Ore mountains - region and history

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File:Krusne hory CZ I3A-2.png
Location of Ore Mountains within Czech Republic
Altenberg Panorama

Geological history of the region

The landscape of North-West Bohemia, with its Ore Mountains, Sokolov and North Bohemian coal basins, Central Bohemian Uplands and Egerland, is the result of millions of years of orogenetic processes. The Ore Mountains' crystalline complex was formed during the Hercynian orogeny at the turn of the early Palaeozoic, when older rocks of various ages and origins were affected by metamorphic processes. They were, roughly speaking, sediments saturated with deep magmatic rocks, and deep magmatic rocks themselves. Depending on the nature of the original rocks and the intensity of the metamorphic processes, they were turned into orthogneisses, paragneisses, crystalline slates, crystalline limestones, schists, and phyllites. As part of the Bohemian Massif, the Ore Mountains crystalline complex was part of the Hercynian European mountain system. The massif repeatedly sank and was lifted again in the Mesozoic. The associated erosion and accumulation processes fashioned it into a levelled peneplain by the end of the Mesozoic; its sheet was broken at the edges by the Saxon orogeny in the early Tertiary. The elevated plain of the Ore Mountains and the rift valley below it were formed at the northwestern breach of the Bohemian Massif; it was filled with lake sediments, containing brown coal seams in their older strata, in the course of the Tertiary. The deposition of massive layers of dead organic matter from the tropical vegetation of that era is probably linked to the repeated disastrous effects of volcanoes in the emerging Central Bohemian Uplands and Doupov Mountains. The landscape was then completed by the alteration of colder and warmer periods, the effects of water, vegetation, and the evolution of plant and animal species since the beginning of the Quaternary. The contribution of human activity to the landscape formation can only be recognized in the last millennium.[1]


The territory of the North Bohemian Basin has been populated since the end of the Palaeolithic, the Magdalenian period in the 8th millennium Before Common Era (BCE). One of the most significant residential sites of that era has been found by the erstwhile Lake Komořany, the Neolithic linear ceramic excavation near Ervěnice, dating from the 6th millennium BCE (already a farming culture), and the site of a subsequent ceramic culture in Chabařovice from the 5th millennium BCE. All of them have been removed due to coal mining (along with the overburden of the coal seam).

These and other finds indicate that the basin has been populated continuously since the 6th millennium BCE and the mining history is associated with the region from the very beginning: the site of the oldest abandoned mines in Central Europe with a system of shafts and tunnels of a prehistoric flintstone mine from the early 3rd millennium BCE could be found near Tušimice (destroyed when the local power plant was built). All of the farmable areas have been populated at least since the end of the Neolithic, i.e., the 4th millennium BCE. From then on, until the Middle Ages, man has reworked the originally forested and swampy landscape into a variegated mosaic with alternating forests, meadows, pastures, fields, water bodies, watercourses, wetlands, human settlements, roads, protective castles, and market town – often fortified – at the crossroads of trade routes, by fords across the local rivers, and in the focal points of farming areas.

In the Middle Ages, the appearance of the settled country as well as the villages and towns was the result of feudal administration alongside the growing power of the church: in addition to “noble” structures (castles, chateaux, town palaces) and secular homesteads, the look of the towns, villages and open country was increasingly formed by churches, monasteries, pilgrimage sites, etc. The functions and sizes of the settlements progressively differed depending on their natural conditions, position, economic and administrative importance, privileges granted, and defence capacities. Epidemic outbreaks of plague and other contagious diseases forced the earliest hygiene-driven regulations on the location of certain trades within towns, improved water supplies and sewerage.[1]

Mining in the Middle Ages

FG Reiche Zeche (09) 2006-11-08
Eisenwerk Arnoldshammer

Mining towns, not “naturally” evolved but “artificially” established, are a special phenomenon typical of the Ore Mountains and the land below them. They were founded by locators at the turn of the Middle Ages, after the local wealth of natural resources (metallic ores, semiprecious stones, arsenic, etc.) was discovered and first exploited.

