Franz Josef Land & Svalbard - 2018

Brief Histories

Franz Josef Land

This Arctic Archipelago is Russian territory even though it was first explored by adventurers from the Austro-Hungarian countries (hence the overall name still attached to the area). Norwegians and others have claimed to have first explored the area but never made their findings public or made any territorial claims before Russia claimed sovereignty in 1914 and formally annexed the archipelago on April 15, 1926. Norway and Italy protested the annexation futilely but nothing came of their protests. Since l999, scientists from all nations are welcome to conduct research in the territory and Franz Josef Land was declared a nature reserve in 1994 and then became part of the Russian Arctic National Park in 2011. Now tourism is also allowed under specific guidelines and requirements. Franz Josef Land sits at Latitude 80 degrees 33 minutes North and longitude 54 degrees and 46 seconds East. The archipelago comprises 192 islands covering 6229 square miles. It is 233 miles from East to West and 145 miles from North to South. Cape Fligely on Rudolf Island is the northernmost point of the Eurasian continent, 566 miles from the North Pole. The history of all the explorations and claims and counterclaims is convoluted and history was not our primary interest in visiting the area as already noted. Anyone intrigued by this tangle can visit the Wikipedia website and “read all about it.”


The archipelago of Svalbard also has a very lengthy and labyrinthine history, actually longer than that of Franz Josef Land because it was discovered and exploited, particularly for whaling, much earlier. Willem Barentsz is the official discoverer of the archipelago in 1596. The coordinates of Svalbard are 78 degrees 53 minutes N and 18 degrees 00 minutes East and it is 650 miles from the North Pole. The whole archipelago comprises 15,075 square miles. Though it is now officially a Norwegian possession, there are two Russian cities located in the archipelago: Pyramiden with 12 occupants and Barentsburg with 500 residents and a fully operational mining operation. The legal and political entanglements between these two cities and Norway are also very complicated. Check these websites for more information if you are interested. Barentsburg and Pyramiden.

Our visits to both these Russian settlements will be described in more detail in a chronological sequence as I cover our wonderful days in both Svalbard and Franz Josef Land.

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