Czechs, Germans hope to win UNESCO listing for Krušné hory–Erzgebirge mining sites

Boží Dar, photo: Joadl, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0 AT

A Czech delegation is headed to Baku, Azerbaijan on Monday to lobby for including parts of the Krušnohoří mining region on the UNESCO World Heritage Site listing. It has been sixteen years since the Czech Republic added a site to the list. So, what makes the region so special?

The Ore Mountains,  photo: Aagnverglaser,  CC BY-SA 4.0

Michal Urban,  photo: Archive of Znovuobjevené Krušnohoří
The Ore Mountains have formed a natural border between Bohemia and the German state of Saxony for some 800 years. Known in Czech as Krušné hory, the uniquely preserved landscape is also among the most heavily researched mountain ranges in the world.

In total, the Czech delegation to Azerbaijan has nominated five sites in this country for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. A German delegation, with which it submitted a joint bid, has nominated 17 sites on their side of the border.

Michal Urban of the non-profit Montanregion Krušné hory – Erzgebirge, formed to coordinate public and private regional groups in hopes of getting the listing explains how it would help the region.

“Inclusion on the UNESCO list would mean more prestige on the international and national levels and could boost tourism. Also, it should strengthen the regional identity, and make people living in the Ore Mountains even prouder of the region."

Ore mining in the Krušnohoří region dates back to the 12th century. The area was exceptionally rich in silver, tin and cobalt. It was the leading producer of the world’s silver during the 15th and 16th centuries, and the boom spawned towns steeped in mining history.

Red Tower of Death,  photo: ČT24
It was Saxony that first proposed nominating selected mining sites for the UNESCO list – already back in 1998. Preparations for a joint Czech-German nomination began in 2011, and their first bid was submitted a few years later, recalled Dita Limová, head of the UNESCO Division at the Ministry of Culture, in an earlier interview.

“We first submitted the nomination in 2014, but we were recommended to rewrite the application. It is a symbolic nomination that binds the German and Czech sides together, which is very nice to see, especially here in this very specific region of Krušné hory. I must say all municipalities and regions involved have been very active and cooperative.”

Boží Dar,  photo: Joadl,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 3.0 AT
Among the specific 22 proposed UNESCO sites is the so-called Red Tower of Death near the Czech town of Jáchymov. The seven-storey, red-brick building served as the central sorting plant for uranium ore extracted for shipment to the Soviet Union in the 1950s.

The discovery of uranium in 1789 had led to the opening of the mine on the Czech side of the border, to which the Communist Party sent hundreds of political prisoners to toil under horrific conditions.

On a more pleasant note, many preserved historical town centres are also part of the UNESCO nomination. They include Abertamy, Boží Dar, Horní Blatná, Krupka and Měděnec on the Czech side and Freiberg in Germany – the very first town established in the region in 1168, when the first silver vein was discovered.