In the architectural sense, the period of their emergence was associated with a shift from the Gothic style to Renaissance: numerous novel types of public buildings were invented, such as town halls, schools, markets, spas, as well as breweries, craft workshops, etc. As the towns evolved, there came a need for regulating the location of various functions within the settlement based on their nature, beauty or potential harm to their surroundings and people, and according to guilds. Emerging hygiene and defence problems led to the emergence of the first “urban designers” among locators, builders (stonemasons, bricklayers, carpenters), geometricians (surveyors), soldiers, fortification experts, and artists. Millers and pond-builders laid down the foundations for professional hydraulic management; charcoal burners, craftsmen, ore processors, weavers and other processing trades formed the core of future manufactures and then industries. The development of towns and villages, new construction projects and trades were generating demand for the production of timber, construction stone, ceramic clays for bricks and ceramics, metallic ores, and sand. This was now changing not only the vegetation groundcover, but also its soil profile and the rock environment: the landscape character started to change. Mine spoil banks were a new land formation around mine galleries and shafts; the first intentional water transfers occurred and races for mills and sawmills were dug; wetlands and fields were drained and watercourses were canalized and bridged; a selected “imperial” road network was upgraded to allow heavier cart traffic and horse-swapping posts were built. Still, however, this was a harmonious, small-scale and variegated mosaic of natural and manmade elements in the landscape, ecologically stable, with adverse human impacts on the environment limited to tiny locations.[1]

Natural potential utilized: curative spas

River Teplá in Karlovy Vary

The beautiful and variegated landscape went hand in hand with rich cultural heritage – heritage of towns and villages, numerous castles and chateaux, monasteries, churches, parks and arboreta, and lakes – in consequence both the extent and quality of the settlements and the economic development of the region increased. When residual manifestations of volcanic activity through numerous thermal and mineralized springs and spouts were discovered, other types of settlements typical of this region emerged: curative spas. They further increased the variety in the landscape character and exploitation of the natural resources. This was accompanied by specific architecture and building types: spa houses, buildings for temporary guest accommodation, colonnades and promenades, gyms and casinos, open-air theatres, theatres and concert halls, riding schools, park gazebos, maintained walking paths with vistas and resting facilities, and landscaped compositions of spa town surroundings.[1]

Thanks to the spas, visited by prominent cultural and political personalities of Europe, Russia and other continents, the population had a rich social and cultural life. The end of the 19th century and the early 20th century were the heyday in this respect.

Energy reserves

ČSA open pit mine

The discovery of reserves and possible uses of the energy potential of brown coal in both the basins below the Ore Mountains was a fundamental milestone for the region. The initially tiny and primitive shallow surface “rustic” mining progressively developed into demanding underground extraction in increasingly difficult geological conditions due to the growing demands by emerging manufactures, then industries and railway transport. Surface mining continued to develop where the coal seam was not deep under the surface or even lay exposed on the ground (“in the day” as they used to say). Due to its high calorific capacity, coal soon replaced firewood and charcoal, common in both production and household heating until then, and permitted an unprecedented growth of industry once the steam engine was invented and widespread. It also brought about a radical change in transportation as the railway expanded.

Coal is a phenomenon that made the Industrial Revolution possible. It permitted rapid concentration of small-scale craft and manual production capacities into industrial buildings with mechanical distribution of the “driving force” across factory halls via systems of transmission rods and belts; their mediating role in transmitting power was taken over by electricity only much later. However, the nature of production made the industrial operations dependent on sources of workforce and energy, so they were established not only in towns but often by watercourses and transport routes in the country. Many of the industries required vast quantities of water for the production processes, and they also made use of the hydraulic power potential of the watercourses. That was how the numerous factories in valleys by rivers arose. Dams were built across watercourses, both in populated valleys and scattered across open country, to provide water. Nevertheless, their scale, architecture and method of exploiting the natural conditions still showed a certain degree of respect to the surroundings, the nature of the place and the resources in the early days of the Industrial Revolution. The people’s attachment to nature was not as disrupted and intermediated as that of the population of big cities today. The enlightened nobility was capable of envisaging most of the adverse impacts of production on the country, and tried to avoid them by observing some rules. It can be claimed that this relatively environment-friendly situation lasted until the disintegration of Austria-Hungary after World War I and, more or less, during the First Republic until 1938.

