TIC Idrija, Mestni trg 2
+386 (0)5 37 43 916
Idrija Through Five Centuries
Idrija – the oldest Slovenian mining town – has been for half of a millennium widely known, at home and abroad, due to its mercury treasures, which have importantly influenced many events not only on a national scale but also on the wider European scale. The Idrija Mine was for several centuries ranked among the most prominent Central European corporations, and it played a significant role in international economic relations. Its significance was of such a scope that its owners and managers were continually obliged to introduce the most modern technical processes, as well as engage and appoint relevant top experts at the same time. For this reason, Idrija, in general and throughout its past, was viewed as one of the centres of mining technology and metallurgy, and as a result came the flourishing of natural sciences as well as the overall cultural progress of our land.
The pioneering period of mining in the Idrijca Valley commenced after 1490, when the presence of autochthonous mercury was discovered. According to oral tradition, this priceless liquid was first detected by a legendary tub maker (“škafar”) who was plunging his vessel to take water from spring. Italian and German speaking miners were already digging and smelting ore prior to 1500, yet only the discovery of cinnabar-rich blocks on 22 June 1508 enabled the expansion of operations and increase in production. Parallel to the expansion of the mine, the Idrijan settlement grew as well, since it attracted the surrounding peasant population, and was thus increasingly acquiring the Slovenian character.
During its first decades, Idrija was governed by associations of private entrepreneurs who were not very prolific in their investments in pit and surface mining machinery. After nationalization in the year 1575, when the mine passed under the direct supervision of the Habsburg Court, there followed a grandiose expansion and modernisation of the enterprise. Around 1600, all production units were well equipped, and the quicksilver started to travel via Venice, German trade cities, and Amsterdam to the Levant and further on to South America.
Idrija at present
Nowadays, real miners in Idrija are virtually extinct. Nevertheless, they left an exceptionally rich heritage, which is preserved in technical, cultural, and historical monuments, restored buildings and machinery, ethnological assets and curiosities, archival documentation, museum collections, an extensive bibliography, and many other points of interest. Most of the heritage is put on show to domestic and foreign visitors.
The widely adopted image of Idrija as a mining town has within our times acquires a more historic character. Parallel to the development of new economic sectors, the Idrijsko region (town and municipality) ensured its survival without the “silver spring” , and this fact understandably brought some radical changes in the consciousness of its contemporary inhabitants. The characteristic type of miner’s (knap’s) yesterdays life has irreversibly disappeared, yet the unyielding pride awakened by memories of past achievements, and the legacy left by mining ancestors, is still vividly preserved.
Idrija nowadays numbers less than 7000 inhabitants, and the municipal centre unites competent administrative, educational, an cultural functions. The city possesses solid economic foundations, particularly the modern electro-metal processing, wherewith it once again has managed to open up to the developed world. Idrija’s brightest future should also be ensured by the development of tourism, since domestic and foreign guests are ever again pleasingly convinced that they have truly arrived in the city of a highly naturalistic, technical, and spiritual culture.
In lieu of a postscript let us dedicate a few words to Idrija’s miners, in their honour and to the memory of their contributions.
In dark depths far below Idrija they dug up shafts on fifteen horizons totalling a length of 700 km. To the daylight they sent, in total, some 107,000 tons on mercury, which represented an astounding 13% of all world production of mercury up to the present. Idrija is thus second only to the Spanish Almaden. Miners were faithful to their vocation and fiercely proud of it. They excelled in mutual camaraderie and sense of solidarity. In their spare time they managed to find numerous sources of additional income and were exceptionally diligent in supplying their family homes. They were also actively engaged in social life and were very sensitive to all cultural goods that might have come their way. They appreciated the printed word, and they provided their children with the best possible education. Their mothers, wives, and daughters, however, were above the edges of murky shafts and passages, making dazzling snow-white bobbin lace, their motive begin to earn their daily bread and to nourish their souls – to survive and to satisfy their yearning for beauty.
TIC Idrija, Mestni trg 2
+386 (0)5 37 43 916