There is evidence that lead (with some zinc) was mined at Bleiberg [‘Blei’ is the German word for lead] 10 km west of Villach, from the early 14th century. From the late 15th century the mines were worked by the Fugger family, the well-known bankers of Augsburg, they were mentioned by Georgius Agricola in De re metallica in 1556, and in 1717 a banner, thought to be the oldest of its kind in Europe, was presented to the town’s miners by Prince Eugene of Savoy in recognition of their role in the siege of Belgrade. The mines were closed in 1993 by which time galleries extended 1,300 km through the workings, and went to a maximum depth of 850 m.
Two show mines were established after the mines closed. The Terra Mystica provides a guided tour which displays fantasies about the underground world, using a variety of media. The Terra Montana demonstrates how mines have been worked over the centuries, with tools ranging from primitive hammers to the latest mechanised equipment for extracting ores. One way into the mine which the more intrepid visitors can still experience was a 69 m Bergmannsrutsche (miners’ slide) on which miners traditionally rode on leather aprons. A further display at the museum is the Terra Humoristika, a collection of humorous porcelain figures relating to mining.
The traditions of the local mining community are maintained by the Bergmännischer Kulturverein (Miners’ cultural association). They include performances by a choir and a brass band, celebrations on 4 December each year of the feast of St Barbara, patron saint of miners, and the Bermandl Festival, in which there are competitions in mining disciplines such as rock drilling and pulling baskets up shafts.
A saline spring was discovered in 1951 when water flooded an adit. A spa was subsequently established, and since 1978 the town has been known officially as Bad Bleiberg. A network of paths across the mountains provides superb views of mining landscapes. Bleiberg attracts many collectors of minerals, particularly those interested in wulfenites.