Stok (pronounced Zwoty) gold mine is located in the south west of Poland on the
border with the Czech Republic and lies in the Sudetes mountain range, locally
know as the Golden Mountains. Mining for gold on the site probably started
around the 7th century, though the first documented evidence is from much later
on, the 13th century. The mine is Poland's oldest gold mine and was not only
worked for gold but arsenic as well which started in the 18th
Being a gold mine and in a region of Eastern Europe that was
subject to frequent turmoil, it has had a very colourful history in ownership
and where its gold reached. During the Hussite wars at the beginning of the
15th century the mine and much of its holdings were destroyed and in the mid
15th century the mine ended up being given to the Czech's as a fief. After the
wars, now approaching the end of the 15th century Prince Henryk Starszy
Podiebradowicz restarted the mining enterprise and shortly afterwards the
mining rights were given to the town of Zloty Stok.
The 16th century saw
much expansion in the mining and the there was a period of prosperity for the
mine and town. The fortunes of the mine at this period were reaching further a
field and this drew in foreign investors, mostly from Germany who set up
smelting companies. The investment did not take long to fruit and shortly the
mine was producing around 150kg of gold a year. This was 8% of all European
gold production. However during these times the working conditions were very
difficult and only primitive tools were used for extraction, along with heating
and quenching of the hard rock. This was a very dangerous operation as the
heating also released (unknown then) arsenic. The life span of miners was very
short. One of the German families, which had invested in the mines, was know to
support the Spanish Queen and it is possible that gold from the mines was used
to finance the voyage of Columbus across the Atlantic Ocean.
start of the 17th century in 1612 gunpowder was introduced, however this
probably was the only good thing to happen. A series of accidents occurred at
the mine, coupled with disease, and the 30 Years War decimated the mining and
town. After the war in the mid 17th century a chemist form Vienna, Hans
Scharffenberg turned the recent misfortunes around. He realised the potential
for extracting arsenic and worked on methods for doing this. His work was
carried on by his sons and in the early 18th century the mine started to
produce arsenic as well as gold. The price for arsenic at this time reached 3
times that of gold. The Scharffenberg's concentrated too much on the chemistry
and failed to exploit further reserves. Their enterprise came to an end in
1738. During the Prussian - Austrian war mining stopped again and was started
once more in 1770. A big breakthrough came in the mid 19th century when a very
effective method of extracting gold was discovered, based on using chlorine
which increased gold production. In 1883 another German, Wilhelm Guttler bought
up all the mining rights and kept ownership until the end of the Second World
War. During this period many new technologies were introduced, new rail lines
for transportation, steam engines for water pumping and ventilation, and of
course compressed air rock drilling. The production of arsenic continued to
increase and reached its peak in the early 20th century, when almost 2400
tonnes were produced each year. This accounted for 20% of the total world
After the Second World War the mine had suffered no damage
and ownership was transferred to the Polish government. Remaining German miners
were replaced with Polish ones from the coal mines. The production of gold and
arsenic continued and even exploration for new deposits was started. In 1956
the Poznan Uprising brought changes to Poland and the government deemed the
mine unprofitable, and in 1962 the mine was closed. This was surprising as gold
production between 1946 and 1960 amounted to 20-30kg a year, and fell to 7kg an
year in 1961. No official reasons can be found for this.
during its life produced a total of 16 tonnes of pure gold. The mine complex
had grown to such proportions that there was over 300km passages on 21 levels.
The metallurgical methods used in Zloty Stok for the production of arsenic and
gold became a model for the whole smelting industry in Europe. Today Zloty Stok
is a show mine with a number of tourist routes and for the more adventurous,
extreme mine visits into the areas that look more like the mines we are used to
exploring in the UK. Currently only around 30km of level has been explored as
most of the stopes and lower levels are now flooded.
Views of the landscape and buildings around the mine site.
Updated 11th October 2008.
A look at the famous Polish gold mine.
Alexander, Bart, Monika and Mike), 11th October 2008.