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Up the hill, down the hill

You will go in vain, trying to find level ground in Banská Štiavnica. If you want to get from point A to point B here, you have to go either uphill or downhill. And such is the history of the town. Golden times took turns with disasters, battles, and declines in mining. Štiavnica, however, could rely on its deep reserves of inner strength, which always managed to put the town back on its feet. History does not praise the strength of the town’s inhabitants, but our stories do.

Deed of 1275, issued by the Municipal Office of Banská Štiavnica on return of the St. Nicolaus Church to the Dominicans. In Slovakia, it is the oldest deed issued by a municipal office, with the oldest image of a municipal coat of arms in the kingdom affixed to it. The seal, containing mining insignia, is the oldest of its kind in Europe. Resource: Hungarian National Archive

Baltazár Steck, the notary of Banská Štiavnica, informing Banská Štiavnica, in writing, that the mining towns are required to pay 4 thousand gold coins to finance the war against the Ottomans. Resource: State Archive, Registry No.: 538

Banská Štiavnica in the year 1825. Resource: Austrian National Library

The silver of the Turzo family

Not everything that looks like a contribution to mining at first sight truly is one. To prove this, we can look at an example from the end of the 15th c., provided by the Turzo family. At first, they offered mining towns technical solutions to drain the water from mines; and then, they were the reason for one of the largest miners’ uprisings in the Empire.

The Turzos were always smart at making use of a gap in the market, as well as in the royal purse. When it transpired that King Vladislav II became as poor as a church mouse, the “good-hearted” Turzos lent 200 thousand golden coins to His Majesty, receiving as collateral to guarantee repayment a claim on the rule of the mint chamber of Kremnica, affecting 12 counties, on the mint itself, and on the mining chambers of Kremnica, Banská Bystrica, and Banská Štiavnica. Ján Turzo even became the Main Chamber Earl. When mining lacked investment capital, the Turzos secured it with the help of the Fuggers, who were financiers. When Štiavnica needed lead, the Turzos made themselves its exclusive importers, for inflated prices. Furthermore, the Turzos contributed to the technical development of mining, metallurgy, and minting; earned piles of money on copper export; determined the state’s currency policy; forced the mining towns to sign a pledge of allegiance; and controlled the final process of gold purification (cementing), which was a production secret of the mint in Kremnica. And that was not all! In order to pay the king the lowest sums for rentals in Kremnica, the Turzos resorted to accounting frauds. Štiavnica finally became truly fed up with the Turzos, although they never actually showed up in the town, controlling it through their manager, who was called the “factor” in those times. The owners of the Štiavnica and Kremnica mines united and wrote a letter of complaint to Queen Mary, asking her to stop the troublesome Turzos. And she did: she terminated their lease of and their role in the Chamber Court in Kremnica, and lifted the mining towns’ duty of allegiance to the Turzos. The work was completed by the miners, who were outraged at how the Turzos handled the miners’ emergency reserves in the brethren treasury, and by the fact that they started minting almost worthless coins, with which one could not even buy the simple necessities of life. In 1525, the outrage resulted in one of the largest miners’ uprisings, which finally put an end to the Turzos’ misdeeds.

Miracles overnight, the impossible achieved in three months

After every hard period in its history, Banská Štiavnica was able to flourish again. Sometimes slower, other times faster. After the anti-Habsburg uprisings and the plague epidemic, the decimated town was revived by reforms, whose results began to be seen in the second half of the 18th c. And when, in 1751, the Emperor Francis I decided to visit the central Slovakian mining towns, Štiavnica was able to turn itself almost instantly into a radiant metropolis.

It is quite unbelievable how much work can people do in just a few months under the “threat” of an imperial visit. From the beginning of March 1751, when the Emperor’s business trip was negotiated by the Main Chamber Earl Office, until 3 June, when the visit began, the hard-working people of Štiavnica managed to do impossible: they finished the building of the Calvary, erected triumphal arches, affixed new facades to houses on several streets, repaired roofs on houses, cleaned chimneys, paved roads, repaired bridges, and installed street lamps. The Kammerhof (the Chamber Court building) was turned into a baroque palace, and people also renovated the Hellenbach’s house (Berggericht), where an apartment was arranged for the Emperor. The beds for His Majesty were transported here all the way from Vienna. Also, to spare Francis I from having to creep up the ladder, people managed to carve the so called, “imperial stairs” in the Glanzenberg mining tunnel, thus connecting it with the Upper Holy Trinity tunnel. In addition, the space at the crossroads of several tunnels, located 40 metres below the surface, was enlarged. Meanwhile, a troop of 100 miners received arms and military training. And, since they needed to be dressed in official uniforms, tailors from Štiavnica and its wider surroundings worked day and night. To make enough boots, the blacksmiths had to help the shoe makers. An official outfit for the Emperor Himself had to be made as well. He was to wear it when going belowground. The master tailor Juraj Himlreich took care of it. Also, the planned transport of the imperial suite from Vienna to the central Slovakian mining towns contributed to significant improvements to the roads; many of them were not good enough for nobility to travel along them, so thousands of golden coins were allocated to road repairs. The mints in Vienna and Kremnica were busy preparing for the imperial visit as well. Francis I could not deny being a fan of numismatics, and allocated the huge sum of 8,000 golden coins to the creation of memorial medals as gifts to be given to some significant recipients. In addition, the funds were used to mint currency coins which were to be thrown about among the miners, metallurgists, and other employees of the mining chambers. The interest in medals and coins was so great that the mints needed to make additional pieces even after the Emperor’s return to Vienna. Well, if it is said that imperial visits contributed to the development of Slovak mining towns, it can be proven true in many ways.

Gold medals of medium size, which Francis I dedicated to royal guests, officers, including military officers, and other important personages during his visit to mining towns on 4 July 1751. Resource: NBS (National Bank of Slovakia) – Museum of Mints and Medals Kremnica, fund of medals, enlisted under No.: K2-3Au/1890