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treatment for TV documentary series: 20 x 26 min.


co-production: Czech Television (CZ) - Optomen Television (UK) - CBS (CA) - White Pine Productions Ltd. (CA)

published: Czech Geographic Magazine - KOKTEJL (2001, April)

© Vladimir Vojir 1999 - 2000 (not been realised)

(1596 - 1597)


Amsterdam, Spitsbergen, Bear Island
Russian Arctic: Novaya Zemlya - Cape Spory Navolok, Ice Cape, Kola Peninsula
(Dutch, Russian)

It is the third Dutch expedition that set out on the voyage in spring 1596 from Amsterdam to the North with the aim to discover the North-East Passage and the sae passage to Asia, exactly China. Both previous attempts were not successful but due to the increasing expanse of the Dutch trade, the idea to search for the passage is considered to be so necessary that this new exploration is again financially supported by local merchants.

map of Barents' voyages


The expedition with two boats were again under the command of a cartographer Willem Barents.

Barents and cpt. Van Heemskerk charting their route (1596) oil 1863

Having imperfect maps of the time they intended to follow the northern route via the North Pole. The expedition discovered The Bear Island and islands that they called Spitsbergen, because of narrow pointed mountains. They measured the sea-depth and wrote down results of meteorological observation. At the Bear Island the two boats separated and the captains (the captain of the other ship was Corneliusz  Rijp) decided to try different routes.

The ship with Barents reached  Ice Cape at Novaya Zemlya. None has ever before reached that far north. But here the ship was completely stuck in the ice and under the pressure it started to burst at the seams and was lifted up by the ice . It became clear that the ship would not get free before the next spring.

Barentsova loď v zajetí arktického ledu (1596)

Barents and his crew had to be prepared for the coming severe winter. The men soon started  to build a house from driftwood and some parts of the ship.

building the house for surviving the winter (1596)

Before the construction of the house was completed, the ship’s carpenter died. The crew moved from the ship into  „The Barentsz House„.

vnitřek Barentsova domu (1596)

The polar night started and as in 16.century the average temperature  in this area was much lower than today, it was extremely cold there. Collected firewood was used  up after only a short time . The outside temperature was so low that only sometimes it was possible to go out  on a search for wood. Meat from foxes caught in special fox traps was welcome addition  to the menu. The fat of the killed polar bears was used as fuel  for the oil lamp giving a slight shine to the house where everybody was awaiting the spring. Even if they did not want to eat bear meat that could be poisoned, scurvy  had spread. Barents became ill as well. Two sailors were killed by a polar bear that started to eat  them before the other could come to help.

In February the next year  sunshine shortly appeared at the horizon and brought a small hope to desperate Dutch. The expedition prepared two small boats from wood, they had found  from their ship, and with the help of them they assumed to survive. Barents left his notes in the chimney ( fire place ) as well as his message was left on the table  near by the book „Marco Polo„  for whomever would find it.

They were prepared for the voyage to the south, around Novaya Zemlya coast, to the north of Russia. The way back was very difficult  and so they proceeded only slowly. Barents and two other sailors died.

death of Willem Barents (1597)

Finally, after two months hungry survivors met Russian fishermen, from whom they bought some food. With their help they arrived at Kola where they met the other ship (J.C.Rijp) of the expedition. In autumn only twelve survivors  returned to Amsterdam.

„The Barents’ House" at Novaya Zemlya was deserted for about three hundred years...

In 1871 a Norwegian seal hunter led by captain Carlsen found the remains of Barents’ House. According to his description the house with its size 10 by 6,2 meter, was not too much destroyed. Many objects were found including the Barents’ journal describing the expedition. The book was found as well and there was a clock still on the wall there.

předměty, které byly po 300 letech nalezeny

v Barentsově domě (1871)

Some other subjects were found also in 1933.

The remains of the fire place and a large amount of wooden fragments still could be found in the rectangle formed by the four beams. That was all what was left of the house,  where centuries ago  the first Europeans  wintered so far north. None from later expeditions  succeeded in founding Barentsz‘ grave and remains of his ship.


  • Bellin N.: Carte du Détroit de Waeigats, ou de Nassau - a map of the strait between Novoya Zemlya and the mainland of Russia, discovered by the Dutch in 1594 (Paris 1758)

  • Gawronski Jerzy & Boyarsky Pyotr: Northbound with Barents (Amsterdam 1997)

  • Imbert Bertrand: Le grand défi des póles (Paris 1987)

  • Veer, Gerrit de: The three voyages of William Barents to the arctic regions - 1594, 1595, and 1596 (London 1876), (originally published 1609)

  • Zeeberg JaapJan and Floore Pieter: Novaya Zemlya (Rijswijk 1996)

  • Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, St.Petersburg

  • Arctic Centre, University of Groningen

  • Norsk Polarinstitutt, Oslo

  • Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

  • University of Amsterdam

Willem Barents
(about 1550 - 1597 missing)

dvě lodi Barentsovy výpravy (1596)

námořníci na lovu
u Medvědího ostrova (1596)

Barentsova loď (1596)

uvízlá loď (1596)

ztroskotání (1596)

Barentsův dům (1596)

the Dutch in winter quarters (1596)

setkání s ledním medvědem (1596)

s příchodem jara námořníci stavějí
šalupy ze zbytků roztříštěné lodi (1597)

 lodě pro návrat do civilizace (1597)

plavba k ruským břehům (1597)

trasa plavby k ruským břehům (1597)

přeživší členové výpravy se setkávají  s ruskými obchodníky (1597)

předměty, které byly po 300 letech nalezeny v Barentsově domě (1871)

nalezené železné hodiny (1871)

zbytky Barentsova domu (1881)

Prague, 1999 - 2000

translation: Dr. Pavel Kriz

© Vladimir Vojir 1999 - 2000