Tarnowskie Góry, Lead-silver-zinc mine and its underground water management system, Tarnowskie Góry
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Tarnowskie Góry, Lead-silver-zinc mine and its underground water management system

Tarnowskie Góry

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The Tarnowskie Góry Lead-Silver-Zinc Mine is situated in the Silesian plateau in southern Poland. It lies within the northern part of the Upper Silesian Industrial District - one of traditional methalogenous regions. This lead, silver and zinc mine with an integrated underground water management system is the largest and the most significant mining heritage site in Poland.

Archaeological research proves that zinc and lead ores were excavated in this area as early as the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. The first historical document evidencing silver mining activities there is a papal edict from 1136. It mentions a place near Bytom, to the south of Tarnowskie Góry. In 1247, Duke Władysław I of Opole conferred a mining privilege “plumbum habebit liberum” (permit for the extraction of lead) for the Repty district, which is now a part of Tarnowskie Góry.

The emergence of a new multinational mining community, which offered employment opportunities to many German-speaking officials, supervisors and miners, gave rise to the adoption in 1528 of “Ordunek Gorny” - the Mining Act. The lead mined in Tarnowskie Góry played a key role in the development of European silver smelting in the 16th century. Another extremely important period in the development of this site was the 19th century, when locally mined zinc began to dominate global markets. The mine and the related industrial interests of the Prussian State laid the groundwork for the German industrial revolution, which had its origin in Silesia. The dewatering system developed in the mine made it possible to satisfy nearly the entire water demand not only of the rapidly growing population but of the industry as well.

The three-century old underground water management system built on a flat and technically difficult lowland area (with a difference of under 50 m between the highest-lying and the lowest-lying terrain points) is a masterpiece of hydrotechnology. The underground system comprises water catchment facilities consisting of over 50 km of main drainage tunnels and 150 km of secondary drainage and access tunnels and shafts with numerous extraction galleries. The network is supplemented by both underground and above-ground components of the core water management infrastructure and surface facilities directly connected with it, making up the characteristic post-mine landscape. This underground water management system is unique on a global scale, because the method of extracting metal ores is integrated, also in terms of planning and management, with the use of the then state-of-the-art steam engines and a gravity drainage system. The resulting underground mine drainage complex also provided the inhabitants of Tarnowskie Góry with water for household and industrial use. For a short period of time, it supplied water for the whole region, too. The system still functions in a largely unchanged form.

Most of this mining heritage site is situated underground, however, it also incorporates above-ground structures. The directly related excavation facilities on the surface of the ground include elements of adits, shafts and the main spoil tip built of waste materials produced during ore processing. They provide an insight into the scale of zinc and lead mining in the 19th century. Other extraordinary and distinctive cultural attributes include a town park - an early example of successful transformation of a post-industrial landscape into a community amenity, with the delicate structure of heaps and spoil tips near the shafts having been thoughtfully preserved.

The characteristic post-mining landscape can be admired in the vast area of the Segiet Nature Reserve (post-mining landscape of Srebrna Góra). Its visual features include the so-called pingi and warpie (post-mine holes): secondary earthworks at the outlet of the shaft, resembling bell-shaped excavations, characteristic in particular for coal mining or areas surrounding flint mines. They were formed as a result of lead and silver mining in the 16th century and zinc and iron mining in the 19th century.

The underground heritage site is looked after by the local Society of Friends of the Land of Tarnowskie Góry, which dates back to the 1930s and has been in continuous existence since 1957.

The draft of justification of criteria:

Criterion (I)

Water Management System provides exceptional testimony to outstanding human technical creativity and application. It represents a masterpiece of mid-sixteenth to late-nineteenth century underground hydraulic engineering, its vast underground system representing the peak of European skills in such dewatering technology at a time when mining engineering provided the technical wherewithal for the development of the world’s first large-scale public water supply systems based on the steam-powered pumping of groundwater.

Criterion (II)

Water Management System exhibits an exceptional interchange of technology, ideas and expertise in underground mining engineering and public water supply between leading mining and industrial centres in Saxony, Bohemia, Hungary, Britain and Poland. This led to the creation of a viable underground mine drainage network based on gravity free-flow, together with an integrated water pumping system that redistributed potable and industrial water to an entire region. This unique technical achievement, aided by the special natural attributes of the property, created a hotspot of industrial expertise that went on to influence industrial development elsewhere in Central and Western Europe. The system still functions in much the same way as originally designed, supplying drinking water to the inhabitants of Tarnowskie Góry; an operation devised over two hundred years ago but which would be considered sustainable if conceived today.

Criterion (IV)

Water Management System is a unique and enduring technical ensemble of metal mining and water management, distinguished by a significant output of lead and zinc that sustained international metallurgical and architectural demands of the time, and a water system that ultimately drained the mine by gravity and met the needs of the most industrialized and urbanized region in Poland, and amongst the largest in Europe.

Compiled on the basis of materials of the National Heritage Board of Poland

General information

  • Type: cultural
  • Chronology: poł. XVI - XIX w.
  • Form of protection: UNESCO
  • Address: Tarnowskie Góry
  • Location: Voivodeship śląskie, district tarnogórski, commune Tarnowskie Góry
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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