Situated in the northern fringe of Upper Silesia, the town has been one of the most important industrial centres in this part of Europe since the 16th century. It owes its establishment and fame to the silver, lead and zinc ore mining. The town name itself reveals its centuries-long relations with the mining industry, as in the Old Poland period “Gory” meant mines. Also the town’s crest with mining tools - hammer and pick - unequivocally defines the main occupation of the settlement residents. The first period of prosperity of Tarnowskie Góry was connected mainly with lead and silver production and lasted until the beginning of the 17th century. It is considered that the lead exported from Tarnowskie Góry indirectly influenced the development of international trade and general economic upturn in Continental Europe. Silver on the other hand went to China, which needed it to make coins.
The second mining era, which began in late 1700s, was connected with a large-scale ore mining in the state-owned Friedrich Mine. It was then that Tarnowskie Góry earned its permanent place in the history of the Industrial Revolution, due to very early use of the steam technology in underground drainage (from 1788 onward) and the volume of local zinc production, which in the 19th century covered almost a half of global zinc consumption. During a few centuries, within the present town borders about 20 thousand shafts, 150 km of galleries and a few dozens kilometres of drainage adits were bored. On 9 July 2017 all this underground complex, including drainage system and water supply infrastructure, and numerous cultural landscapes were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Archaeological research proves that mining activity was carried out within the present town borders of Tarnowskie Góry as early as around the 3rd-4th century CE, and the first historical document referring to metal extraction in the area was the papal bull issued by Pope Innocent II in 1136, which mentioned silver diggers from the vicinity of Bytom. Tarnowskie Góry as a town did not exist at the time. We may find references to one of the town’s future districts in the papal bull issued by Pope Innocent III in 1201, where the name of the Repty village appeared for the first time. In 1247 Duke Vladislaus of Opole granted the village a mining charter “Free Lead”, which entitled it to extract lead ore in the area.
According to a legend, at the end of the 15th century a local peasant named Rybka, the resident of the Tarnowice village, found a valuable ore lump. In consequence, local mineral resources started to attract numerous diggers. Soon a mining settlement was established and along with it - “gory”, which in Old Polish means mines or mine shafts. This is where the name of the town Tarnowskie Góry comes from.
According to the law, decisions on extraction of natural resources were up to local rulers. Thanks to legal acts they issued, their investment projects and bringing experienced miners here, the mining settlement, existing from 1510s onward, developed very fast and gained characteristics of a town. It is assumed that the town establishment took place in 1526, when Duke of Opole Jan II the Good of the Piast dynasty and George Hohenzollern-Ansbach granted these lands a mining freedom charter, which encouraged free miners to settle in the town that was just coming into being and to work in the mining industry.
In 1528 these rulers issued a labour code, very unique at the time, called “Ordunek Gorny”, which regulated mine activities and the level of wages. In the mid-16th century Tarnowskie Góry became one of the biggest centres of lead and silver mining in this part of Europe. It is considered that the lead exported from Tarnowskie Góry indirectly influenced the development of international trade and general economic upturn in Continental Europe. Silver on the other hand went to China, which needed it to make coins.
The mining industry prospered until the end of the 16th century. Hard times came in the 17th century, when mining went deeper underground. Work pace was limited by too much water in workings, with ineffective drainage methods applied. Additionally, the mining crisis was deepened by the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), which did not skip the free miners’ town. The turmoil of war led to the collapse of the industry and impoverishment of town residents.
Another, long-lasting crisis affected the mining industry in Tarnowskie Góry in the first half of the 18th century. Fires, epidemics and natural disasters wreaked havoc. But despite these adversities, miners did not lose hope for success. The area where new ore deposits were searched was extended, which resulted in discovering silver and lead deposits in Bobrowniki (today Bobrowniki Śląskie, a district in Tarnowskie Góry). At the end of 1740s, however, there were no more funds for mining investments. Merchants and wealthy residents decided that due to lower metal consumption at the time and the lack of expensive drainage, local mining was not worth investing.