The Ervěnice power plant, built in 1926, was the largest and newest power plant in the North Bohemian Basin. Its installed capacity of 70 MW was only a fraction of that of modern-day power plants in the Basin, yet it sufficed in supplying Prague and an extensive consumer industry, and the first tram operations in the Basin towns, including Ústí nad Labem. The mine towers and growing spoil heaps of underground mines as well as the opencast mines with bucket excavators – small from today’s perspective – were greater scars on the face of the landscape. Yet they still spanned several dozen hectares, not tens or hundreds of square kilometres of devastated country. The North Bohemian Basin still had a full-fledged landscape background for its settlements, and the mining did not threaten spa operations with the exception of isolated accidents (a disastrous outflow of the thermal waters of Teplice hot springs into the Döllinger mine in 1879).[1]

Social and national conflicts

The social and economic dimension of life in the Ore Mountains and the country below them was nevertheless distorted by the Industrial Revolution. Growing differences between the standards of miners, factory workers, small-scale farmers and tradesmen and those of the cream of society, including local industrialists, accompanied the Industrial Revolution from its start at the turn of the 18th century. They resulted in occasional social unrest in Austria-Hungary; it was boosted by both German nationalism and the emancipative efforts of the Bohemian national revival. It was contributed to by the fact that most of the mines and factories were owned by German businessmen. The relationships between the German majority and Czech minority in the borderland would not improve after World War I. Quite the opposite was true: the national resentments of Austria-Hungary were aggravated by the German attempt to separate Sudetenland from the newly independent Czechoslovak Republic and annex it to Austria as Deutschböhmen. Czech-German relationships further deteriorated during the Great Depression, which affected the entire economically developed world at the time in the early 1930s after the first global collapse of exchange markets that started in New York in 1929.

These circumstances and developments in neighbouring Germany, where the Nazis ascended to power in 1933, resulted in a growing tension in the entire Czech-German and Czech-Austrian borderlands where there was a large German “minority” (over 90% of the population in some parts of Sudetenland, more populous overall than the Slovaks). National and social conflicts overlapped and sparked mutual clashes of opinions and words, which escalated into violent and armed conflicts between the German population and the Czech-controlled state power, or between the nationalities. The Czechs were forced out of the borderland after the Treaty of Munich unless they pledged allegiance to the Reich. The natural resources, the industrial, agricultural and human potential of the Protectorate, and more so the Ore Mountain Foothills – which was now part of Germany – were filly connected to the German war economy. A facility for producing synthetic petrol from gas was built in Záluží near Most, Czech ammunition and machinery manufacturers, aviation and textile factories were producing weapons, vehicles, ammunition and outfits for the German army. Coal mining and production were pushed to the limit. There was no consideration of repairs or maintenance of buildings, the environment, cultural co-operation or social respects. The material and spiritual devastation of the Ore Mountains and the basin below started during the War. Unfortunately, the devastation did not stop at the end of the War.

The blanket eviction of the German population of the Ore Mountains and the basin below had a much more devastating impact on economic and social life, culture, and people’s relationships to nature and each other in the purely German-settled areas – which was the case of a large part of the basin area – than in areas where Germans made up a smaller proportion of the pre-war population. Unfortunately, the Germans often “took away” with them their qualifications, sense of order, and attachment to the towns and village, cultural heritage, nature and landscape. The first wave of settlers from the interior of Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia and Slovakia included lots of “gold diggers”, who plundered and burgled the abandoned German properties and soon left again. Arrivals from Carpathian Ruthenia, and Czechs and Slovaks returning from Volhynia, Hungary, Romania and other parts of the Balkans could mostly not compare to the evicted Germans with their level of knowledge and management. Under the influence of the war that had recently ended, the gradually arriving skilled settlers, too, often behaved like in a conquered “enemy territory” without the slightest respect for the heritage of another culture. Since their roots were not here, many regarded everything German – the Saxonian and Lusatian architecture and culture – as worthless and hostile. Driven by an urge to supplant the German with the “Czech”, they carelessly destroyed links and values developed over centuries, neglected maintenance and repair, causing the total decay of the housing, factories, farmsteads, transport and technical infrastructures, including a sophisticated aquaculture, public and cultural amenities, cemeteries, churches, and recreational facilities in the landscape. In many towns, they threw out official documents and papers written in German, ranging from medieval manuscripts to building authority archives.[1]

