Historical subsurface mining works in the Czech Republic as technical monuments

(present situation as to the protection and exploration thereof from the point of view of a non–governmental organisation)

Aleš Bufka, Martin Přibil, Dalibor Velebil, Václav Vaněk — Civic association Karst Depression
Tagungsband zum 8. Internationalen Bergbau-Workshop 2005, Most / Tschechische Republik, September 2005, 1–3. Sankt Andreasberg / Most

Underground exploitation of raw materials in the Czech Republic

A tradition of subsurface mining of raw materials in the Czech Republic is one of the oldest in the Europe. In the Czech Republic, there are over 800 ore deposits and approximately the same number of known metalliferous mineral occurrences. The historical development of the majority of Czech mining districts is similar to the development of other middle and west European districts. During Middle Age and the Modern Period in the Czech lands (Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia), mostly silver ores were exploited (Jihlava, Kutná Hora, Jáchymov, Rudolfov, Příbram, Ratibořské Hory), also tin (Krupka, Cínovec, Horní Slavkov) and gold was exploited (Jílové u Prahy, Nový Knín, Kašperské Hory, Zlaté Hory). In the 19 th century, the importance of pyrite and iron ores mining in the middle Bohemia and uranium ores in the surroundings of Jáchymov rapidly grew. At the same time, development was also encountered in the winning of non-metalliferous raw materials (industrial minerals), especially kaolin and feldspar in the West Bohemia and roofing slate in the North Moravia; coal mining became a specific industry.

The second half of the 20 th century is a period of the intensive development of mining industry. During sixties, most of the historic mining districts were explored, and many of them became then exploited. After 1945, an exceptional interest arose in radioactive raw materials prospecting and mining, "uranium rush" (Jáchymov, Příbram). In that time, significant damages to the historical mines (considered today as technical monuments) were caused. A positive progress in preservation of ancient mining artefacts only began in the seventies and the eighties. Damping of the ore mining industry in the Czech Republic begins in the early nineties. In the present time, subsurface mining continues in the coal district Ostrava-Karviná and by Dolní Rozínka (uranium ores). Underground mining of claystone in Rakovník area and in the surroundings of Moravská Třebová and mining of roofing slate in the North Moravia (Lhotka-Vítkov) is of a lesser importance.

New discoveries of historically valuable parts of old mines and/or unique ancient mining equipment are not likely any more.

A brief history of concern in historical mining monuments and underground

The concern with history of mining is of a pattern similar to other European countries. The first mining exhibition was established by the Czech Museum of Technology in 1912 in the basements of the Schwarzenberg Palace in Prague and grew gradually to form the current mining exposition displayed in the National Technical Museum. The third decade of the 20 th century was characteristic with the development of the mass tourism and, along with the new trend, the first mines were made accessible for public (in Hora Svaté Kateřiny and Roztoky u Děčína). After long decades, the next mine made accessible was the St. Jiří Gallery in Kutná Hora (1969).

During the nineties, the number of show mines significantly increased, including e.g. several galleries in Březové Hory near Příbram, the iron mine in Chrustenice, the gallery of the Anselm Mine in Ostrava, the St. Josef Gallery in Jílové, the Evangelista Gallery in Jiřetín pod Jedlovou, the gallery in Planá, the Martin Gallery by Krupka, the graphite mine in Český Krumlov, the fluorite mine in Harrachov. The old mine Kovárna under the Sněžka int., was newly opened last year. In total, there are dozens of different museums of mining, open air museums of mining, as well as mining or mineralogical exhibitions in regional museums. To the best managed museums of mining belong the Museum of Mining in Příbram, the Open–air Museum of Mining Mayrau in Kladno, the Museum of Mining by Anselm Mine in Ostrava or the Exposition of Mining in Chrustenice Mine near Prague.

Numerous mineralogical shows, often offering ancient mining artefacts, have a long tradition in the Czech Republic. The largest and the most renowned are those organised in Tišnov (twice a year — April, October), Prague (Geosvět; February), Příbram (April, September) and Pardubice (March).

Several mine surface objects (and also adit mouths, water canals etc.) are protected by the state authorities as technical monuments. On the contrary to that, the subsurface mining workings as such (with only minor exceptions) are not protected at all and it is unlikely this will change in the nearest future. The reason being the lacking official policy in the protection of the ancient mines; for the time being it seems that the state institutions do not pay any attention to issues like that.

Reclamation of inactive mines goes along with the re–liquidation of the old mines that had already been (often long time ago) closed — this all without paying attention to the real needs. Old mines liquidations are financed from public funds that are managed by the Ministry of the Environment. Among the most doubtful cases should be mentioned e.g. the irreversible liquidation of historically and technically unique tin opencuts by Potůčky in Krušné Hory mts. as well as the liquidation of many other historically valuable mining sites. On the other hand, it should be highlighted that bat protection has improved since 2004. Nowadays the possible occurrence of protected animals is checked more strictly as it constitutes a part of the approval procedure in the course of the reclamation project. Safeguarding historic opencuts still remains doubtful (e.g. in the case of the gold mines that come from the Middle Ages). Insensitive technologies using concrete, unsightly steel protecting grids etc. are often proposed.

Associations / societies / groups interested/ concerned in underground

All activities in mining works are regulated by the Law 44/1988 Coll., the Mining Act (hereinafter "the Act"), and by the ensuing legal enactments.

