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Water that keeps the mining above water

Tajchs. Today, picturesque lakes for swimming and ice-skating; in the past, essential parts of a mining water-management system perfect for draining flooded mines. In the 18th c., the system collected more water than any similar one in the world. How was it possible? There are only a few springs and small creeks around Banská Štiavnica. It was mainly the Hell family and Samuel Mikovíny who, nevertheless, saw the potential for and designed this ingenious system of water reservoirs and channels.

Topographic map of mining fields and works – Holy Trinity Mine, Bieber and František hereditary adits, by Fr. Jos. Schultz, 1779. Resource: Central State Mining Archive, Registry No.: 560/3

Easy as Hell

When Matej Kornel Hell came to Banská Štiavnica in 1693, few would have guessed that he would be a blessing for mining. Hell engaged in rescuing mines from underground waters, the commanders of Rákoczi’s rebels, and even from the Chamber Court. Matej Kornel even managed to ensure that the Emperor Charles VI stands out in history as a highly competent, beneficent monarch.

Before the arrival of M. K. Hell, horse whims, which operated crankshafts, were used in the mines. The crankshafts were extremely inefficient, so Hell figured out how to build a whim without a crankshaft. Experts tested the device for 9 long weeks, and admitted it was without fault. Another of Hell’s inventions rescued the Upper Bieber Mine from being attacked by Rákoczi’s followers, who had been marauding Štiavnica since 1703. When the mines were flooded, the rebels wanted to destroy them for good. But Hell convinced the rebels that the water would disappear, thanks to his pumping machine. When the money assigned to the revitalisation of the Upper Bieber Mine had all been spent, the Chamber Court decided to close the mines. But, before the order became valid, Hell managed to design a way to drain the mines using water from the reservoirs to drive the pumping machines. That impressed even the Emperor Charles VI himself. Not only did he not close the mines, he even provided funding to build Veľká (Great) Vindšachta lake, and rebuild Malá (Little) Vindšachta and Evička lakes. With such an enormous amount of water and seven pumping devices, many flooded mines were saved. Thanks to Hell, Karol VI, too, stood at the birth of the most perfect water-management system of its time.

Slovak Da Vinci

If we wanted to erect a statue to Samuel Mikovíni for each profession he was a master of, the town would be filled with sculptures depicting him. One of the few fields he never mastered was medicine. And this proved fatal for the creator of the ingenious system of Štiavnica tajchs.

The multi-talented Mikovíni was the first Slovak to be granted the university title of “Engineer”. He was a mathematician, cartographer, copper engraver, surveyor, astronomer, speleologist, and water-management engineer; he designed defence structures, was the director of and a professor at a mining school, where he taught mathematics, mechanics, hydraulics, and measurement methods. He also taught practical classes on surveying. It is, however, unknown how many hours a day he devoted to sleeping. As the engineer of Bratislava County, Samuel Mikovíni had worked on water-engineering tasks, which he made good use of when the Emperor named him the royal geometer of the central Slovakian mining towns. This was a very good decision, for Mikovíny expanded and perfected the Hells’ system of tajchs, thus finally resolving Štiavnica mining’s energy problem. From among his most progressive works, let’s look in particular at the Rozgrund reservoir; it is such an exceptional structure that it would be a challenge to build even today, in our world of advanced knowledge and technologies. Mikovíni was an extraordinary man, for the way he lived his life as well as for his death. For scientific purposes, he outlined the Bratislava meridian, which comfortably crossed the window of his flat in Pressburg; and he had his own observatory right in his flat. As a mathematician, he successfully intervened in the debate on the quadrature of the circle. His copper engravings complemented the publications of Matej Bell. It might seem as if Mikovíny could do, and did, almost everything. But it was not so. We know that in 1750, Mikovíni was unable to recover from a simple cold, which ended his life suddenly as he was returning to Banská Štiavnica from Trenčín.

Profile map of the Richňava water reservoir, 1743. Resource: Central State Mining Archive, Registry No.: 569

Veľká Vodárenská water reservoir today. Resource: Gashpar Creative