The Sakha (Yakutia) Republic

Tiksi: an outpost of civilisation in the Arctic

Port, sea and the history of the North Sea Route

17.05.2023 // Tiksi is Yakutia's most important transport hub. The seaport, located at the mouth of the Lena River on the shore of the Laptev Sea, serves as a transhipment point for cargo to the mainland and for transport to the Indigirka and Kolyma basins. Travelling there is a good opportunity to see life in the Arctic in the comfort and safety of urban space.

Tiksi appeared on the map in 1933 as one of the ports of the North Sea Route. The project, sizable and very promising, allowed to deliver and transit cargo to Arctic ports and from there along rivers to central Siberia over the three summer navigation months. This is how fuel, equipment and food were imported and timber and natural resources exported from the southern regions.

The development of the North was not possible without a reliable sea route, as the state of available roads and machinery did not allow to handle cargo on the required scale.

In addition, the North Sea Route guaranteed much shorter distances to the country's east coast, however, the through navigation along Russia's northern border continued to be a very dangerous and risky undertaking until the invention of nuclear-powered icebreakers. Such a route was not used very much. Until the mid-20th century, Tiksi had been growing rapidly and soon became an urban-type settlement, but it was never designated a town. The settlement was just a few hundred people short of the required population of twelve thousand; however, in the 1990s, people began leaving, and their total count almost halved. The decline was mostly due to advances in technology. With the advent of nuclear-powered icebreakers, there was no more need to call at ports along the way, and traffic began flowing past Tiksi.

The settlement is split into three parts: Tiksi-1, the settlement itself, where most of the population lives; Tiksi-2, the airport, located 6 km from the settlement proper; Tiksi-3, the military base. The airport has a dual purpose: on top of serving civilian flights, it is a base for military aviation, including strategic bombers. This airport is Yakutia's northernmost civil aviation hub.

While in Tiksi, don't miss a visit to the Museum of Arctic History and Development. In 1975, the Committee for Cultural Patronage of the River and Sea Fleet of the USSR Union of Artists held the Festival of Fine Arts 'From the Artists to the Navy' on the banks of the Lena River. Fourteen artists from 12 Soviet republics and various Russian cities were part of the festival's creative team.

A gala exhibition of the festival was organised at the Moryak Club in Tiksi. It was then that the festival providers came up with the idea of opening a 'smaller Tretyakov Gallery' in Tiksi, and over a hundred works of painting, drawing, sculpture and applied art were donated by artists' unions of the USSR, RSFSR and Yakutia. The Tiksi Museum is the northernmost art gallery in the world. The collection of the Tiksi Museum includes many works by leading artists from the Soviet republics and autonomous republics. In addition, it owns a large collection of Yakut graphics.

Space mystery lovers should check out the Tiksi Polar Geospace Observatory. Research of optical phenomena in the upper atmosphere began in Yakutia in 1957. At the time, a network of northern lights patrolling stations had been set up on the mainland and adjacent islands of the Arctic Ocean (in Tiksi, Zhigansk, Kazachye, Verkhoyansk, Shalaurovo and Kotelny Islands, Aldan and Yakutsk) as part of an international complex. In addition to auroral patrolling observations, spectral and radar gauging was carried out, and other electromagnetic phenomena associated with the northern lights were recorded.

The Mekhanik Kulibin ship is still making voyages, including tourist cruises, from Yakutsk to Tiksi; a round trip takes 9 days. The Mekhanik Kulibin is a double-deck passenger vessel with cabins for one, two, four, six or eight; each deck features hygienic facilities. The ship was built in Germany at the Warnowwerft Warnemuende between 1953 and 1955. Among the locals the Mekhanik Kulibin is also known as the Belenkiy. The vessel was christened in honour of Ivan Petrovich Kulibin (1735–1818), a famous Russian self-taught mechanic.

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