Dressed in white coats with flashlight-crowned hard hats, we enter the dank darkness. The chiseled mountain passages are wet to the touch, and we can’t help, but touch them. At times the ceiling is so low that we must crouch as we walk. At others, it’s so narrow that we must curve our posture in order to maneuver through. And sometimes, we have to do both, making it a simple task only for a contortionist. Or maybe a yoga guru. We’re neither, so we end up on our hands and knees, then on our bellies, for this tour of Kutna Hora’s ancient silver mines.
With strangers, it might be too close for comfort, but I’m here with my wife, Nataliya, and our friend, Brian. The white coats are not just to make us easy for the guide to keep track of us. They also protect our clothing as we scrape against the mucky walls. Not for the claustrophobic.
In some areas, we can barely squeeze through the narrow passages. In others, we have to slide or climb. I feel like Indiana Jones exploring these dark caves, damp and cold despite the warmth of the summer air outside. But there is no treasure for Indy or for us in these mines today, save the treasured experience of this fun adventure.
Travel in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic
Now part of the Czech Republic, Kutna Hora was once the second most important town in Bohemia, due mostly to of the enormous amount of silver mined here. In the second half of the 13th century, rich deposits of silver were discovered, making the king the richest ruler in Central Europe. The silver mined from Kutna Hora and minted into coins (the Prague Groschen) circulated across Europe. This, the largest silver mine in Europe, made Bohemia the richest area of the world in that time. One man could, with hammer and fire, pound out as many as two thousand coins a day.
The mines were stripped by the 1700s, and the town became a little village once again. They may not be producing silver any more, but they make a mint due to people like ourselves, who pay to explore the silver mines that many workers would have wanted to escape centuries ago.
Conditions are far greater now than they were back when these mines were in use. Many people died down here. They’d been buried beneath the ground most of their working lives; now they’re bones are buried in the ground nearby.
Bones. That’s the other thing Kutna Hora is known for. But first, a walk through town to St. Barbara’s Church.
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