The town where things turn to stone


Being turned to stone is the stuff of fairy tales and legends. But there is one place in the Czech Republic where you can witness this in reality - and that is the town of Karlovy Vary in West Bohemia. People have gone there for centuries to drink the town's curative mineral waters but few of them are aware that these mineral springs possess another magical power - in just a week's time they can turn a human being or object "to stone".

As far as we know it has never happened to a human being or animal but annually the mineral waters fossilize around fifty thousand objects that people have chosen to be preserved as keepsakes. They include roses in bloom, wedding bouquets, toddler's shoes and beloved small toys. The Karlovy Vary spa has a special "fossilizing room" where over a period of seven to ten days the selected objects are placed under a steady stream of mineral water which is cooled and oxidized. The temperature in the room is 60 degrees Celsius with 100 percent humidity. Gradually the objects become encrusted with calcite - and layer after layer they grow stronger until the fragile rose or stuffed teddy bear becomes fossilized. With their new protective mantle the objects can survive for many decades or even centuries - with their beauty intact - under one condition - they need gentle handling, if you drop them they will be smashed to pieces. These unique souvenirs from the Czech Republic's most famous spa town are immensely popular and interest in getting a personal object fossilized is so big that the spa is having to extend its fossilization capacity. Work is now underway on a second fossilization room underground. It should be finished sometime in 2008 and the spa's management has said it will be accessible to the public within the tours of the spa facilities.

So the next time you visit Karlovy Vary remember to take something that you would like to preserve as a keepsake. If you drink the mineral waters for a fortnight and the object of your choice spends ten days bathing in them - you should both leave Karlovy Vary feeling almost immortal.