City of coal

Pernik's mining museum is one of a kind on the Balkans

Photo: Adelina Lozanova The coal mine in the centre of Pernik has been functioning for 75 years - from the end of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century - and was converted into a museum only recently.

The city of Pernik, situated in western Bulgaria, is known as “the city of black gold” because the local people, their livelihood, and the very development of this industrial centre, have been closely connected with coal mining ever since 1891 when the Mines and Quarries Act was adopted. It was then that the first colliery called Old Mines started working at the Kulata site. The first mining buildings were constructed around it.

Gradually, the town's centre moved from the Varosha district to around the new mining settlement. Brown coal was extracted from this mine till 1966 when its deposits were exhausted and it was closed. Twenty years later it was converted into a museum. The idea to create it emerged after local miners visited the Salt Mine Museum in the Polish town of Wieliczka and the Mining Museum in St. Petersburg. One can see similar expositions only in four places in Europe - in Belgium, Germany, Poland and Russia. The museum in Pernik is one of a kind on the Balkans.

The fact that it is not housed in some traditional building with dull showcases, but in an authentic coal mine, makes its exposition a real interactive attraction. The visitors are in for a surprise - they have to get kitted out with hard hats before descending to the underground part of the museum, although there is nothing dangerous for them in the tunnel.

The galleries of the old mine are 630m-long and house about 30 expositions. They all trace in chronological order the development of coal mining throughout Bulgaria, from the reconstruction of the oldest mining technologies, to modern machines for the reinforcement of mine galleries.

Originally coal was extracted only by hand, miners used hand-barrows and other manually-operated machines. There is also an exposition featuring transport vehicles used after 1896 - various kinds of locomotives and passenger trolleys, including a Siemens locomotive manufactured in 1925 - the first one in operation in Pernik's mines. They all illustrate the evolution of the mining industry. When horses were used for the transportation of extracted coal, there were even stables in the mines. Along the entire length of the galleries one can see all kinds of manual appliances for reinforcement and lighting. The visitors can touch authentic miners' tools, accessories and gear, mine telephones and other means of communication, as well as safety equipment.

Since 2012, an icon of St. John of Rila, the patron saint of miners, has been placed in one of the niches in the museum. Legend runs that the saint appeared in a man's sleep and showed him the place of the mine, saying, “Start digging here and you will find black gold.” Years later, a group of miners got buried under collapsed layers of earth. At that moment they saw a man clad in white robe holding a lantern in his hand. He guided them out of the trap and thanks to him they managed to find a passage to go up and out. The man who had the dream about the black gold said, “I knew him. This is St. John of Rila who came to rescue us.”

By the museum's entrance there is a petrified tree more than 50 million years old. It is called “tree of happiness”. Before descending into the mine, the miners used to touch it for luck. Now, the visitors of the museum can do the same.

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