Slovenia
Idrija

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8 travelers at this place

  • Day219

    Day 220: Idrija

    September 22, 2017 in Slovenia ⋅ 🌙 10 °C

    Time for another UNESCO site! There aren't many in Slovenia but we are determined to see them all. Loaded up the car and headed off, south-west in much the same direction we'd come from a couple of days earlier.

    Idrija is the site of the world's second-largest mercury mine, where mercury was mined for over 500 years between 1490 and around 2004 when the last mine finally finished shutting down. This is actually a joint heritage listening between Slovenia and Spain, interestingly, because the world's largest mercury mine is in central Spain where mercury has been mined since the Roman era. Apparently the two sites are meant to contrast between mining methods of the different epochs, but unfortunately we hadn't managed to see the Spanish site (it's quite isolated).

    So we drove into town and figured out a game-plan. It's a fairly small town, with quite a bit still left over from the mining era. It was very wealthy thanks to the mine up until the first world war, when the political situation disrupted everything.

    We had a poke around the mining company headquarters (a quasi-castle building overlooking town), and checked out a few other buildings, before it was time for our underground tour. As luck would have it, we were the only ones on the tour! It went for about an hour, meandering through the tunnels, up and down flights of stairs, though no huge elevator ride to get down this time - the deepest we went was about 100 metres, though that's mostly because we were walking horizontally into a hill.

    Interesting to see as well displays from various eras - the oldest methods of hammer and chisel, the compressed-air machines from the early industrial era, right up to the big drills of the modern era. In the end the mines closed mainly for environmental reasons; mercury is being phased out of most products and the price has crashed heavily. These days mercury mining is only done in a few countries with indifferent labour laws, like China and Kyrgyzstan.

    They had a cool little display too at the entrance to the shaft - three little vials. One vial contained water, the next was filled with roughly an equal amount of mercury. It's fourteen times heavier - crazy! The third had a small ball of solid iron (large marble sized), floating on top of mercury, since mercury is obviously the heaviest metal element. Very cool.

    Finished up our filming then grabbed some lunch nearby. We both had a local speciality dish, similar to mushroom ravioli. I had mine with a thick meat sauce, Shandos had hers with gorgonzola sauce. Yum.

    Drove up the hill overlooking town to grab a couple of quick shots of the area for the video. Quite a nice view from up here, lots of pine trees starting to turn brown and orange ahead of autumn, and of course the towering mountains scattered around. It's a really beautiful country here, quite unspoiled in large part, and not that busy either. Very orderly and well kept, in many ways the polar opposite of Italy!

    Taking our leave of Idrija, we drove back to our base in Ljubljana via the supermarket where we grabbed supplies for dinner. Neither of us were that hungry, so it was toasted sandwiches and a bit of grilled haloumi since they had blocks on special!
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  • Day244

    Mercury rising

    June 28, 2019 in Slovenia ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    WIth temperatures reaching 35 on the concrete I thought I'd check from where all this extra Mercury was coming.
    On satellite imagery a line from Italy to Croatia can be seen marking the fault where the Adriatic plate has been insinuating itself under the Eurasian one for millennia. Following this trail I entered the Kanomlja valley to Idrija where the oldest rocks in Slavinia - Carboniferous shales that are at least 320 million years old - can be found. Thanks to this rift, when a tax avoider named Schauffer escaped to this valley in 1480 and took up coopering, whilst testing the waterproofness of his tubs one day, discovered one tub markedly heavier than the rest bearing flashes of silvery stuff. Rather shortsightedly he took the mineral to the nearest assay office & lost control over the property as soon as the authorities discovered that it was in fact Mercury, a substance in much demand but in little supply.
    By the end of the 16th C when Gewerkenegg Castle was constructed, the Idrija mine was well on its way to being the 2nd largest in the world, (after Almaden in Spain.) In fact "Gewerkenegg" means mine, for it was built for security rather than defence as it housed the mercury, the administration hq of the mine / town, and of course the manager & his family.
    The Baroque painting in the courtyard was added later & recently touched up.
    I was dying to see the cinnabar, by product of the smelting process, but nothing much was said about it. Briefly, I saw red.
    Showing how commerce trumps even nationalism, the managers made a syndicate with the Spanish and ended up shipping most of it to Spain. Hg has a special affinity for gold you see, and by then Hispanic gold mines in South America were in full swing.
    The EU banned mercury mining in 2011 so the works have closed down leaving about 40 years supply still down there, having produced 107,000 tons over 500 years (13% of the entire world production, enough to make a 20m cube,) and cut an estimated 700 km of tunnel.
    Big business wants to reopen it but for once the locals and the law agree in opposing them. After all, contaminated silt is still finding its way down the Soci river into the Trieste bay.
    The mine also owned 9500 hectares of forest surrounding the town, the town alone needed 30000 cubic metres per annum, and what with pit props and smelters they would have deforested the place long ago where it not for some advanced sustainable harvesting.
    The bubble sculpture is supposed to invoke the feeling of mercury in the ground.
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  • Day244

