March 01, 2007

Built on Ice and Bones

The pitch-black polar night loosens its grip for only a few hours a day, between one and three in the afternoon. The city glows with thousands of lights, like a mirage floating on an endless, snowy desert. The walls of homes huddle together, bracing against the arctic winds’ icy onslaught – this time of year it is not uncommon for the thermometer to dip to -50° Celsius. The children’s playground lies covered with snow. A blizzard whips through the rectilinear courtyard, as if fighting to find an escape from this man-made trap and, angered, it tries to knock passing humans from their feet. It is January, and here, in Norilsk, there are still four more months of winter...


The city of Norilsk (the name derives from an indigenous, Yukagir word meaning “swampy river bank”) is located almost at the end of the Earth, on the Taymyr peninsula, 300 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle. It is the world’s second largest polar city (after Murmansk) and it is home to over 130,000 people, not including inhabitants of the two satellite towns, Talnakh and Kayerkan. 

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