While we’ve been ‘doing’ the ‘thing’ of industrial tourism for at least as long as we’ve been fascinated by the way things are done, it is only in the last 3 or 4 decades that it has become. is really developed into an important tourism sector in its own right. In 2019, Europe Incoming put together a list of what they considered to be some of the main industrial tourist destinations in Europe.
Old mines are another area recognized as having enormous potential for industrial tourism, so much so that it has earned its own name! “Mining tourism” is a growing, albeit specialized, sector of the tourism industry, but it is also often overlooked by the same industry.
“Mining tourism offers visitors the chance to see and learn about the following: mining tools, devices and technologies, minerals, ores and rocks accessible in the region, technologies applied to mineral extraction, as well as technologies used to enrich the ores produced; historical figures who secured and supported the mining process, as well as the conditions in the region after the cessation of operations“(Rybár and Hvizdák, 2010).
Indeed, it is undeniable that mines have played a central role in human economies and societies for thousands of years.
Modern research indicates that the oldest known mine dates back approximately 41,000 – 43,000 years. Our first experiences of growing plants on the other hand, it was only 23,000 years ago, but we didn’t really trade our hunter / gatherer lifestyle for a more sedentary lifestyle until 12,000 years ago. In other words, we have been miners for much longer than we have been farmers! In addition, mining was so central to our development that several significant periods in history are aptly named for the metals that underpinned human activities at that time. It is therefore logical to believe that ancient mines, as well as the infrastructure and customs that accompany them, deserve to be honored by posterity as part of the cultural heritage of a region.
A little-known part of our cultural heritage
Historically, most mines have simply been abandoned at the end of their useful life. The planet is littered with thousands of gaping holes in the ground, abandoned buildings and old rusty machinery. Too often, it’s all that remains of once vibrant mining operations that have brought with them people, money, business and development. However, their economic and social contribution to surrounding communities has slowly faded from living memory.
These “holes” have, however, made important contributions to the heritage of these areas and are in part responsible for helping to shape the identities of the modern communities that have developed there. Recognizing this heritage is important for these communities, both in terms of cultural contribution and for the lessons (good and bad) that could be learned from the experience.
Mining heritage tourism – revisiting the past to save the future
Cities and communities that have developed around mining operations are particularly vulnerable across a range of measures when these operations close or are downsized – economically, socially and in terms of identity. Thus, finding economic alternatives to support communities across these parameters becomes imperative if they are to survive, unless there has already been proactive development to this end in anticipation of the mine closure.
Turning local heritage, community identity, and the mining-related industries and structures that developed them into tourist attractions is one way to do this.
So today, enterprising mindsets are turning some of those old and less ancient mining relics into tourist calling cards that once again bring people and their money to the city. Certainly these days it is not miners looking for work in the mines but rather visitors interested in the old mines or in the activities that are now going on there.
Building on the cultural cosmos of mining
Mining has unique characteristics that generally lead to the development of a distinctive “cultural cosmos”. However, the characteristics that typically underlie these “universes” are relatively common in many mining regions around the world. They understand:
- Social, economic and geographic isolation and remoteness
- Significant environmental changes
- Significantly altered landscapes dominated by large buildings, equipment and infrastructure
- The attribution of emotional values to “their” mining landscape
- An atmosphere of warmth and friendliness perceptible within the cities themselves
- Specific working methodologies
- Significant organizational development, i.e. trade unions and others
- Certain types of rituals and ceremonies, i.e. festivals in honor of Saint Barbara, the patron saint of minors
- Mining monuments, i.e. the statue of Paddy Hannan in Kalgoorlie, one of Australia’s famous mining towns
- The development of communities united by the harshness of a mining lifestyle and by the uncertainties linked to the transitory nature of mining activities.
This latter point often leads to the development of community groups determined to “do the right thing” to save their city when mining companies move, taking with them jobs, services and infrastructure. These groups are linked and fueled by the uncertainty and community sense of crisis and abandonment that comes with knowing that a mine’s life is invariably limited and that once economic reserves are exhausted, it will close. .
Tourism is a potential avenue that can reverse the fortunes of a declining mining town. However, whether or not a viable mining tourism industry can emerge from mining activities really depends on the extent to which a community identifies and “recognizes itself” in those activities. Has it succeeded in integrating the cultural heritage and historical remains of local mining activities into its own heritage? If so, what value does he place on this heritage?
It may be that despite respecting all or most of the above points, the community does not really think their mining activities are culturally important, i.e. they do not identify with themselves. particularly to these activities as a society. This is more likely to be the case if there are other industries in the area that are considered more notable and culturally ‘identifiable’. Ironically, these other tourism activities can provide a platform from which to launch mining tourism. However, if the community itself is not interested in its own mining heritage, any mining tourism venture is unlikely to be successful in the long term.
Conversely, and this is often the case, even if a community identifies strongly with its mining heritage, there may be nothing else that is sufficiently interesting to attract tourists to the area. region. In these cases, the development of a successful mining tourism industry requires careful advance planning. Are there any historic localities or traditional activities associated with the area or its mines, past or present, that could be revived or included in a “tourist package”? Are there any remarkable features in the surrounding landscape that could be used to attract visitors?
Global mining tourism destinations
Despite the challenges inherent in developing a successful mining tourism industry in former mining towns, there are many examples of such successes around the world. In South Wales, a number of old coal mines have been turned into successful tourism businesses. Old mines are scattered across the UK, including the slate caves of Llechwed and the Poldark mine. The UK also has the Big Pit National Coal Museum in Blaenafon and the National Mining Museum for England in Wakefield. Across the Channel in France, there is the Faymoreau Mining Center while Germany has fabulous mining tourism sites like the 300 year old Himmelfahrt silver “show” mine and heritage sites. of UNESCO in the Ruhr area. However, we’ll take a closer look at some of the more popular mining tourist spots in another article.
(This article first appeared in Mining International Ltd.)