In 2012, the mining heritage of two largest mercury mines in the world became a joint UNESCO World Heritage Site as “Heritage of Mercury. Almadén and Idrija”. The site encompasses the heritage of the two mines and mining in the widest sense of the word: the mine site, the pits, the shafts, the industrial buildings, as well as secular and sacral architecture connected to the operations of the mine and the life of the miners.
Idrija Municipal Museum is one of the managers of this complex heritage. We are entrusted with the protection and presentation of the Gewerkenegg Castle – formerly a mine administration building, today home to one of Europe’s best museums of industrial and technical heritage; the Francis’ shaft with restored mining machinery and equipment; Idrija “Kamšt” with the largest wooden drive wheel in Europe with a diameter of 13.6 m; and the Idrija Miners’ House, where we present the living culture and way of life of Idrija’s miners.
The museum strives to effectively inform and raise awareness among the public, including local people, about the exceptional value of the mercury heritage and the role Idrija has played in world history. We want to reinforce the awareness that, in the modern era, Idrija and Almadén have significantly shaped the whole of world history. The mercury extracted from these two mines was used in the amalgamation process in South American silver and gold mines from the mid-16th century onwards, which enormously increased the quantities of these precious metals on the market, directly or indirectly stimulating the development of the economy and enabling science, art, and culture in general to flourish on both sides of the Atlantic. This is the subject of the “Tracing Mercury” exhibition, held in the castle since 2016.
Being a UNESCO site is an opportunity for us to become visible and recognisable on the world tourism map, and to offer the knowledge we have about mercury and the protection, conservation, and presentation of industrial heritage to others. We are proud that the museum has been actively involved in the process of preparing the dossier and managing the nomination.