New regional identity for north Bohemia

It is possible to understand the devastation of north Bohemia as a direct causal link to expulsion of the German population, Glassheim argues for a more complex understanding, seeking to understand the development of a new regional identity: “Rejecting romantic/pastoral German conceptions of Heimat, postwar Czechs sought to create materialist regional identities in north Bohemia that emphasized labor, productivity, and industrial modernity.” Glassheim argues that “ethnic cleansing, Communist social engineering, and late-industrial modernity were related and intertwined phenomena in postwar Czechoslovakia. All three derived from a complex that David Harvey has called “universal or high modernism,” an economic, social, and cultural order that flourished in the wake of the Second World War. With roots in the Enlightenment and more proximately in the 1920s and 1930s, high modernism “has been identified with the belief in linear progress, absolute truths, the rational planning of ideal social orders, and the standardization of knowledge and production” (Glassheim 67).

“Utopian potential” of north Bohemia

The eviction of the German population was followed by the arrival (both forced and voluntary) of various populations: thirty-nine thousand of the settlers were Czech speakers from the now-Ukrainian region of Volynia. In 1946, forty-two thousand Magyars from Slovakia were forced to settle in the Czech borderlands, nearly two-thirds of whom returned to Slovakia by 1950. More than one hundred thousand settlers were ethnic Slovaks, sixteen thousand of which were Roma (Gypsies). Among Czechs, there were significant differences among “old settlers” and “new settlers” who arrived after 1945, who differed in religious customs, community celebrations, skills levels and work habits[2], p. 72. This lack of solidarity made regional identity building particularly challenging in the postwar years. With the old order of the German capitalist bourgeoisie gone, the lack of a common identity provided an ideal “clean slate” from which to work from. The region was considered by Communist settlement planners as a frontier laboratory for the emerging socialist order. The “Communist head of the Settlement Committee in the National Assembly saw this utopian potential as vital to the development of Czech socialism: “The borderlands . . . [must] become a model territory for the other regions of the state, a guide to the path by which the working people will find a better tomorrow””[2], p. 78.

Post War Communist support

The Communist party had strong support in north Bohemia, partly due to their role as redistributors of German property. In free elections in May 1946, the Communist Party won between 50 and 60 percent of the vote in north Bohemia, as compared to 40 percent in the Czech Lands as a whole. Throughout the subsequent years, the region was ‘rewarded’ by the high status given to heavy industry and the Communists’ power to confer and privilege on workers, particularly miners, (in providing access to recreation centres and spas) who were lauded as the heroes of the new age (Glassheim 80). “Rather than a Heimat deficit, then, north Bohemia suffered from a misguided and destructive vision of regional identity…materialism ruled in north Bohemia like nowhere else. The new north Bohemia was an experiment in national, social, industrial, and environmental engineering. It became a worst case scenario—short of mass murder and nuclear annihilation—of what Communism, indeed modernity itself, could produce”[2], p. 91).

Beneš declared in a typical 1945 speech in Tabor, “We must de-Germanize our republic . . .names, regions, towns, customs—everything that can possibly be de-Germanized must go."[2]p. 74

Communist heavy industry base

Open pit mine Jiří, District Sokolov, year 2007

The communist regime, established in 1948, made a cunning use of the people’s disappointment with the Western allies at the Conference of Munich, the anti-German nationalist feelings and its ideology to carry on the psychosis of fear and enmity towards the West and bind Czechoslovakia to the Soviet Union. The Ore Mountains and the basin below became an unprecedentedly cheap source of uranium, coal and power for the Soviet Union. Czechoslovakia’s national economy, renowned in the First Republic for its balanced proportion of heavy metallurgical, chemical and engineering industries with light and processing industries and a high rate of value-added of input raw materials, became the “forge of the socialist camp” with a dominance of metallurgical and other raw material and energy-intensive heavy industries. This orientation severely harmed all of Czechoslovakia’s national economy, devastated certain regions of the country and was most abominably manifested in the Sokolov-Cheb and North Bohemian Basins. Vast tracts of the landscape, spanning hundreds of square kilometres, were devastated due to opencast coal mining and sinking of underground mines, extraction of kaolin, gravel, sand, ceramic clays and construction stone, erection of gigantic power plants, power and heat distribution systems and dumps for power plant fly ash. The landscape character with the round hillsides and plateaux of the Ore Mountains, covered with forests and peat bogs, both the basins with fertile farmland and clear watercourses, preserved in a harmonious form until the World War, was transformed into an “industrial landscape” filled with new land formations due to shifting millions of cubic metres of rock and earth, industrial and storage buildings, deposits and dumps. The dense network of linear transport and technical infrastructures cut the once continuous countryside into fragments difficult to access and manage, upset its harmony, liveability and passability for both game and people. Natural plant environments disappeared, replaced by weeded patches and invasive non-native plant and animal species. Towns and villages where tens of thousands of people once lived were wiped out, along with thousands of cultural and natural heritage sites wiped out due to coal mining and the power plants fuelled by the extracted brown coal - to be precise, 106 municipalities, including the 650 year old royal city of Most were eliminated this way [1](see Exctinct villages).

