Long-lost book discovered in Berlin sheds light on Giant Mountains’ history

Wallachian book

An ancient book recently found in a Berlin library sheds new light on the history of the Krkonoše or Giant Mountains. Most of the earliest written records of human activity in the area date back to the mid-16th century. But the newly discovered book proves that treasure hunters arrived there as early as the 15th century.

Not many written sources related to the early history of the Giant Mountains survive. Most such manuscripts were destroyed during the turbulent events of the 20th century, but also earlier, in the years that followed the battle of Bílá Hora in 1620.

We know that the first settlers arrived at the foothills of the Giant Mountains in the 16th century. They came mainly from the Austrian lands to work in the timber industry.

The 15th century book, recently discovered in the state library of Berlin, demonstrates that people started coming to the area in search of precious metals and minerals.

Otto Štemberka, head of a civic association from Trutnov, is the man behind the discovery:

“The book has been missing for more than 75 years. It used to be part of the Wroclaw State Library, but it went missing during the Second World War and was believed to be lost forever.

“When I was searching for a different manuscript in the Berlin State Library, I came across a link to that book. It was discovered in the library last May and added to the catalogue.”

Wallachian book | Photo: Czech Television

The 850-page volume, bound in leather, is an example of a so-called Wallachian book, which described the sites of precious stones and metals by various natural formations, says Mr Štemberka.

“What makes it really unique is that most of it was written in the first half of the 15 century and mentions the oldest toponymical names, which have since been used in local maps. So it really is the oldest available document of human settlement.”

The book, which is mentioned by many historic monographies of the Giant Mountains, is believed to have triggered the ‘gold rush’ in the area.

It was probably written by several different authors both in German and Latin. Its main author is Antonius Vale, a townsman from Wroclav, says Pavel Zahradník from the Trutnov regional archive.

“He is believed to have authored a number of texts dedicated to alchemy, which are also part of this manuscript. They are written in the old Gothic font and accompanied by many pictures, often depicting dragons.”

In the book, Antonius Vale also describes a route he took leading from Jelení Mountain to what is today the town of Sklarska Poręmba on the Polish side of the Giant Mountains.

The same trail can be walked even today, and if you look carefully, you may still spot some of the old signs marking the sites of the precious stones.