    Home, sweet home.

    June 28, 2019 in Slovenia ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    A common Slovenian design for well beehaved residents; the Carniolan grey.
    Sometimes mounted on carts for easy relocation, the entries to the so called AZ boxes stacked liked blocks of flats were painted with individual scenes. Not many people can be bothered painting them nowadays but still a common sight in the countryside.
    The middle of this one serves as the keepers office, and the hives can be checked from the inside.
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  • Day244

    Minors' quarters

    June 28, 2019 in Slovenia ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    This house belonged to a miner and is being restored as part of the museum. In it, 3 families lived together with some single blokes allowed to sleep in the attic. Only the owner was allowed to keep animals: goats, pigs, chickens but only 1 cow. There were 2 gardens habitually, vegetable and herbs.
    Part of their wages were paid in grain - shades of the company store.
    Images of the early miners show them in elf hats and smocks. They were obliged to wear them as they had no pockets so that no ore would be mislaid. Given the difficulty of smelting enough ore to make a tiny amount of mercury, and the tightly controlled market, it seems a bit superfluous.but in the end did inspire Disney.
    The matrimonial bed is next to the mass heater. Not exactly king sized but no doubt cosy in the winter.
    From boredom and to get pin money, the ladies used to gather on someone's veranda to make the lace for which Idrija is famous. There is one of the oldest lace schools in town and I saw some work by students, as young as 9, that was pretty impressive. Especially the more artistic multicoloured patterns and even a 3 dimensional lace sculpture (by a boy!)
    A couple of hundred years ago, as indeed today, the State didn't want the proletariat educated above their status in life: they wanted them trained to work. So the mine started the first independent high school in Slovenia, recognising that this would eventually provide them with the skilled engineers they needed. They also funded a theatre, now the oldest in SLO.
    This place is much more interesting than the places most tourist buses go and if I returned I would spend more time in the smelting museum / exhibition and in "Anthony's Main Road", the original entrance. I would expect large things from "Francis' Shaft" of course.
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  • Day5

    Idrija die Schönste, Größte und Beste

    August 28, 2019 in Slovenia ⋅ ⛅ 30 °C

    „Die *schönste* Stadt, das *größte* Wasserrad, die zweit*größte* Mine das reinste Quecksilber der Welt.“

    Genau so wurde uns die Stadt immer und immerwieder beschrieben und genau so soll man das auch weitererzählen.

    Die Leute auf Idrija. Sind sehr stolz auf ihr Städtchen, das mittlerweile zum UNESCO-Weltkulturerbe gehört.

    Gestern Nachmittag kamen wir auf dem kleinen Hof von Veri an. Dort wurden wir sehr herzlich von seiner Frau und seinem Sohn begrüßt. Er kam später dazu und ging sofort seinem Job als Tourist Guide nach. Wir wurden über die Geschichte der Stadt aufgeklärt und bekamen eine Einweisung mit Voucher-Preisnachlass für alles was es hier zu sehen gibt.

    Heute Morgen ging es also los zur Mine. Ausgestattet mit Helm und Jacke ging es dann in die Tiefen des Berges.
    Danach spatierten wir ans andere Ende der Stadt, zu dem Ort, an dem das angebaute Erdreich verarbeitet wurde.

    Gevespert wurde mitten in der Stadt um sich für den Aufstieg zum Hof zu stärken.
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Idrija

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