Milestones of Five Centuries

Idrija is known in Slovenia and abroad as a mining town lying above the second largest mercury mine in the world. The exhibition presents the key milestones and achievements in the 500-year development of the oldest Slovenian mining town.

The story about the mine and the town begins with the image of a tubmaker, a maker of woodenware, who, according to legend, discovered mercury in 1490. As he was soaking his wooden bucket in a stream, he noticed an unknown, heavy, silvery, fluid substance. He decided to exhibit it at the fair in Škofja Loka, which he was just setting out to visit.

Owing to its properties, mercury was a valued and precious metal, but at the same time also highly poisonous. It is the only metal in a liquid state at room temperature, and is capable of dissolving nearly all metals. Until the 16th century, it was used primarily in medicine, and later on particularly in the extraction of silver and gold in the mines of South America, in the military and electric industries, dentistry, agriculture, and cosmetics.

Over a period of five centuries, miners dug out more than 1000 kilometres of shafts in the subterranean world below Idrija. The deepest parts reached a depth of 380 metres or 33 metres below sea level. The Idrija Mine sent the mercury far eastward and westward via Venice, German cities, and later on particularly via Amsterdam – to the Levant, Western Europe and South America. During the period of its operation, the mine produced 13% of the world's entire mercury output, which is enough to fill a cube with a side-length of 22.1 metres or the entire volume of the castle courtyard.

The town developed concurrently with the mine, along with other mine-related sciences and activities, such as geology, cartography, forestry. Various experts came to work in Idrija, and the first Slovenian nonclassical secondary school began to operate here as early as in 1901.
Idrija miners in the smelting plant around 1900
A precious metal – mercury
Cross-section of shafts and levels of the Idrija Mine, B. Hacquet, Oryctographia Carniolica, Part 2, 1781

Idrija mine symbol – mine hammers dating from 1750
Janko Trošt – a tubmaker finds mercury
Mercury was transported from Idrija in wooden barrels and flasks