Barentsburg is named after Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz, who (re)discovered Svalbard in 1596. The Svalbard Treaty of 1920 gave the previously unclaimed islands to Norway but allowed any country to perform mining and other economic activity. The Russian state-owned Trust Arktikugol has been mining coal here since 1932, and during the Cold War Barentsburg was a veritable hotbed of activity as the Russians attempted to expand their zone of control over the islands. After Pyramiden was closed in 1998, Barentsburg has been the only Russian settlement still operating, with some 400 inhabitants as of October 2008 and some 100,000 tons of coal exported yearly. The mine closed in 2006 after concerns over an underground fire breaking out, but resumed production in late 2010.
The population of the settlement has been steadily decreasing in the recent years. Many buildings are not inhabited, and some are left to decay. Combined with a truly stunning setting for the town when the weather is clear enough to see across the Isfjord, and the black smoke from by the old coal power plant, the visit will leave a strong impression on the few who come here.
Orienting yourself in Barentsburg is easy enough. It's some 220 steps up the stairs from the dock to the settlement, where more or less everything is along the main street, ulitsa Ivana Starostina.