The conditions laid down by the Act disallow strictly only for running of underground tracks used by tourists whilst allowing for ancient mines explorations such as explorations carried out by interest groups, cavers and/or regional museums and other employees in public institutions. However, such activities are banned in the case of bat protection activities (chiropterological research and monitoring). This is considered to be a problem because the duty of documentation of the bat winter hibernation sites proceeds from the European "Agreement on the Conservation of Populations of European Bats — EUROBATS" that is binding on the Czech Republic. As a consequence of the national provisions, it is illegal to enter old mines for most of the cavers, chiropterologists, workers of regional museums and/or for other persons concerned. The breach of the legal provision is punishable by the fine of EUR 500; in spite of that, old mines are much– frequented.

Non–professional cavers established their first clubs in the beginning of the 20 th century. These were active mostly in the karst regions. Later on, some of them became interested also in the explorations of the historic underground and in the old mines exploration respectively. The research was conducted together with non–professional mineralogical clubs.

The Czech Speleological Society (CSS) was established in 1979 as an union of originally independent caver clubs. The main field of the CSS interest is the karst exploration and partially also the exploration of the historic and mining underground. However, cavers are often endangered by the lack of necessary experience in exploring the historic underground. The CSS consists of 66 legally independent clubs and has, up to date, 1248 members. Today, 10 clubs are officially focused on explorations of the historic underground. An important part of the CSS is the Cave Rescue Service that has 45 members.

Besides the CSS, there are several other smaller associations interested in caving, historic underground, mineralogy and/or geology. Another persons concerned are professional nature-protection activists and scientists. Particularly in the case of the nature–protection activists, there is a permanent threat of a conflict with the Supreme Mining Authority. From the point of view of the nature protection activities, the entering of the old mines is necessary e.g. for the purpose of the bat census that, however, is not allowed — according to the assertion of the mining authority. The lasting problem should be solved as soon as possible in order to avoid a possible escalation of the conflict.

The members of mineralogical clubs, that were mostly established in the sixties, started visiting abandoned mines. Their activities has often become commercialized and it was not an exception that valuable mineralogical sites were (and in many cases purposefully) robbed or destroyed.

A new phenomenon has been the private "rescue" groups composed of volunteers, often climbers or volunteer firemen. Such occasional rescue activities bring about certain risks, especially when carried out in the underground. In the present time the visits of the underground has been perceived very often an "adrenalin" activity among young people. One of the reasons for that are the travel agencies. The effort of which is to exploit the underground commercially — e.g. for teambuilding activities, paintball, climbing etc. A large part of visitors to the historic underground are various amateurs, adventurers, mineral collectors, treasure hunters and militarists; these activities could even be called an "underground tourism".

Historic underground in the Czech Republic is more or less regularly visited by the number of approximately one thousand people — both professionals and amateurs. There may even be additional 2–3 thousand passive persons engaged, such as geologists, former cavers etc.

Information sources

A complete database of mines is maintained by the Czech Geological Service — Geofond. To the date, it contains records about 1474 old mining works (active before 1945), 14418 "main mining works" (active after 1945), 1 429 dump piles and 5 221 collapse areas. Caves are registered by the Agency of Nature Protection and Landscape Conservation of the Czech Republic under the Ministry of the Environment. In the present, it registers 2 306 karst and 1 077 pseudokarst objects.

Nowadays numerous data about caves and old mines are being published on the Internet — many websites are maintained by the state administration. This general drift seems to be doubtful for the purposes of caves and ancient mines protection.

The "underground" presents a sphere of interest for several journals and proceedings. The KD group publishes an irregular journal "Krasová Deprese". The Czech Speleological Society publishes 2–3 times a year journal "Speleo" which formerly contained historic underground articles but today, it is concerned in speleology only. Another source of historic underground surveys are the journals "Minerál" and the "Bulletin of Department of Mineralogy and Petrology of National Museum". The proceedings of National Technical Museum (e.g. Studies from the History of Mining) have a long tradition. After most archives have become widely accessible after 1989, there was published a lot of valuable monographs about many mining districts.

On the Web, there could also be found many pages focused on the "underground". However, this (often enthusiastic) web pages appear to bring several problems — the pages themselves are often more attractive than their content. The effort of the owners to reach a high ratings leads to a "tabloid" thinking — in better case they produce an "infotainment", in worse case different "flamewars" and scandals. In general, the web sources follow the trends of mass media, mostly of the tabloid ones.

The situation in accessibility of primary sources for a history of mining research is very good in the Czech Republic. There are not only historic reports and mining maps at disposal but also an extensive reviews and bibliographies. Up to date, probably the most complete review of mining history monuments is the "Encyclopaedia of Technical Monuments I–IV" (Libri 2001–2004, Prague).


After many hundred years of the underground winning of raw materials in the Czech Republic, there is a lot of subsurface mining works, that often are pretty extensive. However, the chances to visit the abandoned mines are very limited. Most of the old mines were liquidated, and the remaining ones can't be entered according to the Mining Act. Possibilities of protecting ancient mines are very doubtful in the present. The protection is limited only to the most significant monuments — mostly surface objects. Old mine reclamations are carried out according to the valid legislature but without paying a sufficient regard to other aspects such as the bat protection or corresponding aspects — historic and cultural.

Civic association KD — The history of mining and caving association

Krasová deprese (Karst Depression) is an informal association of the people interested in the historic underground. The main field of our concern is a man-made underground — ancient and active mines, military and factory underground objects but also caves and karsts. The results of our explorations are published in an independent journal "Krasová deprese" and in some other specialized journals. To our activities also belong the efforts in protection of the historic underground.


Website: www.krasovadeprese.net