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Bleiberg's mining culture

„Glück auf!“ is the greeting of miners to wish each other a productive day and a safe journey back to daylight. Despite closure of the mine in 1993, this traditional miners’ greeting is still on everyone’s lips in Bad Bleiberg near Villach in Carinthia.

The mines in Bleiberger Tal were closed in 1993 after 800 years of impressive economic success when the price of zinc and lead fell too low on the world market. The only solution for local workers was to go back into the mine. And so Bad Bleiberg is today perhaps the only community where miners privately own a share of a mine. With 800 man-sized, hand-chiselled tunnels the system is 1,300 kilometres long and 850 metres deep. Of its 16 original levels, five can still be visited, and there is a show mine.

Visitors to the mine today can get a fascinating insight into the working practices and living conditions of miners. You can visit the community's Perscha-Zeche Festival Hall, where the miners' brass band and choir perform in their black jackets and helmets. Terra Mystica, a guided underground tour and exciting multi-media show, brings to life the origins of the earth, the significance of ore and the transition from ancient alchemy to modern metallurgy. Terra Montana, a further tour, takes you deeper into the mysterious mining tunnels and describes the development of mining from hammer and pick to mechanisation.

You can shoot down the 69 metre mining slide, the longest in Europe, or descend more slowly by steps or lift. You come back to the surface either in an access shaft lift, the only of its kind in Austria, or by mining railway wagon. One thing is certain, the mine's extraordinary atmosphere will leave a lasting impression.

The Mining Museum houses the oldest mining banner in the world, a gift from Prince Eugen of Savoy to the miners for their courage during the siege of Belgrade in 1717. The community's miners re-enact these events on special occasions in a Bleiberger Knappenspiel. During the Bergmandl Festival there are competitions in mining disciplines such as rock drilling and pulling a shaft bucket. For an extra special experience stay at Gasthaus Wirnsperger, where you can literally look down on Bleiberg's mining history into an illuminated mine tunnel through a glass plate in the floor.

Prayers are held for St. Barbara in a moving ceremony on her feast day on 4th December in both private mines and mines open to the public. St. Barbara is the patron saint of miners and is called upon in times of danger and sudden death. This is followed by the Ledersprung Ceremony, a jump over the leather apron which miners wear on the mine slide. This was originally an initiation ceremony and is now a tribute for friends and supporters of the mining industry.

Air in mining tunnels is free of all pollutants, and a prolonged stay strengthens the immune system. There are two therapeutic tunnels with their own microclimate in Bad Bleiberg, where people with diseases of the airways can recuperate, wrapped in blankets in a tunnel at a constant 8°C and with 99% humidity. This pure moist air also gives proven relief from allergies and asthma. Another local wellness facility: Bad Bleiberg has the highest thermal spring baths in Austria. An underground lake was discovered in 1951, which today fills the spa's swimming pool with thermal spring water.

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