When you are visiting Longyearbyen in Svalbard, stop by the Svalbard Museum to learn about how the Norwegian archipelago was found accidentally by Dutch explorers. Plus, find everything you need to know about the history of the area.
Discovering the land
Svalbard was found just by coincidence by Dutch explorers in the 16th century, amongst them Willem Barentsz. The explorers were pursuing other searches, but they found this area and chose to call it Spitsbergen because it was surrounded by mountain and pointed peaks. Only 300 years later, Norwegian skipper, Elling Carlsen found some remains of Barentsz discovery in his lodge in Novaya Zemlya. These items can be seen on display in the museum.
The exhibition ‘Life in light and ice', is a journey through Svalbard's natural history starting off in the 17th century with the history of the first hunters of whales of the region, the Arctic expeditions, and the mineral extraction and firsts attempts of drilling gas and oil in the area. Find displays of the flora, fauna, and geology of Svalbard. In the first section, watch an animation illustrating how cold and warm currents meet in the ocean. These currents make possible the life of mammals like polar bears, seals, and whales in Svalbard. In the Tundra you'll see the famous big stuffed polar bear – one of the highlights. As well, see a detailed explanation on how animals adapt to this extreme weather conditions when the temperature is below freezing. Elsewhere, in the Migratory Birds section, observe different species and understand why people from Svalbard are also like migratory birds. Read about the Pomors – inhabitants of the Russian White Coast who came to Svalbard to hunt whales – and about Longyearbyen's modern times as a coal mining town. Finally, in the Inner Arctic section, you can take a break and reflect on what you have seen in the exhibitions. There is plenty of books, photo albums and travel journals to browse on if you feel like learning more about Svalbard.
The Svalbard Museum was awarded the Council of Europe's Museum Prize for best European Museum in 2008. Longyearbyen has a population of 2310 inhabitants, made up of about 26 nationalities. Svalbard is halfway between Norway and the North Pole – exactly 1050 km from the North Pole, making it the northernmost city in the Earth.
Visit the shop museum for Arctic literature, local crafts, postcards and many kinds of souvenirs to take home as travel memories. Lookout for real polar bears in the surroundings of the Museum, as they are said to appear from time to time.