Welcome to Landek Park – the largest museum of mining in the Czech Republic

Musée minier au Landek parc

Two weeks ago in Spotlight we travelled to the centre of Ostrava, the capital of the Moravian-Silesian region, where a new industrial heritage site is going to open next year. Today we will stay in the area to visit Landek Park, the largest museum of mining in the Czech Republic.

Rothschild chateau
Landek Hill above the confluence of the Odra and Ostravice rivers is a significant geological, archaeological, biological and mining site. Declared a natural monument in 1992, the location features a unique combination of natural beauties and industrial history.

First of all, let’s visit the former Rothschild chateau dating back to the era when the local industry was owned by the Rothschild family. The chateau was built in 1847 after Salomon Mayer Rothschild bought the local black coal mine. It has been rebuilt several times since and the latest renovation took place in 2008. Each room on the ground floor is decorated in a different style, for example the so-called “Brussels style”. Guide Lucie Břemková explains:

“The Brussels Style is inspired by the Brussels Expo in 1958. You can see decorations from that period, such as this fabric wallpaper, a hand-woven tapestry, pendant lights made from blown glass, or a laminated table that was in fashion in the 1960s. On top of that there are miniature models of products from the nearby Vítkovice ironworks, such as a steam generator and a model of a bridge in the town of Ústí nad Labem. On the windows, you can see crankshafts – the main local export item sold around the whole world.”

Lucie Břemková
Only a fraction of the original design from before 1948 has been preserved. But for example floor tiles in the entrance hall have survived to this day – each one of them was removed and cleaned separately during the renovation. There are also paintings showing that the chateau once had a large park and a garden.

Another room where conferences and concerts are held is decorated in the Empire style, in blue, white and gold. There is also a unique pulpit. Lucie Břemková again:

“This is an authentic pulpit that used to belong to Václav Havel. He had it at Prague Castle. It was bought in an auction for the chateau. There is also a piano with an invisible pianist inside. It is a unique piece. I will try to switch it on – and you can see, the keys are playing themselves. Recently local police had a ceremony here and their commanding officer put on his tailcoat, combed his hair back and sat down at the piano to play. All the officers thought they had a brilliant pianist in their midst all those years without knowing it. I don’t know whether he eventually owned up. Of course, when concerts take place here the pianists play themselves but the piano is a unique artefact.”

Another room is furnished in the style of Socialist Realism – also known under the portmanteau title Sorela. That’s how the room itself is referred to.

“There is authentic furniture from the 1970s and a desk powered with a motor. There is a bottle of vodka in the middle of the desk because legend has it that contracts with the Soviet Union were signed at it. On the walls there are portraits of communist-era personalities by Josef Šmek. In the corner behind me, you can see a portrait of Václav Havel. He is here because he was the first democratic president elected by a communist parliament. Various conferences are held here, too. For some people this room brings back unpleasant memories but this is part of the history of Vítkovice, too. That’s why we have preserved it.”

The history of the Vítkovice industrial complex is interesting in that it combined coal mining and coke and iron production all in one place. The Landek Park mining museum is dedicated to the history of black coal mining.

Black coal was discovered here by a certain Mr. Ketlička in 1776. He found strange black rocks on the crest of the hill. He first placed them in the cupboard, but he didn’t like them. So he threw them into the fireplace. And they caught fire. Over time eleven pits were dug on the site.

The Anselm mine, closed down in 1991, was one of the oldest pits in the Ostrava coal district. It is now part of the mining museum opened in 1993. The museum features a 15-metre deep shaft and covers the years 1782 to 1990. To give the visitors an idea of what going down the shaft in a cage elevator was like, the bottom of the pit is projected onto the floor of the cage, as one of the tourist guides explains.

“The cage travelled down the pit at a speed of 12 to 13 metres per second. We wanted to give visitors an impression of the sound as well as the wind whistling past them as they go down. So we added various audio effects and we also got the machines moving as part of our interactive exhibition.”

When visitors reach the bottom of the shaft and get off the cage, they can walk around the galleries showing the history of local coal mining from the 18th century to the present.

Apart from the pit, there is also an exhibition dedicated to mining rescue services without which underground work would not be possible. It features some of the technology which enables rescuers to operate in an environment often more hostile than outer space or the depths of the ocean: in stifling heat, darkness, noise and in a confined space...

Visitors can see an actual mining rescue base and respiratory and resuscitation equipment, including some of the oldest devices from 1884. Miroslav Machara is a former rescuer:

“To join the rescue team, you must be a man older than 25 years with three years of practice in the pit. You can work there until you turn 48, then you have to retire. Our men swear their pledge of allegiance on the cross of the Order of Malta featured on the unit’s coat of arms. This memorial plaque over here lists the names of the 103 rescuers who were killed in action.”

As former rescuer Miroslav Machara says, rescuers need to stay in good physical shape. Every group of rescuers also includes divers as there is water in the pits that needs to be pumped out constantly. The divers’ boots, weighing 12 kilograms, are also on display here.

“Imagine if there is a dangerous situation down the pit and you need to get the miners out. For example in the Darkov mine, 1200 men are underground at all times. What you do is you throw down an ampoule filled with the chemical mercaptan which is terribly smelly. The controller also explodes a device which breaks a glass ampoule installed in the main air duct. The air gets even to the remotest parts of the mine in 5 to 10 seconds. When you smell the odour, you put on your oxygen mask. It can provide oxygen for up to 60 minutes. This is rehearsed twice a year. The technology is a Soviet patent and it’s used in outer space too. It has saved a lot of lives in the 30 years we have been using it. And once you have the mask on, you run to the nearest shaft.”

Czech and Polish rescue workers are highly respected internationally. They are on standby all the time, capable of going down the shaft within three minutes. Rescuers-divers are often asked to help out in various commercial jobs in the Czech Republic and abroad as they have equipment no one else does.

The Landek museum of mining also displays different types of lighting used in the pits as well as explosion-proof dams which are built in case of fire.

The revitalization project of the historic part of Landek was designed by architect Josef Pleskot who is also behind the new industrial heritage site in Vítkovice. There are plans to build a sports centre in Landek Park and connect it with the city of Ostrava by a funicular.

More information at: www.landekpark.cz

Photo: Zdeňka Kuchyňová