Humans have dug more or less elaborate holes in the ground in order to extract resources since time immemorial. The oldest things archaeologists interpret as mines were found in modern day Egypt and were used to extract flint-stone some 30,000 years ago. Since then both the need for resources and the technology with which to extract them have experienced tremendous development. Modern-day open pit mines have transformed whole landscapes and once they are done removing all the desirable resources, they often leave man made lakes and ponds that can become a source of economic activity and tourism in themselves. While some active mines can be visited, most mines are closed to the general public with only a small visitor center if anything. However, some former mines have been converted into tourist attractions and you can learn a lot about the history of the region or of mining in general by taking a guided tour.
Some towns owe their existence or at least their current size to mining, be it Kiruna and Falun in Sweden, Norilsk in Russia or continued human presence on Svalbard. On the other hand, many former mining communities have been deserted once resources run out, and bustling cities can become ghost towns overnight. In some cases a mine itself is the reason for the abandonment of settlements, either to make room for open-pit mining or due to environmental damage through mining.
Mining has also added its own rich character to the cultural heritage of many regions, from the vocal imagery of the powerful folk ballad to the literary works recording old miners' myths.
Mining and the associated culture - especially in the context of coal and steel - have also influenced things as seemingly unrelated or trivial as the names or nicknames of sports teams. Many areas - especially in high-income countries - that used to depend on mining have since entered a decline, and despite efforts to diversify the economy, many of those areas have become "rust belts". That said, people are often immensely proud of the mining heritage of their region and some even continue to live those traditions after having moved elsewhere for a job.
Open pit versus shafts and tunnelsModern mining often involves open pits created by huge machines. Older mines dug by hand often involve deep shafts and adits (long narrow corridors) underground. For instance the silver mines at Kongsberg has the deepest point 1,000 m below the surface (several hundred meters below sea level). The intensive 1600s mining at Falun eventually resulted in a collapse of the underground sections, leaving a 100-m deep and 1-km wide crater. A major problem in (almost) all mining operations is water. In open pit mines groundwater has to be lowered, sometimes hundreds of meters, leading to ground movements that are still not entirely understood and that have in the past damaged houses and other structures several km away from the mine. Once the mining is concluded the rising groundwater also results in ground movements, which may further endanger property. In underground mines, water has to be pumped out and of course this water has to go somewhere. In some cases it is simply pumped into abandoned shafts, but elsewhere ponds have been created just from surplus mine water.
Salt miningSalt was a valuable commodity for most of history and scarce in almost all inland regions. The very word "salary" is derived from the Latin word for salt. While sea salt played a role in some areas, it was then as it is now vastly overshadowed by mined salt. While the people in the North Frisian Islands burned the ground beneath their feet to access the salt contained in the peat, other regions had access to vast underground salt domes, which gave rise to fabulous wealth and to names often relating to former or current salt production, such as Bad Reichenhall with "hall" being a frequent component in city names in Central Europe related to salt mining.
Mothballed rock salt mines are considered among the safest options to get rid of radioactive waste through deep geological disposal of such materials. The crystalline salt is an excellent thermal conductor to keep the waste cool, and naturally seals cavities to prevent leakage of active materials into ground water. It is expected that at least some mines that are open to the public will be converted for such waste disposal purposes in the near future, making them inaccessible to mankind for the next 50,000 years. If you have an interest in visiting decommissioned salt mines, do it as soon as you can.
AustraliaEvery state of Australia has a mining history, and in most states there are former mining sites that are considered vital heritage locations, and current active locations that have facilities for visitors and tourists to visit and view.
phone: +1 902-597-3449address: 145 Black River RdSpringhill, Nova Scotia, was the site of a large coal mine active from the 19th century until 1958. It was shut down after an explosion in 1956 killed 39 and a 'bump' (underground earthquake) in 1958 killed 75. Today the museum offers underground tours. There is a song The Ballad of Springhill, about the 1958 disaster, which has been recorded or performed by many artists including Peter, Paul & Mary, U2, and husband/wife duo Ewen MacColl and Peggy Seeger.
phone: +1 902-849-4522
phone: +1 403-562-7388address: Hwy 3 Crowsnest Pass, BlairmoreThe small coal-mining town of Frank in the Crowsnest Pass region of what is now Alberta had 82 million metric tons of rock come crashing down on it in 1903. Turtle Mountain, above the town, had unstable geology to begin with and had been made more unstable by extensive mining. This was Canada's deadliest rockslide ever, killing 90, but fortunately it missed much of the town.
