When last we met, I was in Banska Stiavnica. We stayed the night there in a nice little place that was done up in traditional Slovak style. The food (which I sadly can’t let you taste) was incredible. They had this poppy seed dessert which was fantastic. Slovaks do a lot more with poppy seeds than we do here. They buy them in huge quantities and then grind them up to make fillings for pastries and strudels and stuff like that. It’s got an interesting taste that I haven’t had anywhere else. Tasty tasty. Here’s a couple of pics:
Anyway, we headed off to a mine that dates back some 700 or 800 years. Finding it wasn’t the easiest thing we’ve done. There are some mines that run under Stiavnica, but they’re fairly touristy and newish (done in the past few hundred years, that is). I wanted something more . . . authentic. a place where you could actually imagine creepy crawly beasts from folklore lurking around the corners. In one of the guide books in Slovak, we found it.
It’s a mine that’s slowly being converted into a museum, but they’re still working toward that goal. In the meantime, they have it open for private, small groups. Appointment only. There’s no sign to say what it is. From the outside, it looks like two normal houses in a village close to Banska Stiavnica. There’s a small entrance to the mine in the yard of one of the houses:
I can’t imagine a more authentic mine from the middle ages. They gave us hard hats and some portable lights, and there were maybe 7 lights total in the mine, but other than that, the place hadn’t been changed at all. No railings. No warning signs. Slick floors. Rocks falling on people’s heads. It felt like the mine in Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, except real. The tour was all in Slovak. Thankfully, I married a translator. It was really one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen–and I’ve got some claustrophobia in me. Toward the end of that tour (two hours down below, in corridors two feet wide in places and maybe three or four feet tall), I was very ready to be done with authenticity. Great experience for a future book . . .
I’m 6’2″. This is how tall the passages were in some stretches. Those beams are authentically o-l-d.
Medieval miners would use the rubble from their excavations to support the mine as they went, building these elaborate arched passage ways. Pretty cool. And no mortar in them at all. It was all done with weight.
We went and did some gold panning afterward. We didn’t get anything.
After the mine, we headed to the old castle. It dates back to the 1200s, when it was converted from a cathedral to a castle. The tour guide there was quite possibly the most boring woman on the face of this planet. At least the runner up. But it was full of original details, including a dungeon that still had the original manacles: (I’m not sure how old the rack is. Very, at least.)
Overall, the trip to Banska Stiavnica was a resounding success. Just what I’d been looking for on the trip. If you ever get a chance, you should totally visit.