Chabařovice near Ústí nad Labem has managed to oppose its fate successfully, unlike Libkovice. The position of its self-government was supported by the public and political representatives of the Ústí nad Labem municipality and district, which permitted the government to pass – without political friction – a first resolution defining binding territorial ecological limits beyond which neither the mining nor its adverse environmental impacts were permitted. That was the turning point, but it has not been permanent. The struggle continues 20 years later.[1]

Recent situation

The cultural attachment to the natural and cultural heritage has been wiped out for most of the people for two generations. Only the younger generations today have sunk their roots in the region, and their newly gained attachment to their homes empowers them to save the remains of the inherited values and remedy at least some of the past damage. The last demolished village, Libkovice, admittedly succumbed to the dynamics of the “running engine” of the mines, but it was Libkovice where the organized opposition to the continuation of the current practice first gained life and voice. Locals summoned up the courage to make themselves heard and oppose the property purchases at ridiculous officially assessed prices, which would not even allow them to buy a substitute flat in a prefabracted block, let alone a house. They were joined by environmental activists from elsewhere and considerable media coverage of the case was made for the first time. The Libkovice case provoked a debate on other, more considerate mining methods that make it possible to preserve the landscape with its historic and living values.[1]

For more news about the current situation (with special attention paid to the social aspects of mining industry) see Ore mountains - social and economic conditions


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 Říha,M., Stoklasa, J., Lafarová, M., Dejmal, I., Marek, J., Pakosta, P., Beránek, K. Environmental mining limits in North Bohemian Lignite Region. Společnost pro krajinu, Praha 2005. Translation: Petr Kurfurst. Updated for the ISPoS summer school in September, 2011
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Glassheim, E. 2006, Ethnic Cleansing, Communism, and Environmental Devastation in Czechoslovakia’s Borderlands, 1945–1989* in The Journal of Modern History 78, pp. 65–92

Mining industry – social effects

Mining industry - corruption scandals

Civil society and political participation


  • Extinct Villages - http://www.zanikleobce.cz/index.php? (cz, de) - information about all the villages and buildings that have disappeared in the Czech Republic since 1945, including many that were destroyed in the Ore Mountain region as mining operations expanded.
  • Rediscovered Ore Mountains/Das wiederentdeckte Erzgebirge http://www.znkr.cz (cz, de) (incl. Schriftgut, Interactive Karte etc.) - a community website for people living in or interested in the Ore Mountains, including many photos by Petr Mikšíček
  • Ethnic Cleansing, Communism, and Environmental Devastation in Czechoslovakia’s Borderlands, 1945–1989 http://www.czp.cuni.cz/vcsewiki/images/9/92/Ethnic_cleansing%2C_Communism_%26_Environmental_Devastation.pdf (en) - an academic article (but very easy to read) by Eagle Glassheim, The Journal of Modern History 78 (March 2006): 65–92

Tourist info

Creative Commons Author: Jana Dlouhá, Andrew Barton. This article was published under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. How to cite the article: Jana Dlouhá, Andrew Barton. (24. 04. 2019). Ore mountains - region and history. VCSEWiki. Retrieved 03:48 24. 04. 2019) from: <https://vcsewiki.czp.cuni.cz/w/index.php?title=Ore_mountains_-_region_and_history&oldid=4866>.

This page was created with support of the OP VK CZ.1.07/2.4.00/17.0130 Project - Interdisciplinary Sustainable Development Network

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