"A city that lived on Quicksilver for 5 centuries" Idrija by JLBG
Idrija Travel Guide: 38 reviews and 53 photos
Quicksilver was highly praised since the Antiquity, being the only metal liquid at room temperature, not to speak of other properties. Discovery of mercury in Idrija in 1490 made the wealth of the city. For centuries, quicksilver has been like gold to Idrija. For a very long time, world wide, Idrija was only second to Almaden in Spain for mercury production. Altogether, around 150,000 tons of mercury have been produced in Idrija between 1490 and 2004. The gold rush in California boosted the need for mercury and therefore its production in Idrija. The need for mercury was so acute that it lead to the establishment in California of both New Idria (San Benito county) and New Almaden (Santa Clara county), both mercury mining towns. Both are now ghost towns while old Idrija is still a very living town! Though, amazingly, when in August 2009, I visited Idrija, I had never heard that name.
After 1956, the name of Minamata, in Japan has become infamous when it appeared that the population had been contaminated by mercury between 1932 and 1968, with thousands of people chronically intoxicated, at least 324 death and 200 mentally and physically heavily crippled children born from intoxicated mothers. During this period, 260 tons of mercury were released in the environment. What occurred in Minamata drew the attention on long term toxicity of mercury and after the mid seventies uses of mercury in the world were severely restrained. Hence, yearly world production went down from 10,000 tons in 1969 (the highest) to 2,000 tons in 1993 and 1,200 tons in 2000. One after the other, worldwide, mines were closed. In 2009, it seems that all mines were definitively closed. The small remaining production depends on already extracted ores and on recycling.
In Idrija, as everywhere else in the world, closure of the mines occurred gradually and the last mine was closed in 2004. It seems that though Idrija lived for almost five centuries on mercury, it was able to shift gently to other industries. Idrija is now a world-leading place for the production of small electrical motors and has also developed a furniture industry, based on wood from the surrounding forests.
Idrija is on the tentative list of Unesco World Heritage under the title: “Idrija on the Mercury Route of the Intercontinental Camino Real”. For more : Unesco Tentative List.
I paste here the justification :
Justification for Outstanding Universal Value
Comparison with other similar properties
The intercontinental Camino Real (including the Mercury Route) can be compared to other similar cultural heritage paths, however, it stands out from the rest by its complexity, sheer geographic scale, natural conditions and diverse impacts. It is a supportive system to multifaceted relations between Europe and a large part of America. The route had a decisive social and economic impact and facilitated the development of cultural patterns on both sides of the Atlantic.
The name of Idrija is said to derive from Hydrargyrum, the Latin name for mercury, which is rather strange as mercury was discovered here long after the Roman time. I am not convinced that this is the true etymology
We did not sleep in Idrija but when we will come back, we will book in Gostisce Barbara (Barbara Inn). It is set in the... more travel advice
In 1953, the castle has been turned into a museum. It shows the development of the mercury mines and explains the whole... more travel advice
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