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Schwazer Silbergwerk (The Mother of All Mines)

January 9, 2016

Credit: Link

Last Wednesday, with the apartment suddenly empty by the departure of our Scottish friends, we decided to visit the silver mine of Schwaz (Schwazer Silbergwerk).  It was the 'mother of all mines' during the Middle Ages, supplying an upwards of 85% of the world's silver during its reign in the 15th and 16th centuries.

The dotted line above shows the approximate vicinity of the silver mine in relation to the city of Schwaz.  During its prime, Schwaz was the second largest city in the Austrian Empire after Vienna (with approximately 60,000 citizens).

Here is a view looking straight onto the mountain... inside is where all of the mining happened.

Credit: Link

Here, we are getting ready to enter the mine.  It is pretty humid inside and so, each visitor gets a rain coat and hard hat.  Temperatures are steady around twelve degrees Centigrade - so dress appropriately.

To get inside to the beginning of the silver mine tour, visitors must ride on a wagon-train for about eight minutes..  It's a perfect fit - the size of the tunnel for the train.  Hands and feet inside at all times!  Not a good tour for anyone who is claustrophobic.


Once inside, we walked through a series of tunnels... stopping here and there to learn about the history of the mine, the men who lived and worked their entire lives in these mines (The life expectancy was around 35! Can you imagine?)

The tunnel we used to get into the mines took twenty six years to carve out.   It was the main entrance and exit, the main air way, and there was already lots of silver taken out during this process.  There were an additional 200+ other entry points into the mine.  At some point in the tour, we were told we were standing in the very center of the mountain.  We only got to see a small bit of curated tunnels and rooms.  I wish I knew just how much more lay down those other forbidden tunnels!

I can't imagine working in mining conditions for my entire life.  Some of the boys started out working in the mine at age eleven.  Their job was to use their entire body weight to work the air flow equipment.

Water seeping in from the rock was a big problem.  So big, in fact, that 600 men were assigned the job of filling buckets of water and sending them out along a human chain to the outside.  And, this happened twenty four hours a day.  Rough.

Miners were very well respected during this time.  The water movers, not so much.  After complaining about their poor treatment, the response from the higher ups was to install a huge rotating water wheel, (a revolutionary and technological marvel at the time by a German engineer), and to completely terminate all six hundred jobs.

We learned that the beginnings of social welfare started here.  Each miner paid a silver coin per month, into a community pot, and when a miner fell ill (as was often when working with no sunlight, no warmth, no fresh air, and tons of burning materials), he went immediately to the Bruderhaus for treatment and recuperation at no additional charge.

The silver that was mined out of this mountain made its way to the village of Hall, where we currently live.  The silver was minted into coins and eventually, the term 'Thaler' was born... evolving into the 'Dollar' as we know it today.  The beginnings of currency and capitalism started here, also!

Check out the size of the silver coins in relation to today's US quarter:

Credit: Link

All in all, what did I learn?  That for a physically small(-ish) country it is today, Austria was once a major influential empire!  And, that I need to really sink my teeth into its far reaching contributions to history, society, culture, and food. 

Back out in the real world, we learned how the Austrian people knew to dig where they did for silver.  Legend has it that a maid was out walking her bull and the bull dug up some soil with its horns.  In this soil was traces of silver... and the rest was history!

There's even a movie about the life and times here in the silver mines.  It's called Der Silberberg.  Here's a clip that summarizes the hard knock life it must have been back in the Middle Ages.

This was definitely a good tour... the girls were a bit uncertain and a little scared in the beginning, but they made it through and even speak proudly of their adventure.  Give it a go if you're in the area and the weather is crappy.  It'll be a fun ride going back in time!

Check out the 360 deg Virtual Tour if you can't see it in person!

Silberbergwerk Schwaz
Alte Landstra├če 3a
6130 Schwaz
t   +43.5242.72372
f   +43.5242.72372-4
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