Erzgebirge / Krušnohoří (Ore Mountains) spans a vast region in south-eastern Germany and north-western Czechia, which contains a wealth of several metals exploited through mining from the Middle Ages onwards. The region became the most important source of silver ore in Europe from 1460 to 1560. Mining was the trigger for technological and scientific innovations transferred worldwide. The cultural landscape of the Ore Mountains has been deeply shaped by 800 years of almost continuous mining, from the 12th to the 20th century, crafting pioneering water management systems, innovative mineral processing and smelting sites, and cities built around mining.
The site in which the project took place belongs to one of the several points of importance within the context of this immense cultural landscape. Halsbrücke is located near Freiberg, the heart of the region where the culture of mining has infused all aspects of the political and social lives of the historic communities that lived here. The lucrative and essential mining industry, interwoven into the social fabric of the region, was a source of political and economic leverage for the local rulers that had their aristocratic power over these lands. As such, their families became decisive players in the history of Saxony, where their fortunes were always deeply tied to the fortunes of their subjects. The course of the Ore Mountains history was written both in the mines as well as in the castles.
One such family was the von Schönberg family, an old lineage of lords which ruled these lands from their stately manor in Krummenhennersdorf near Halsbrücke. From there they controlled the mining production of their estates while sponsoring important construction developments in the land related to the industry, for example the water management structures which we see today. Being important actors in the historic identity of Halsbrücke and the Ore Mountains, the remnants of their incursion in the history of the land are also part of the stories that need to be preserved. For this reason, one of the sites in which the project took place was a run-down mausoleum of the family. This is a beautiful monument located at the very start of the Grabensteiger (foreman) pathway along the ditch of the Grabentour water system. The structure was erected on a hill overlooking the impressive water management system they had sponsored to construct; one may speculate that perhaps it was a statement of claim for the legacy of the water system that extends throughout the mountains of the mining region. Many years of neglect had allowed nature to take back the structure, with the forest growth threatening to completely bring down what was left of this beautiful and, one could say, romantic ruin.
The other focus of the project was centred on the mentioned water management structures that served as arteries to the mining production of this region. The motive-water supply system today known as Grabentour is one of the most famous of its kind within the Saxon ore mining region. It was developed just after construction commenced on the Rothschönberger Stolln (Rothschönberg Adit) in 1844. The Grabentour is a network of man-made artificial watercourses or aqueducts dug into the ground (leats), which are currently dry or only contain stagnant water. The Grabentour canals are a typical example of such water management systems that exist in the Ore Mountains. The pathway that goes along the ditch originally served the purpose to allow the Grabensteiger (foreman) to conduct his daily checks of the systems ran along the ditch. The total length of the ditches in the Grabentour system is 1,652 m, consisting of water channels measuring between 1.5 m and 1.0 m in width, and approximately 0.8 m in depth. The edges of the ditches are predominantly supported by rubble-stone walls. The water ditches were originally covered in slabs, though these can no longer be seen. The Grabentour’s leats are underground water channels advanced by miners, and all of their mouths are formed by elliptical walling made from gneiss rubble; some also have headwalls. Parts of the ditch walls merge directly with the mouth portal walls, a few of which have wing walls. Underground, most of the leats are created in the solid rock, without any support. The total leat length is 1,905 m. The mouths are either protected with grating or a wall; the original doors have not been preserved.
The inventive techniques for processing rocks and extracting ore in this region attest to the determination and ingenuity of humankind in adapting to overcome their limitations through technological advancement. These developments, such as the water management system, at the time of their first use were a height of mining technology, bringing progress and innovations which would reverberate throughout the world. The participants in the project had the opportunity to interact with the discoveries and adaptations that fashioned this era of development. Through their practical work and interaction with this built heritage, they were able to understand how these enterprises involved whole communities in the forging of their destinies while implementing massive modifications of the land to exploit its riches.
Today the mausoleum of the von Schönberg family it is one of the first sights that visitors can discover when they begin their exploration of the miner’s historical pathways. However, the landmark has had to be closed for access to the public, since it stands in a ruinous state and it is in dire need of an intervention that secures its stability. For this reason it was chosen to be one of the worksites for the project, the task was to secure the edifice, to build a protective structure and roof over the monument.
The work first commenced with a thorough documentation of the monument’s elements and then it continued with a rescue operation to stabilise the structure. The mausoleum was covered by vegetation and debris, which was removed by the participants taking good care not to further damage the stonework. At the same time, a detailed documentation of the loose elements scattered around the site was performed in order to help in the process of stabilisation and historical recording of the components. After the clean-up of the area was completed, the participants erected a protective roof structure that will ensure not only the protection of the monument but also the safety of future visitors to the site. The work was guided by a master in carpentry with additional education as “Restorer in Handicraft”.
Following the miner’s pathway up to the mountains, the man-made ditch of the waterworks traverses the forest and penetrates deep into the mountain through several Mundlöcher (stone-arched mouths) opening tunnels excavated deep into the rock. One of the most representatives Mundlöcher is the Porzellanfelsenrösche (Porcelain Leat), which is located next to an old quartzite quarry – quartzite is an additive used in porcelain manufacture. The mineral was extracted here and used by the famous Meißen porcelain manufactory in the 18th century. The ditch leading to the Mundloch was filled with debris and part of the containment stone had collapsed into it. The participants helped refurbish the area, cleaning up the silted ditch and repaired the historic stone wall using the fallen stones recovered from the ditch. Additionally, the wooden bridge that went over the ditch leading to the Porzellanfelsenrösche was completely replaced by a new one. The work brought these structures back to a more distinguishable from, which provides for the visitors a better visual exemplification of its uses and its importance as part of the wider network of historic waterworks in the mining region.
The project has been organised by European Heritage Volunteers, in cooperation with the Sächsische Welterbekoordination – the Saxon World Heritage Coordination, the Förderverein Montanregion Erzgebirge – the Association for the Mining Region Erzgebirge, and the Welterbe Montanregion Erzgebirge Verein – World Heritage Association for the Ore Mountain Mining Region.