Spania Dolina lies in the southern part of Low Tatra Mountains close to the town of Banska Bystrica in Central Slovakia , 782 m above the sea level. The exact date for the birth of the village is not known but copper ore was mined here long before Christ. Such was the wealth and quality of its natural resources that in the medieval times, the place became known as the ” copper metropolis of Europe“.
Spania Dolina, together with mining villages Staré Hory, Richtárová, Piesky, Moštenica and Tajov gave the name to the nearby town Banska Bystrica (Banska means Mining in Slovak). To attract German settlers to develop the mining of precious metals in the area, mainly copper, Hungarian King Belo IV granted the settlement town privileges in 1242. “Waldbürgers” – as the families were called – who built their houses around the town square, owned the mines. The house of Karoli, Jung, Ernst, Königsberger, Mühlstein, Kolmann, Lang were well known in those times. The mining prospered but required more and more investment. In the 80s of the 15 th century the proprietors were able to run the mines only on the loans from Jan Thutzo, a nobleman and businessman from the Spiš region. Later Jan Thurzo (1437-1508), bought up almost all the mines in the region from their desperate owners and brought in a foreign investor (Jakub Fugger). Together in 1495 they formed a powerful copper company called, the Ungarischer Handel or Neusohler Kupferhandlung.
Thurzo – Fugger joint venture (1493 – 1546). In 1494 Jan Thurzo stated to excavate a new type of a shaft, which was called the main, later Ferdinand shaft. It reached the depth of 250 m. and was used for mining as well as draining the whole ore field until the last quarter of the 16 th century. The Thurzo-Fugger ‘s company with its huge complex of copper smelter s, warehouses, skilful organisation of transport, and advanced accounting system, became one of the largest and most modern early-capitalist firms . They also realised that it was important to care about workers, thus established Brother’s Treasury that gave workers sickness and old-age insurance, and paid pensions to their widows and orphans. Thurzo also bought two houses in Banska Bystrica Main Square , built the new Renaissance house and rented the Chamber house. That entitled the Thurzo-Fugger company to enter the local market with cheaper products . The competition resulted in conflicts with the town’s officials. The company then increased its profits by capping workers’ wages that culminated in a miners’ riot in 1525. The furious aristocracy forced the company to withdraw from the local markets, but the Hungarian King rented the mines back to the Fuggers, who administered them until 1546. After that, the monarchy took over, and established the new Mining Chamber to run the mines.
After the first difficulties new shafts Maximilian, Maria and the deepest one Ludovika, reaching the depth 440 m, were excavated. Wheels powered by water from the unique mining watercourse replaced the old horse driven ones. Approximately 36 km long system of wooden troughs, leats, and ditches directed water from the Prasiva Mountain in the Low Tatras to the four shafts in Spania Dolina. The watercourse was in operation until the beginning of the 20th century.
Many historical events and riots affected the mines operation. There were times when the mining stopped altogether, but always arose back to its feet and started again, even though in more difficult circumstances. But all was done during the 16 – 19th centuries was a fragment comparing it to the era before the 16 th century. In times of Fuggers only rich ore had been mined and the poorer vines were left aside. Those poor vines nourish the mining industry for the next three centuries.
The curiosity in metal manufacturing was a process when “water delivered cooper”. High in copper sulphate, the rainwater collected in wooden casks and after 2 – 3 weeks deposited copper on to iron scraps. Skilled goldsmiths from Banska Bystrica brought metal plates to miners so “to change them into a cooper plates”. Back in Banska Bystrica they turned them into the famous Spania Dolina’s goblets.
Each goblet carried a little poem such as: “Iron I was, Cooper I am, Gold covers me.”
The face of the village was gradually changing. Small, scattered miners’ houses on the steep hillsides were replenished by new technical buildings (workshops, dressing floors, storage houses, ore crushers, sample rooms, administration and maps houses) as well as private houses and workshops (blacksmith’s, carpenter’s, tallow house, doctor etc.)
In the end of 17 th century Spania Dolina mines were able to employ only 800 workers. Women and children worked at the dressing floors separating the waste rock. They supplemented the families’ income by making bobbin laces. Thus a tradition of Spania Dolina’s bobbin laces started and in 1883 a bobbin laces craft school was established. The threads for the laces were manufactured in a small local factory.
In the 18 th century the cooper ore deposits were almost exhausted. In the 19 th century the production went to decline. The changes within the monarchy and the turbulent 40s brought the cooper ore mining to its end. The mines closed down in 1888.