East EstoniaThe region lies at the heart of Estonia's century-old oil shale mining, which is commemorated by a number of local museums. Some of the highest hills in the otherwise flat region are man-made "ash mountains"—huge piles of oil shale industry waste—that have been forested and put to recreational use.
phone: +358 44 369 1309The calcite mine in Tytyri near Lohja is also open to visitors by guided tour (other languages than Finnish must be pre-booked). Minibuses take visitors 100 m underground where also a museum exhibiting the history of the mine is located.
phone: +33 2 51 00 48 48address: Faymoreau, Rue la Cour
phone: +49 6781 901918address: Idar-Oberstein, Tiefensteiner Str. 87
phone: +49 3731 394571address: Freiberg, Fuchsmühlenweg 9300-year old silver mine, used to demonstrate the history of mining during different eras. There are different tours, from 45 minutes to 5 hours, illustrating geology, history and technology of eight centuries. The entire town of Freiberg has a long and storied history of mining (though since the fall of the GDR no active mining anywhere in the vicinity) and is also home to the second oldest technical university in the world, mostly dedicated to geology, mining and related sciences
- The whole Ruhr area was associated with coal mining and heavy industry for over a century. While most pits and cokeries are closed by now, you can still see impressive remains like the UNESCO world heritage Zeche Zollverein in Essen, as well as creatively re-used former mining and industrial sites that were transformed into parks, exhibition halls event locations or an amphitheatre. See also Industrial Heritage Trail.
- Lüneburg owes much of its former wealth (still seen in old buildings) to its long history of salt mining; giving one of the resources needed for the Hanseatic cities to become major exporters of preserved fish.
NauruKnown as the "Topside" by the locals, the interior of the world's smallest republic is literally a dead wasteland left over from the decades-long extensive phosphate mining. Conveyor belts and other rusting mining equipment are dispersed throughout the rest of the South Pacific island.
White Cavesaddress: GudvangenAbandoned mines open to public during summer. The white stone is anorthosite and exists in greater quantity at Gudvangen than anywhere else.
address: KongsbergA train brings the visitors 2300 m in. More than 300 years of silver mining has left a web of some 1000 km of tunnels, and 300 shafts of which the deepest is 1000 m. The mines cover an area of 30 km². More than 1 million kilograms of pure silver were extracted.
Limestone mines at Eideaddress: Eide near MoldeAbandoned limestone/marble mines can be visited by groups. A wide hall with stage and seating. Access by boat across small pond. The temperature is a constant 6°C.
Cobalt color mines
phone: +92 544 231137address: KhewraThe discovery of the world's second largest salt mine dates back to the time of Alexander the Great's Indian Campaign of the 4th century BC, although the current tunnel was started in 1872 during the British rule of the subcontinent. The mine is a large tourist attraction, with several constructions made of colourfully illuminated salt bricks inside, and is the only source of the pinkish "Himalayan salt", which is almost fetishistically sought after by whole food enthusiasts.
phone: +48 12 278-73-02address: Daniłowicza 10, WieliczkaContinuously in production between the 13th century and 2007, which makes it one of the oldest enterprises in the world that until recently was still in operation, this mine is famous for its many statues and chapels carved out of rock salt by the miners.
phone: +27 53 839 4600address: S Circular Rd, KimberleyA former open-pit and underground diamond mine, operating from 1871-1914. The open pit, also known as the Big Hole, is notable for being the largest hole in the ground excavated without machinery. There's a museum on site as well.
address: northern Svealand, SwedenThis region north of Lake Mälaren is the historical heartland of Swedish mining, metallurgy and industry. It was once one of the most productive mining areas in Europe, but has now declined into a single mine. However, a lot of mining heritage remains open for visitors.
address: KirunaAlmost 3 hour guided tour to the iron mine takes you to the mininge company's (LKAB) visitor centre located at 540 metres underground. The history, as well as ongoing mining operations and Kiruna town moving due to the mine subsidence, effecting large parts of the city, is discussed. The tour can be booked in the information centre or online.
