Willem Barents

Виллем Баренц Famous Dutch People

Willem Barentsz is a Dutch traveler, conqueror of the sea and naturalist.


Willem Barentsz was born presumably in 1550 on the island of Terschelling, located slightly north of the coast of the Netherlands.

Place of birth and names of parents are unknown... The familiar surname Barents is not actually a surname: it means "son of Barents", that is, it is a patronymic. Since the exact date of birth of this great man is unknown, it can be argued that he was of the most ignoble origin.

The surname was established in 2011 by the researcher Lucas Kooijmans from the travel diaries of the Barents - Willem Barents van der Schelling. It is interesting that such a surname did not come across in sources XVI-XVII.


It is known that Barents moved to Amsterdam as an adult and became its citizen. There is evidence that in Amsterdam he studied at the school of navigation and cartography, which was led by Peter Plancius (Petrus Plancius).

Barents acquired the profession of a map compiler... Together with Plancius, they set off on a sea voyage to the Spanish and Italian shores.

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One of the significant works of Barents, completed in this sea voyage, is the atlas of the Mediterranean Sea, developed in cooperation with the teacher. The Atlas is remarkable in that it emerged as a result of research carried out on a trip to the Mediterranean basin. After this voyage, Barents was awarded the title of navigator. This is evidenced by the diploma in the Barents Museum in Amsterdam.


Barents is known for his long and dangerous expeditions to the Arctic regions of the globe, with a practical goal of finding a short route to China and East India, bypassing the shores of Spain, which controlled trade routes in the Atlantic Ocean.

Barents was sure of the success of the campaign following his teacher Plancius. The traveler believed that the northern ice desert could melt under the influence of the sun's rays that illuminated the Arctic during a polar day, and the path to the land of wonderful spices would open.

On the first expedition, equipped specifically by Plancius, Barents set out from Amsterdam in 1594. The voyage was organized at the expense of the state and wealthy merchants interested in expanding the geography of trade routes. The expedition of 4 ships was headed by Admiral Cornelius Ney.

During the voyage, Barents reached Novaya Zemlya (Nieuw Land), tried to round it from the northern side, but, having reached its northern tip (Ice Cape, Cape Karlsen), the expedition returned to its homeland. During the voyage, the sailors talked a lot with the Pomor tribes, asked them about the nature of the region and the climate, all information was recorded in detail in the logbooks.

Barents recorded data on the depth of the seas and straits, on the directions of winds and changes in the weather, on the relief of the shores and islands, on the flora and fauna, on the customs of local peoples.

During the trip, the Dutch met with a polar bear and hunted it, saw and described walruses, Arctic whales, were surrounded by a group of icebergs, but escaped the ice captivity safely. They observed the customs of the inhabitants of the Arctic coasts, left descriptions of indigenous peoples, their boats, the way of storing food and burials.

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The Dutch description of the pagan sanctuary of the Nenets tribes, discovered by an expedition on the island of Vaygach, is absolutely unique. Wooden and stone statues covered the island, which was called the cradle of the Nenets gods. After that, the sanctuary was destroyed during the baptism of the indigenous peoples of the Far North at the beginning of the 19th century, and this evidence remains the only one.

A year later, in 1595, the second expedition was equipped, which included 7 well-equipped ships... This amount was explained by the fact that the ships were loaded with goods for exchange with the inhabitants of India and China, with whom the Dutch travelers had no doubts. The route was laid through the strait, now called Yugorsky Shar, - the strait separating the Siberian shores and the island of Vaygach. But Barents again faced a failure: when the ships approached the entrance to the strait, he was bound by strong multi-meter ice.

The expedition was also unsuccessful because many sailors died from an unknown illness, and upon returning home, the travelers learned that the government was no longer going to fund risky projects.

In 1596, the third expedition of 2 ships was equipped, and Barents went on a hike only as a navigator.

The voyage marked Bereneiland, part of the Spitsbergen archipelago, and many other sites. This time Novaya Zemlya managed to go around and enter the basin of the Kara Sea (De Kara zee). During this journey, the most accurate description of the coastline of Novaya Zemlya was compiled.

For safety reasons, the team led by Barents landed on Novaya Zemlya and stopped there for the winter. This was the first wintering in the history of the Arctic. The winterers built a dwelling for themselves from washed up timber and parts of the deck of their ship, heated by a fire in a hearth. Food supplies were sufficient. The sailors hunted Arctic foxes, polar bears, sewed warm clothes, outlandish fluffy hats from the skins.

Barents took care of maintaining the health of the crew: the sailors took baths, went in for physical training, and ate right.
However, scurvy overtook Barents himself.

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Wintering lasted the entire polar night, there were severe frosts, heavy snowfalls that threatened the entire team with death, constant attacks of polar bears. As soon as the Kara Sea began to free itself from the ice shell, the expedition finished wintering and set off on a journey on 2 boats built from the remains of a ship to the coast of the Kola Peninsula (Het Schiereiland Kola). The voyage was successful, but during it Captain Barents died and had to be buried on Novaya Zemlya. The sailors returned to their homeland and talked about their difficult campaign.

The grave of the Barents and the servant who died with him on the same day is unknown... The companions' notes said that Barents was buried in an ice grave. In memory of the hero-pioneer, his fellow countrymen, who passed the entire route of the glorious navigator, in 1879, two commemorative marble slabs were erected.

After this expedition, which never paved the way to East India, the search for a northern route to the magical land of spices and ivory stopped. The sea was named in memory of the famous sailor and explorer Willem Barents.

The materials that the expedition brought to Holland formed the basis of accurate maps, became the foundation of scientific descriptions of the nature of the northern latitudes.

In the footsteps of the Barents

More than one team of brave travelers tried to repeat the path of Barents and his team.

In 1871, 274 years after the last campaign of the Barents, the Norwegian Elling Carlsen went to Novaya Zemlya and found a dwelling “preserved” under the ice, built during the wintering of the Barents team. Personal belongings of sailors of the 16th century were found in the winter quarters:

  • Navigation tools;
  • Kitchenware;
  • Copper money;
  • Clock;
  • Team members' wooden shoes;
  • Weapons (muskets, protazans, halberds), etc.

Exactly Elling Carlsen discovered the travel diary of Barents and the notes of his companion about the hardships of the campaign. Found items and documents, telling about the third expedition of the Barents, are in the Barents Museum in Amsterdam (Het Museum Van De Barents).

A few years later, a group of sailors headed by the explorer Gardiner from England set off in the footsteps of the Barents, but after the "re-conservation" of the winter quarters practically nothing remained.

In 1933, Russian sailors also passed the Barents road and were able to inspect the base of the famous winter hut.

In 1980, researchers led by D. F. Kravchenko discovered fragments of the Barents ship. Exactly Barents and his expeditions were the first in the history of exploration of the Russian Arctic... Dutch travelers made maps of the Kara and Barents Seas, collected accurate information about their depth.

The life of an explorer of northern latitudes is now called a feat. Barents did not pursue personal goals, did not dream of fame, profit and wealth. His life is an aspiration to open new ways, new horizons, new opportunities for humanity. The strength of spirit and strength of mind, the greatest organizational talent and faith in the power of human abilities helped Barents to walk his glorious path and become an example for future generations.

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