The quintessence of Idrija, the town of Mercury and Alchemy
In 1550, a bucket maker working in a stream found by chance heavy liquid silver metal in his wooden cask and so the mining of Mercury started. Idrija soon became the second biggest mine of Mercury in the world (second only to Almaden in Spain). Quicksilver was used to produce an amalgam with gold in order to facilitate its extraction from the raw mineral ore and was therefore very precious. Its mysterious nature (the only liquid metal that evaporates when heated) has fascinated humankind from the dawn of time.
Significantly enough Idrija became a center of alchemical and metallurgical research, attracting personalities such as Philippus Theophrastus Bombastus Paracelsus, one of the most famous alchemist of all times.
The municipal museum in Idrija has received important awards (Best European museum of technic and industrial heritage in 1997) and displays an important mineral collection, machinery and pottery alembics used for melting of the cinnabar ore. Nevertheless, the cultural history of the alchemical proto-science is completely ignored
Excursus: maybe a residue of the past socialist regime which banished all spiritual subjects. For this reason be sure that you choose a prepared guide.
We can enter to the mining shafts of the “Antonijev rov”, or visit the huge wooden wheel (Kamšt), built in 1790 – a notable engineering undertaking – which was used to expel the water from the underground passages.
During an approximately 35 minute drive we can reach the 18th century fortress-like dam (Klavže) on the Idrica river from where the accumulated water was pushing the wooden trunks (needed in the mines) towards the town of Idrija.
Excursus: mercury was associated with the ancient god Hermes (Mercury) and his qualities: androgynous, ambivalent, volatile and instable. Because of it’s characteristics of cold and moist it was identified with the passive female principle, embodied by the water element and the Moon. The active (fire) counterpart of our liquid metal was sulfur. Mercury was equated with the spirit, the salt with the body and sulfur with the soul. Quicksilver (in other variants also lead) is the prime mater on which the alchemist has to work (mix it with sulfur) to achieve the final goal and produce the “spiritual gold” or the philosopher’s stone.
a half-day or full-day trip
- Gewerkenegg castle & Museum
- Visit the mining shafts “Antonijev rov”
- Wooden wheel from 1790 that was putting in motion the pump extracting the water from the mine
- 18th century dam on Idrica river
- The City Museum in Gewerkenegg castle above the town:
- The Kamšt wheel, 15 minutes of walk from the center:
- The engineering undertaking “Klavže”, stone dam from the 18th century with 18m thick walls on the Idrica river (35 minutes of drive from Idrija):
- The wild lake (Divje jezero): breathtaking emerald green lake with more than 100 m deep siphon, under a high rocky wall:
- The partisan military hospital »Franja« based in the canyon of a stream nearby Idrija (45 minutes of drive):