In the Slovakian contryside, Banska Stiavnica is a small mining town that used to be rich, immensely rich even: There are several silver mines around the area, and although there is still some mining today, the town’s heyday was in the Renaissance period.
We arrive around 10 am by Bus, and our first action is to study the return timetable. There’s a page-long list of several dozen busses, but practically each connection is marked with tiny letters and numbers. We examine the small print explained below. “ar2” operates on weekdays (mon-fri) during the school holidays, but not on 8 August, and so on. That leaves us with about 2 buses that may (or may not) work for us.
Banska Stiavnica itself is quite hilly (the area is also called the “Ore Mountains”) and rather stretched-out. But with a town map from the tourist information, navigation is a doddle.
Elegant squares, 16th century churches, palaces and enormous administrative buildings used by the Banska Stiavnica mining agencies for centuries dot the town.
A huge baroque column sporting the Holy Trinity on top commemorates the victims of the Plague. The desease last hit the town in the early 18th century, killing more than 6000 people.
The Banska Stiavnica mining museum
The Banska Stiavnica mining museum is located a bit outside the town around the interlocking Andreas, Jan and Bartholomé Galleries, among the oldest mining tunnels here. They are not in use any more, and the guided tour includes a short film and explanation in the museum and then a walk through the mines. We are led into the changing rooms first to get helmets, extra strong headlights and rain coats. They are well used and too large for us. But only for us. At least today, most of the other tourists are bear-like Slovakian bikers. “Oh, is that XXXL? Can you give it to me?” one of them shouts delightedly when Natascha suspiciously inspects the enormous coat she had grabbed first.
The tour leads us down into tunnels, working areas and subterranean common rooms. Some show tools and scenes from the beginning of mining here in the Middle Ages, but in others, quite modern machines are displayed – this mine was given up in 1924 but others near here are still working.
The tour is in Slovakian, and the brief English leaflet we got only lists names of some items on display: “pneumatic jump-drilling hammer”, or “Ingresoll Temple Drill”. Huh. We are glad for the (Slovakian) introductory video they showed at the beginning to get a better idea what the mining routine must have been like. In the beginning, the miners were mostly after the silver deposits, but later, antimon played a larger role in Banska Stiavnica, a metalloid used in alloys.
The town of Banska Stiavnica and the surrounding technical monuments became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993.
Is the Banska Stiavnica mining town worth visiting?
The 16th century Renaisance town center is very pretty to stroll arund. We also visited the Mining Museum to get a better understanding of the role of the mining industry in the area. Indeed, we quite enjoyed the tour through the mines (although it was in Slovakian). It was a nice enough excursion but not an absolute highlight, especially if you aren’t much interested in the mining part.
How to get to the mining town of Banska Stiavnica
Banska Stiavnica is about 4 hours by train from Bratislava. The closest larger town is Banska Bystrica, also an old copper mining town with beautiful Renaissance houses. By bus it is just over an hour away from Banska Stiavnica.
Banské múzeum: http://www.muzeumbs.sk
Did you enjoy reading about the silver mines in Banska Stiavnica? Then you might want to read our posts about the Blaenavon coal mines in Wales or the Zeche Zollverein in Essen (another disused coal mine that became a World Heritage site).