As a result of Silesian Wars, Tarnowskie Góry fell within the borders of the Kingdom of Prussia, which began to industrialise these lands gradually.
In 1766 in Berlin the Mining and Metallurgy Department was established, run by Baron Friedrich Anton von Heynitz, the founder of the Freiberg Mining Academy, the first one in the World.
He supervised mining industry development through the State Mining Authority located in Złoty Stok, and then, from 1779 onward, in Wrocław. In this year King Frederick II appointed Heynitz’s nephew, Friedrich Wilhelm Reden, as the head of the institution.
In the early 1780s, Reden was confronted with a difficult task of ore mining reactivation in the Tarnowskie Góry region. He managed to convince the king that the state should assume responsibility for the rebuilt of the industry. Research allowed to decide that drilling works would begin in the area of Bobrowniki, where mining activities had already been carried out earlier. Shaft boring started in October 1783. 72 miners (42 Germans and 30 Poles) were hired to the task.
After many months of intense efforts, on 16 July 1784, lead and silver ore deposits were found in the Rudolfina mine shaft. In 1784 the new state-owned silver and lead mine was named Friedrich.
Costs of putting the plant into operation were very high. As for miners, the greatest nuisance was water which flooded mine galleries. In order to get rid of it, an old and well-tried technique was applied, namely giant horse-powered dewaterers were installed.
For these to operate efficiently, the mine had to maintain as many as 120 horses, which costed 14 thousand thalers a year. At the time it was quite a significant amount of money and mine draining with the use of this equipment proved expensive and ineffective. To remedy this unfavourable situation, in 1785 Reden ordered construction of the drainage adit “God Help”. Back then it was considered the best, most effective and cheapest way to drain a mine. The construction, which engaged 62 miners, proved a complex and costly undertaking, which at first did not meet up to expectations.
This is why Count Reden decided to break with the traditional mine draining technology. His intention was to install in Tarnowskie Góry the most innovative device at the time, namely a steam engine to drive dewatering pumps. In 1786 a delegation representing the Prussian mining authorities, led by Count Reden, went to England. Its tasks included getting to know types of steam engines operating there, choosing a proper device meant for the Friedrich Mine and obtaining a consent of English authorities to the acquisition of such a steam engine. All formalities related to English authorities’ consent to the acquisition of a steam engine were dealt with by Baron Karl von Stein.
With the adequate consent obtained, Penydarran Ironworks in South Wales was commissioned to manufacture the 32-inches Newcomen engine.
The first steam engine in Upper Silesia was put into operation on 19 January 1788. The engine costed 15 thousand thalers, which was then more that the total annual wage of all mine workers. Still, its maintenance expenses (3.7 thalers per year) were three times smaller than amounts spent so far for horse-powered dewaterers.
Thanks to the steam engine the mine was drained underground, which allowed to proceed with exploitation of rich deposits, until now inaccessible, and in addition enormous drainage systems were built, based on the Friedrich Deep Adit (from 1834 onward) and the God Help Adit (its construction ended in 1806). In the years 1790-1808, 7 more steam engines were installed in the Friedrich Mine. For some of them elements were made at ironworks “Ozimek” and “Gliwice”, by a renowned designer Holtzhausen. And so the manufacture of steam engine elements gave rise to the history of the Upper Silesian machine industry.
In the years 1790-1884, the miners of the Friedrich Mine bored as many as 346 shafts. In 1798, to meet the mine’s needs, the miners started to bore the Angel shaft, which since 1976 has served tourists to go down in an elevator to the underground Historic Silver Mine. The other two shafts along the touring route are “Viper” (1811) and “God Bless” (1815). Location of each shaft was determined by surveyors. The task required an excellent knowledge of terrain. From 1815 onward the mine employed specialists (surveyors, geologists and miners) who graduated from a local school of mines. The school, founded in 1803 as the sixth school of the kind in Europe, educated staff for the whole Upper Silesia.
