If you drive through southwestern Poland, you can eventually reach the picturesque Kotlina Kłodzka (in the Lower Silesia district) with its beautiful landscape and natural areas left untouched by humans. When you're nearly at the border with the Czech Republic, there is a little town called Złoty Stok, which is the oldest mining and metallurgical center in the whole country. It’s been estimated that during its seven hundred years of mining exploitation, around sixteen tons of pure gold were gained from it. The last mine was closed here in 1961, but the city can still boast about its history and mining tradition, thanks to the Museum of Gold Mine Złoty Stok. We managed to explore the mine and talk to the principal of the institution, Ela Szumska, about some interesting facts and legends surrounding it.
How did it all start?
In 1996, the underground touristic route „Gold Mine” was opened. I decided to work there as a guide. I got to like the work so much that I knew that I was going to stay there for a long time. Then, I became the tenant of the route until, in 2004, I decided to buy the Gold Mine.
Where did the idea come from?
The idea of creating the touristic route came from the mayor of Złoty Stok at the time. Only in that area of our community there were about three hundred kilometers of underground pavements. So it was absolutely worth it to open even a little part of them and share it with the public. We hit the jackpot with that idea.
So what does the basic touristic route look like now?
The Gold Mine is the only mine in Poland with an underground waterfall. Usually visitors first enter the Mine with the orange tram, then they meet with the gnome and the alchemist. They visit the drift „Gerturde” and the drift „The Black Mountain,” followed by the eight-floor descent down the little shaft to the underground waterfall.
So the oldest mining work conducted near Złoty Stok was already happening about 2000 years BC. Though, the fist written proof of the mine actively operating comes from 1273. At the beginning of 15th century, the mine was known as the most efficient one in the Silesia district. One interesting story from that period is about a famous sculptor from Kraków, Wit Stwosz, who invested all the money he earned into creating the beautiful Altar in Mariacki Church (which can be still admired - definitely pay it a visit while wandering around Kraków) in part of the mine business. Unfortunately, the gold slowly ran out and pushed the artist to bankruptcy. In an act of desperation, Wit Stwosz made a false bill of exchange, which was quickly discovered and the sculptor was put in prison in Wrocław. The first part of 15th century turned out to be very unlucky for the city, but only a hundred years later, the mining had its real rise. In the second half of 16th century, big European businesses started investing in the mining sector of Złoty Stok. At that time, the nearly 200 mines at Złoty Stok were providing about 8% of the gold production for the whole Europe.
The mines are a mysterious places and we asked Ela Szumska if there are any legends connected to Złoty Stok. She told us the legend about the Golden Donkey, though it has some historical truth in it:
A long time ago, when in Złoty Stok there were still candles lighting the windows and kids were playing with wooden toys, all the adults were working hard underground, hoping to find the legendary Golden Cave. According to the stories told by the eldest, the miner who would find it first would be rich until the end of his days. All the miners were called „the eaters of the Golden Donkey” as everyone called the mountain where the search was happening the „Golden Donkey” The miners were eating tons of stones and rocks as they drilled the pavement and shafts. The owner of the Golden Donkey was the Fugger family, well-known bankers from Kraków. They had enough money to expand their work and employed plenty of miners. Unfortunately, their greed and hope for quick profit made them constantly decrease the costs of work, which caused a real predatory exploitation. They didn’t pay attention to any rules or the safety of the miners working underground, which lead to tragic accidents. The sad truth is that the extremely bad leadership was quickly verified by a terrible catastrophe. The main shaft, about 72 meters high, collapsed burying 59 miners working at the time underground. On the surface, a huge crater appeared cutting off the miners from the world. The Fuggers decided not to continue the rescue action; they convinced everyone that such action was pointless as the buried miners would die before anyone could reach them due to their of the lack of air. However, the real reason behind the decision was the fact that the Fugger family knew that the gold in the mine was nearly finished and the rescue action would have turned out to be too expensive. The inhabitants of Złoty Stok heard the groans of the buried miners for a long time. According to legend, they were feeding themselves with the roots of the trees and drinking arsenic water, until they slowly shrank and turned into gnomes. Eventually, they called themselves the Kings of Underground. According to legend, they’ve been living there until the preset, have found the Golden Cave and own the whole treasure of the Golden Donkey.
So what, except for visiting the underground world, can the Gold Mine can offer to visitors?
For the past five years, we have been also inviting everyone to visit the Medieval Mining Village, which is the only such place in Europe, and where visitors can see mining tools modeled after original ones on a 1:1 scale; everything is also interactive. The sight-seeing is finished with the labyrinth of fear and the meeting the executioner. It’s a lot of fun! 😉 Guests can also visit the raddle drift, featuring the very old one from 1480. The excavation can be seen exactly how they left it and the pavements are covered with orange raddle. On the mine territory, there are plenty of attraction such as gold rising, underground rafting, diamonds search and imprinting the golden coins. There is also a Museum of Minerals and Museum of Mining, as well as the History of Złoty Stok.
Indeed, there are plenty things to do if you visit Złoty Stok. Apart from the historical places and great traditional restaurant, the Museum of Gold Mine also follows the contemporary spirit with its Escape Room that was prepared specially for the brave ones and features three different scripts connected to the history of the place. Everyone finds something for themselves there, and we surely recommend visiting that unique place in Kotlina Kłodzka!