The Show Mine at Bad Bleiberg
There is no better place to experience how important the mining industries once were for Carinthia's economy, than a visit to the show mine Terra Montana at Bad Bleiberg. The mine re-opened its doors in May and offers guided tours seven days a week. A visit to Terra Montana is an ideal activity when the weather is bad, or a refreshing place to escape very hot days, as the temperature in the mining galleries remains a constant 9 degrees Celsius.
It was an inconspicuous perspex model in the minerals department of the Kärntner Landesmuseum at Klagenfurt that first gave me an idea of how here, in Carinthia, men have dug in the mountains and exploited them for centuries. Iron, gold, silver, but most of all lead, zinc and magnesite, plus marble and chalk made Carinthia a profitable 'gold mine' throughout the Middle Ages and until the most recent modern era.
Bleiberg ('Blei' translates 'lead') was the centre for the mining of lead and zinc from the 14th century onwards. Ownership, once belonging to the diocese of Bamberg (in Baveria), passed to the House of Austria in 1753. In 1863 the Hapsburgs with the Bleiberger Bergwerks Union (BBU) set up a new management for the site. Although the BBU was one of the most modern underground mines in Europe, producing almost 500,000 tons of crude ore in 1979, the mine was operating in the red. Consequently it was closed for good in 1993.
The show mine Terra Montana conserves this 700-year-old tradition. A 68m long slide takes you down to a mine railway, with which you ride along 2km of the mine's gallery system. There, a 700m long circuit awaits you. At 14 stations information is provided about the working environment of the miners, as well as about the history of mining in the area and production methods. Part of the information is given by an animated figure, old Josef. Other information is provided by the tour guide, such as how the mining machinery is operated or - making all boys' hearts beat faster - a demonstration of blasting.
We would have loved to explore the Bleiberg mine even further. After all, the galleries extend over a length of 1,300-km (11 km from East to West, 1 km from North to South) and go down as deep as 850m, with the lowest gallery being only 87m above sea level. But also above ground the attentive hiker will come across evidence of earlier mining activities. For example in Mittewald ob Villach there are entrances to the Franz-Josef-Gallery along the hiking trail.
A side effect of the mining was that Bleiberg became established as a 'Bad' or a spa town: in 1951 a thermal water spring gushed into one of the galleries and a thermal bath was constructed as a consequence. The little spa is another popular bad-weather destination for Villach families with toddlers or children just learning to swim.
TMB-Terra Mystica BetriebsgesmbH