest variant of the gold rush in Alaska: individuals as well as companies claimed large parts of West Spitsbergen to be able to commit mining there.

In addition, attempts were made to extract other minerals, such as marble and plaster. The lack of effective management therefore became a problem.

World War II

When in April 1940 the German troops occupied Norway as far as the North Cape, not much changed at first on Spitsbergen. The coal for the Soviet Union could be removed and Hitler left the island for what it was. That changed after the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. Spitsbergen became strategically important in connection with the allied convoys to Murmansk and the coal reserves. In August 1941, Operation Gauntlet was executed, a combined British, Norwegian and Canadian command action. 2000 Russians were evacuated to Archangelsk and 800 Norwegians to Scotland, set fire to 1.45 million tonnes of coal and 1.25 million liters of gasoline, dismantled the coal mines, destroyed two German automatic weather stations and then left the now uninhabited island.

In April 1942, 82 Norwegian soldiers landed on Spitsbergen under the code name Fritham. They were discovered and bombed by German long-distance bombers. Twelve Norwegians were killed. Later, this small garrison was given anti-aircraft guns. Operation Fritham aimed to detect and destroy German weather stations and restore the coal mines. On September 6, 1943, the two largest German battleships, the Scharnhorst and the Tirpitz, departed from Norway towards Spitsbergen under the code name Operation Sizilien. They arrived at 9 am on 7 September at the port of Barentszburg and bombarded the village with their 35 cm guns. German sailors then went ashore and captured sixty Norwegian soldiers. They destroyed all military and civilian installations and left the same day at nightfall.

In September 1943, eleven German soldiers, under the command of the meteorologist Wilhelm Dege, established the Haudegen weather station in a difficult-to-reach part of Spitbergen.


They sent meteorological data by radio every three hours to their base in Norway. The group had received supplies for a year-long stay. When Germany capitulated on May 7, 1945, the men of Haudegen were forgotten. They were not officially informed of the capitulation by anyone. Finally, they contacted the Allies by radio. Their presence was noticed in September 1945, after which they were given the opportunity to surrender a few days later to the captain of the Norwegian robben yacht Blaasel.


In 1920 it was laid down in the Spitsbergen Treaty that the islands came under Norwegian supervision. But the country stands on its own, the taxes are arranged differently than in Norway and the money from Spitsbergen must also be used there. There is no tax on drinks, for example, so prices are a lot lower than in Norway. Theoretically, you can visit Spitsbergen without showing a passport.

The status of Spitsbergen is regularly a point of contention between Norway and Russia. Russia is the only nation to make use of the rights offered by the Spitsbergen Convention, and believes that Norway is violating its rights by obstructing Russian economic activities by invoking nature and / or environmental protection. The only remaining Russian base is Barentszburg.

Air traffic between Spitsbergen and Norway is considered an international flight, whereby all travelers must pass through customs and passport control. Because of its special administrative status, Spitsbergen has its own internet domain country code, namely .sj, which it shares with Jan Mayen as a whole because of the statistical appointment in ISO 3166-1 of Spitsbergen and Jan Mayen.

The sysselmann is the supervisor on behalf of the Norwegian government on the island group. He or she is based in the capital Longyearbyen. Unlike the rest of Norway, Spitsbergen is not part of the Schengen Treaties, while Jan Mayen is included. Domestic flights between mainland Norway and the island group are subject to Schengen border controls.


Longyearbyen is the largest settlement on Spitsbergen with around 2100 inhabitants (2016). This is where the marathon takes place.

Willem Barentsz is the name giver of the place Barentszburg, with about 500 Russian residents the second settlement on the islands. Other inhabited settlements are Sveagruva (210 inhabitants) and Ny-Ålesund (40 inhabitants). Pyramiden has also been inhabited again since 2008: 22 Russians are trying to prepare the village for tourism. There are also a number of Norwegian weather stations and a Polish research center in Hornsund with around 10 inhabitants. There are also the abandoned places of Rijpsburg, Smeerenburg and Groemant.

At the beginning of 2008, the World Seed Bank was launched in Spitsbergen, an international gene bank where all types of seeds in the world must be stored in such a way that the seeds are preserved even after disasters elsewhere in the world.

At the beginning of 2008, the World Seed Bank was launched in Spitsbergen, an international gene bank where all types of seeds in the world must be stored in such a way that the seeds are preserved even after disasters elsewhere in the world.




Thanks to the Gulf Stream it is not getting extremely cold on Spitsbergen and the waters around the island remain ice-free and navigable for most of the year. The average winter temperature is -12 ° C, the average summer temperature +5 ° C. The west side is warmer than the east side; this is caused by the course of the Gulf Stream. Because the sea is the coldest in the spring, March is also the coldest month of the year. The lowest measured temperature on Spitsbergen occurred in March 1986, when it became -46.3 degrees. In July and August it is +4 to +6 degrees and in Longyearbyen in July it is +6.2 degrees on average. On a nice day the temperature sometimes rises to +12 degrees. In July 1979 the temperature rose to +21.3 degrees and that was very unique. In the lower parts of Spitsbergen, the soil is covered with snow between September and early June. The snow has melted for only a few months. Above 600 meters there is snow all year round.