Reshaping the former mining capital of Europe
by - Pavel Sinka
“This is not the place and will not work” - one of the specialists asked to help founding the mining school in Banská Štiavnica said, according to the legend, back in the 1730’s.
He had a point, because in the town from central Slovakia you are always going up or down the hill as it is situated in a caldera, a large cauldron-like hollow formed following a volcanic eruption, but the plan did work out.
The first mining school from Hungary became in 1762 the world’s first mining university at the orders of Empress Maria Theresa of the Habsburg monarchy.
The town had known a period of great economic development thanks to the innovative techniques introduced here in the precious metal mining.
After the decline of the activity, the then third largest city of the Kingdom of Hungary (after Bratislava and Debrecen) became the capital city of the European mining education.
Some of the biggest names of the science and technology of the time were invited to teach in Banská Štiavnica at the school which later merged with another local institute and became the Mining and Forestry Academy.
At first, the school used the existent buildings of original townsmen, adjusted to its needs, but the development became a necessity. The most obvious solution was the botanical garden of the forestry school, planted gradually between 1838 and 1861.
The large green space from the hillside made room for a complex of 11 imposing buildings watching over the town.
In order to arrive to the city center of the Banská Štiavnica you have to go around on the hills surrounding the town and on the way you get a nice view of some of the iconic buildings forming a World Heritage Site.
The group of Neo-Renaissance style constructions of the former academy stand out from far away and the old wrought iron gates gives them an aristocratic atmosphere.
As you enter, you find yourself in front of a high stairway. Behind two giant sequoia trees stands the grandiose, two story edifice with the word “ŠKOLA” written with big letters of its facade.
The green-yellow colored building with big brown windows looks like new despite its age thanks to an ample modernization process started in March 2010.
Today the home of the Secondary Vocational School of Forestry was in poor technical condition when they won non-refundable support from the European Regional Development Fund.
The successor of the famous academy received EUR 308,850.38 through the “Improving the conditions for the implementation of the educational process at SOŠL v B. Štiavnica through the renovation of the school” project to restore the cultural monument building.
“The appearance and condition of the historic facade was in a very poor technical condition” – Janetta Hudec external project manager wrote in the local newspaper in May 2011, adding that the local financial contribution was under 5%.
The construction built in 1890 had several missing architectural pieces, while others, such as stucco elements, were damaged. The old windows and doors also had to be replaced, increasing in the same time the building’s energy efficiency, according to the project.
Thanks to the EU founded project the imposing building of the complex where thousands of specialists were trained in the field of mining, smelting and forestry regained its original glory.
At the end of our visit, next to the old wrought iron gates we met a group of students in grey military-like uniforms.
They came from the Institute of Mining and Geotechnical Engineering of Miskolc, Hungary, one of the dozen universities and high schools from Slovakia, Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic which consider themselves successors of the academy’s tradition, to visit their original alma mater.
The former Mining and Forestry Academy today is one of the most important spots visited by the growing number of tourists who arrive to Banská Štiavnica.
The city with a population around 10 000 is reinventing itself offering tours in the former mines and restoring the architectural heritage. The main street is full of shops, restaurants, cozy coffee shops and nice terraces.
After hours spent admiring the charming old town visitors can choose, besides classic souvenirs, from a variety of “mine flowers” coming from the rich deposit of minerals hidden under the hills of Banská Štiavnica, to take home a piece of history.