YtterbyA mine on Resarö, with one unusual distinction: nine chemical elements of the periodic table were discovered here, four of them named by the settlement: yttrium, ytterbium, terbium and erbium.
phone: +44 370 333-1181address: Lynford, Weeting, Thetford IP26 5DEPrehistoric flint mine, extensive neolithic flint extraction.
National Mining Museum for Englandphone: +44 1924 848806address: New Road, Wakefield (England) WF4 4RHFew of us nowadays will ever go underground in a working coal mine, so this museum (the former Caphouse Colliery) is an essential experience of this great but departed industry.
phone: +44 1326 573 173address: Trenear, Wendron, Helston, Cornwall TR13 0ESGuided tour through ancient tin mine workings, museum of mining equipment and craft workshops. Located within the Wendron Mining District of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape World Heritage Site.
- Castleton is home to the only Blue John mines in the world as well as four major caves/caverns which tourists can visit.
phone: +44 1766 830306address: A470, Blaenau Ffestiniog LL41 3NBAncient rock quarry, a museum and underground tour gives a view of the North Wales slate industry. Workshops, history exhibits.
Dolaucothi Gold Minesaddress: Pumsaint, Llanwrda, Carmarthenshire, SA19 8USA wooded hillside, leading to the entrance of gold mines that were in use from the Roman period, up until the early 20th century. Guided tours. Phone before arrival to confirm opening times.
phone: +44 29 2057-3650address: Blaenafon, Torfaen NP4 9XPA former colliery site with extensive surface buildings; a 90-min guided tour goes underground to what was a literal 'coalface' of an entire energy industry, Stout footwear recommended. 0300 111 2 333 (local-rate within UK)
phone: +44 1970 890-620address: Llywernog, Ponterwyd, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion SY23 3ABMining museum in restored Victorian-era silver mine buildings, 45-minute guided tours of the mine and trail. Café and souvenir shop; special events seasonally.
- The Industrialization of the United States was built on coal and steel. Most of what is now the "rust belt" was active in mining coal and the various ores needed to transform an agrarian backwater into the leading industrial power of the world. Some mines and related industries are on the American Industry Tour.
- Similarly, many of the ghost towns of the American West were boomtowns that sprung up around gold and silver strikes, only to dwindle away once the mines were worked out.
The gold is by no means gone from the rivers and creeks of this world. While people believe it is possible to make a living by gold panning, chances are that the gold you find (if any) while panning in any river is not enough to pay for a first world lifestyle. However, gold panning is still practised in low income countries as an additional or only source of income.
At some destinations, a private company will maintain an active claim on a river where there's a little gold left so that visitors may try their hand at gold panning.
address: Alaska, USAThis tiny village mined 55,000 ounces (1710 kg) of gold from 1959-1971; it is now an off-the-grid partial ghost town with three operating businesses, a small post office and an airstrip. There is a seasonal gravel road. The old Pedro Gold Dredge #4 is open for daily tours and a couple of vendors offer recreational gold panning.
If you are on a guided tour at a mining site, stay with the tour. Don't drift away or get diverted. If the tour is accredited and official, miners have specific guidelines of what not to do. Take careful note, and follow the rules.
Old, abandoned and unmaintained mine workings inherently pose more risk than those that are in active use. Exploring these as a lone traveller is advised against in very strong terms, consider joining an appropriate specialist group instead. The small number of enthusiast and research groups that exist have built up appropriate procedures expertise and trust with site owners over many years. Even when precautions are taken, those expeditions inherently pose some danger and thus people get stuck or injured in far reaches of underground structures, making it all the more imperative to have others know about your precise plans and whereabouts.
- Ghost towns#Gold rush towns and abandoned mining communities. Many ghost towns used to be mining communities; a few were abandoned due to environmental disaster or after losing a road or rail line; many more were deserted after too little ore remained to be profitable.
- Industrial tourism — many mining regions are also places to see former or modern day industrial plants processing the extracted resources.