The building that accommodates Parc Tellure is built on the same underground site where many silver veins were discovered in the 14th century, triggering what came to be known as the “silver rush”. The Saint-Jean Engelsbourg silver mine, known as “Saint-Jean’s column”, is the largest man-made underground mine in the Vosges Mountains and extends a dizzying distance below ground (180 m3).
9th – 10th centuries: first mention and “official” discovery of the Saint-Jean vein by monks coming from the valley, who were probably based at the priory in Lièpvre. It is thought the Romans were already familiar with the mines in the area (Roman presence in Alsace between 60 BCE and 378 CE).
The Middle Ages (13th century): small-scale ore mining, with shafts being dug from the surface. But mining soon stops because of problems with flooding.
15th and especially 16th century: mining really takes off with the help of experienced miners from Saxony and Bohemia, and new digging techniques help promote “intensive” mining. Numerous other mines, about 1,100 in all, are opened in the area. Between 1530 and 1560, it is estimated that about 1,500 kg of ore is extracted per year. Mining of the Saint-Jean vein begins in 1549.
Between 1618 and 1648: it is the time of the Thirty Years’ War. Alsace is ravaged by war and mines are plundered. Mining activity decreases sharply. The Saint-Jean vein is abandoned in 1635. Activity resumes around 1711, but the works are too submerged in water and mining stops again towards the end of the 18th century.
Between 1897 and 1907: the mines are reopened by the Germans to mine cobalt, arsenic, and what little silver is left (up to this point, only silver has been exploited). Activity stops (again) because a study suggests that the mines are empty.
From 1930 to 1976: the French start mining again at the end of the 1930s, on the assumption that the study carried out by the Germans is inaccurate. The Second World War breaks out on 1 September 1939, but it is not until 10 May 1940, the day the Germans invade France, that mining stops for good. During the Occupation, the Germans do not resume mining, although a brief attempt to reactivate the site is made after the war. The last mine, a cobalt mine, officially closes in 1976.
This human story and the exceptional heritage behind it can be experienced by visitors – now Tellure mining park has been open to the public since 2009.
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