In response to the mine’s needs, lead silver and zinc ore processing plants started to be established. Among them we can mention the modern silver and lead smelter Friedrich and an ore treatment plant - the Friedrich Mine’s Central Washer.
In close connection with mining in Tarnowskie Góry, a pioneering solution was applied, unique in the world, where a steam engine served to supply residents with post-mining water for drinking purposes.
The Industrial Age and the fast development of Upper Silesia resulted in more and more workers coming here. From the mid-19th century onward water demand was constantly growing. In 1884 a water supply system, based on the underground complex of Tarnowskie Góry, was put into use in Upper Silesia - the Adolph Shaft Waterworks (the Staszic Water Plant). The Waterworks served the whole Upper Silesian conurbation, the pipelines supplying with water such towns as Bytom, Ruda Śląska, Królewska Huta (today Chorzów), all the way to Katowice.
Due to the exhaustion of resources, the Friedrich King’s Ore Mine started to run down its operation in early 1900s, to finally cease the activity in the town area in 1913. During four centuries miners bored here over 20 thousand shafts and winzes and over 150 km of galleries. In order to preserve the legacy of free miners from Tarnowskie Góry for posterity, many ideas appeared related not only to its protection, but also utilization for tourism and recreation purposes.
As soon as in 1920s, the underground complex in Tarnowskie Góry became a subject of research, carried out by Prof. Józef Piernikarczyk, Józef Machwitz, Feliks Piestrak, Alfons Kopia and others. Their guides to the already dormant Friedrich Mine were: Jan Kompała and a foreman Karol Dewor.
This fascination for the Tarnowskie Góry Land resulted in a number of publications. In the next decade the municipal office in Tarnowskie Góry appointed a group of specialists to study former mine workings and shafts and develop an exhibition mine construction programme. This group included: Józef Piernikarczyk - an educator, author of a few works, among them the two-volume “History of Mining and Metallurgy in Silesia”, finder of the labour code “Ordunek Gorny” of 1528, Eng. Feliks Piestrak – head of the School of Mines in Tarnowskie Góry, Theodor Mosch, Jan Nowak – chronicler of the Tarnowskie Góry Land, author of the poem “Pieśń nad Odrą” (“Song by the Odra River”), and Fryderyk Antes, then the town mayor. In mid 1930s the group made its first attempts to make part of the underground complex available for tourists, developing a concept of a route between the shafts Peace and Spess. Soon minor tourist traffic was introduced in the area of the Staszic Water Supply Station.
In 1937 Tarnowskie Góry joined the Tourism Propaganda in the Silesian Region Association and set up its branch in the town. The free miners’ town attracted more and more tourists. It was not without reason that the Polish travel agency ORBIS opened its office here in May 1938. In the same year, on leasehold, the town received a mining land-grant from the State Treasury, to build an exhibition mine “Bolesław the Bold”. The area of 208 ha was marked out near the former Angel mine shaft . The agreement was supposed to be in force for 25 years. Unfortunately, the outbreak of the World War II stopped the implementation of this project.
After the war, a mine foreman Alfons Kopia (1902-1962), who had cooperated with the team of researchers before the war’s outbreak, undertook to continue the works. In 1950s, together with a group of Tarnowskie Góry history enthusiasts, he founded the Tarnowskie Góry Land Lovers Association, aimed to make the underground mine accessible to tourists.
The Association gathered many partisans. Intense research on the free miners’ underworld began. Soon the Black Trout Adit was put into use - the longest underground tourist route along which tourists travel by boat. Later on, the Historic Mine Reconstruction Committee was established, consisting of scientists, museum experts and historians. The future route was marked up between the shafts Angel, Viper and God Bless. At the same time above, on the ground, a modern back then tourist base was raised, taking the form of a pithead building with a hoisting tower. After years of intense work, with a huge civic involvement, on 5 September 1976 - on the 450th anniversary of Tarnowskie Góry being granted a mining freedom charter - the Historic Silver Mine was opened.