Two Towers


Two towers symbolise the Arctic and the Antarctic when we enter the atrium at the new Fram Centre. The towers are a monumental 13 metres high and 4 metres wide. With frank, open gazes, the portraits of a man and woman welcome visitors to a magnificent room with a glass ceiling. Who were these two people who now show us the way to the north and south poles?

Hjalmar Johansen, Hanna Resvoll (later Resvoll-Holmsen) and Gunnar Holmsen on board the expedition vessel Holmengraa in 1908. Photo courtesy: Norwegian Polar Institute.

First female among men

Hanna Resvoll-Holmsen was the first female scientist in Svalbard. She was a botanist who hungered for knowledge about arctic plants.

She was a botanist who hungered for knowledge about Arctic plants. She was one of several scientists in a team of Norwegian scientists who participated in an expedition funded by Prince Albert of Monaco in 1907. The fieldwork she did piqued her interest, and she returned to Svalbard the following year with a team of geologists: Adolf Hoel, Gunnar Holmsen and Hjalmar Johansen. Armed with her plant press, botanist’s chest, photographic equipment, provisions – and a rifle – she went ashore at several locations along the west coast of Svalbard to explore the plants. The results were published first as a thesis on Arctic plants, and later as a book: Svalbard flora.

Hanna was a pioneer. She laid the foundation for systematic mapping of Svalbard’s flora. She was the first person to take colour photographs of Svalbard. She participated in the efforts to bring Svalbard under Norwegian sovereignty, and she fought to protect natural areas in mainland Norway and Svalbard.

Botanist Hanna Resvoll-Holmsen graces at the western tower in the atrium. Photo: Ann Kristin Balto/Norwegian Polar Institute.

Hanna was a pioneer. She laid the foundation for systematic mapping of Svalbard’s flora. She was the first person to take colour photographs of Svalbard.

Per Savio was in charge of the dogs during Carsten Borchgrevink's expedition to Antartica. Savio used skis to get around.
Norwegian Polar Institute.

Adventure of a lifetime.

Per Savio was a young man when he left his Sápmi home and headed out on the adventure of a lifetime.

He would go as far from home as was physically possible: to the Antarctic. Per Savio was accustomed to cold climates. Growing up in Sør-Varanger in Finnmark, he had to know how to dress in the bitter cold. He knew how to sew warm leather garments and skaller (boots made from reindeer fur by the Sámi people). He was well acquainted with snow, weather and wind; he knew how to travel in extreme weather and in the polar night – and he was an expert dog musher. This expertise was useful when he tended the dogs for the British Antarctic Expedition of 1898-1900 and the team overwintered at Cape Adare. It was a hard winter, and lives were lost, but expedition leader Carsten Borchgrevink later wrote that things could have gone a lot worse without the SNOWHOW of the Sámi men.




A monumental portrait of Per Savio greets visitors as they enter the atrium: Photo: Malin Alette Hansen/Norwegian Polar Institute.

The towers in the Fram Centre atrium are decorated on several sides and can be admired from the stairways and the gangways between the buildings. The tower that symbolises Antarctica features images of Per Savio and his dogs, and Sámi words for snow. Photo: Ann Kristin Balto/Norwegian Polar Institute.

Crucial support to Norwegian polar heroes

Hanna Resvoll-Holmsen and Per Savio represent the north and the south. They are overshadowed by the great polar heroes, but their work was central in advancing their respective fields. Resvoll-Holmsen was a groundbreaker in her scientific discipline, and a pioneer among women, while Savio and others like him provided crucial support to Norwegian polar heroes. Without their assistance, the big names among polar explorers might never have returned from their expeditions over a century ago.

The quest for knowledge and the work done by Hanna Resvoll-Holmsen and Per Savio continues today, supported by the Fram Centre. Scientists would not survive expeditions to inhospitable areas without help from experienced people who know their logistics.

The Fram Centre supports extensive collaborations across various fields, disciplines and institutions. Broad collaboration is the way to go in our quest for more knowledge.



Ann Kristin Balto // Norwegian Polar Institute