Norilsk swimming pool was first one beyond Arctic Circle

Norilsk swimming pool was first one beyond Arctic Circle

April 09, 2024

Norilsk was built under the slogan of providing the same level of comfort for citizens in the Arctic as in the middle zone.

#ARCTIC. #SIBERIA. THIS IS TAIMYR. One of the signs of such an “oasis in the snow” was to be the first swimming pool in the world’s Arctic.

It was planned to build a swimming pool back in the 1940s. The head of the Norilsk combine and camp, Alexander Panyukov, boasted to Moscow guests: “We are going to build the world’s northernmost indoor swimming pool”. But 15 years of prehistory led to the realization of this dream. The fact that Norilsk needed a swimming pool is also evidenced by the city planning project, drawn up back in 1940, which had one. In the Norilsk first general plan, the pool was put at the site “near the geometric center of the construction first stage”: on the main avenue, where the city administration building now stands.

From Vladimir Tennov’s book Beyond the Arctic Circle: “…Back in 1949, a competition was announced for the best project, but it was never completed, since at that time there was no money for construction. And the pool was desperately needed. The children growing up in the city could not swim. In addition, water in the Arctic Circle could become a miracle cure for scoliosis and physical inactivity”.

The soil in the city center, where they first wanted to install a swimming pool, was difficult, mostly frozen sand. It is suitable for foundation of residential buildings, but with the caveat “subject to the conditions necessary for the permafrost conservation”. A swimming pool is a heavy building, and most importantly, it generates a lot of heat. It was necessary to find a place with more reliable soils – with a rocky outcrop. And such a place was found: on the hill where the park named after the 30th anniversary of the Komsomol had already been laid out.

The pool project was initially a standard one, implemented in other cities of the USSR: Moscow, Riga. But Norilsk architects adapted it to northern conditions. For example, in order not to melt the permafrost, it was proposed not to lay the bathtub on the ground, but to raise it on 32 foundation pillars. According to the old-timers’ recollections, in 1953, the construction of the swimming pool began on the hill: they began to blow up a foundation pit there. But at that point the construction stopped. The city in those years experienced an acute housing crisis.

In the spring of 1957, Komsomol members organized a cleanup event on an abandoned swimming pool site, and it came to life. Like other important objects of the 1950s, this construction got the status of a public construction site. Literally the entire city was building the pool. The work was completed by the winter of 1959. The pool was a gift for the 42nd anniversary of the October Revolution. This was indicated by luminous letters and numbers on the not yet plastered facade: “42” and “October”.

The Norilsk swimming pool was the first sports facility of this level beyond the Arctic Circle. The next city in the Arctic to have its own swimming pool was Murmansk, but this happened only five years later, in 1964. On November 6, 1959, the pool was accepted by the state commission, and a day later its grand opening took place. Tickets for the holiday were distributed among enterprises. The stands could accommodate 400 people. But much more people gathered.

That event was so important in the life of Norilsk that journalist Anatoly Lvov in his book The Sports Climate of Norilsk spoke in detail about how it happened: “At first there was a fairy tale… Can you, reader, imagine what a swimming pool was for the city beyond the Arctic Circle at the end of the 50s? Now this will seem like a clear exaggeration and will cause an incredulous smile, but the author is a witness: the pages of science fiction came to life before our eyes, a fairy tale that was hard to believe: the day really came when – in any weather! – everyone could go up the hill from Komsomolskaya street, enter the palace, where it was always warm, like in summer on the mainland, undress, like on the beach, throw yourself into the water and swim for an hour (no more, because others want to do that too)!

Norilsk residents have always decorated their northern city with statues and stucco. A popular theme in city sculpture in Norilsk was sport. Soon after the Norilsk swimming pool opening, in the early 1960s, the staircase in front of the building was decorated with two swimmers. True, they were plaster, and therefore short-lived and can be seen only in some photographs.

In the new era, in 2007, a new sculpture appeared on the pool’s porch – a walrus figure. Like its “brothers” – a deer on Leninsky prospect and a polar bear on Metallurgists square – the walrus was made at the VyatkaStroyDetal plant as part of the Parallel World project. But unlike the deer, which lost its antlers several times, the walrus was made vandal-proof.

Since its opening, the pool has been open 18 hours a day, with eight thousand people passing through it every month. There was also time for excursions. Workers and employees, Norilsk residents and visitors sought to look at the northernmost basin: the miracle of the Soviet North, a corner of summer beyond the Arctic Circle. The excursionists were met by the director himself, Iskander Fayzullin, who took them around the balcony and technical rooms and told them how many liters of water the bathtub held and how the filtration system worked, which ensured purification from harmful impurities. Everyone wanted to swim. Fayzullin and the first three coaches – Anatoly Tipin, Eduard Baykov and Konstantin Chizhikov – had to stay in the pool for days on end. But they had an ambitious goal: all children in Norilsk should learn to swim.

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Text: Svetlana Ferapontova, Photo: Nornickel Polar Branch archive, Alexander Haritonov and Nikolay Shchipko

April 09, 2024

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