Tea growing near Pu Mat National Park at Con Cuong, Vietnam.
Where are Kevin and Ruth now? Con Cuong (Pu Mat National Park), Vietnam.

Where are Kevin and Ruth going next? Ninh Binh, Vietnam.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Interesting visit to a mercury mine

On Wednesday, we did the short 14 km (8 mile) drive from Ziri to the mining town of Idrija. It might have been a short drive, but it was long on excitement! Lots of curves and narrow sections, and a series of switchbacks going down the other side.

Idrija is a very different mining town. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the fact that it produced almost half of the world supply of mercury... or quicksilver as it is sometimes called.

Ruth took a short video of our drive over the mountain...

Please note the speed in the video is very deceiving, we are actually going much slower than what it looks. We were in either first or second gear going down the hill, sometimes at a crawl.

We found a place to park, and went for a walk to the tourist office where we were given a map of the highlights. 

In Slovenia, we see a lot of churches are built on hills.

They love their flower boxes in Slovenia!

A historical bee house.

Each house is nicely painted. 
The bees probably don't care.

Mercury was discovered in this area in 1490. And the mine as it is known was commissioned in 1510. The entrance shaft that is currently used for tourism purpose is the oldest mine entrance shaft in Europe.

Idrija castle was built between 1522 and 1533 for the sole purpose of mine administration and storage of the finished product.

Idrija Castle.

The courtyard is really pretty.

The castle currently houses the Idrija Municipal Museum. 

The three main tourist attractions in town are the Museum, the Smelting Plant, and the Mine Tour. They all cost money. I read some reviews, and we decided we wanted to do the highly rated mine tour. It's not every day you get to go underground in a state owned mercury mine. 

The tour didn't start until 3:00pm, so we went back to Max and had a late lunch and then walked back to the mine entrance. The price was €13 ($18.65 CAD, $15.10 USD) per adult, but the girl automatically charged us the senior price, without asking. I guess we're getting to that age! We weren't about to argue though, and happily paid the €10 ($14.35 CAD, $11.60 USD) discounted admission. (Thanks mom!)

We were the only ones on the tour!

It started with a 20 minute movie explaining some of the history, then the guide brought us into the mine...

Ruth, entering the mine.
The word above the entrance means "luck".

Some of the reinforcing is hundreds of years old.

There are several models of what mining was like in the beginning.

That's a long way down.
It would turn out that we would exit the mine by coming up these steps.

Another tunnel.

When a new tunnel was mined out, they would backfill it so that it wouldn't collapse.

Native mercury.

While there was a lot of visible mercury (called native mercury) that existed in the mine, the main extraction technique came from mining cinnabar ore which contains a high amount of mercury sulfide. The ore was then heated and the mercury was produced through distillation.

Some of the displays were pretty realistic.

The underground facilities!
If you were late for work, it was your job to clean the facilities.

The mine operated continuously from 1510 until 1995. The decision to close commercial operations was made in 1985, but it took ten years to wind things down. In almost 500 years of mining, 300 lives were lost which in mining terms is apparently a pretty good safety record! However, it was only in the 19th century that they realized mercury is toxic, and it wasn't until the mines later years that actual working safety equipment was used.

The area still has higher than normal rates for many diseases.

In case you're wondering, yes, the mine is still a toxic environment. However there is fresh air constantly supplying the tourist section of the mine, and any short term exposure is meaningless. 

Interesting stuff, and we enjoyed the tour.

The motorhome parking in Idrija wasn't very good, so while we hate backtracking we decided to return to the same spot in Ziri where we had free WiFi and free electricity. It had been a cloudy day and there was two days of rain ahead of us in the forecast, so by plugging in overnight our batteries would be fully charged.

Unless we find something else along the way, we plan on entering Croatia today.

Record low deal on this Men's Classic Citizen Dress Watch.

And in Canada...


  1. Mercury...yikes. As a teen, I'd make a tuna sandwich every afternoon after coming home from school. Then, one day I got really sick. Turns out I was eating too much tuna. To this day, I can't eat tuna even though I still love tuna.

    1. We never realized that tuna was higher in mercury content compared to other fish. I guess we didn't know this because we just don't eat tune but we do it for other reasons.

  2. I have only read your blog the last 3 weeks or so and have really enjoyed following along. Thanks for doing this - I’m Learning a lot!

    1. Thank you for joining us and following along on our adventures, we are happy to hear that you are enjoying our blog. Thank you also for taking the time to comment, we really appreciate it. :-)

  3. Your photos of Slovenia are doing nothing to dampen my urge to go there. :D

    The beehive style in that hut is called an AZ hive, and is very common in Slovenia. It is infrequently seen in the US, and most wouldn't recognize it as beehives right away. The style has a lot of advantages. Here is some info and behind-the-scenes pictures of that style (pdf). http://lewiscountybeekeepers.org/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/Bee_AZ_Adventure_Slideshow.3173323.pdf

    In regards to mercury in fish (or other sources of exposure), selenium can be sort of understood as a counteractant to mercury. Most types of fish, including many types of tuna have more selenium than mercury, and so can be a great dietary item even if the mercury levels are higher. Selenium can be added to the diet if there is a concern of exposure, and brazil nuts are a great source.

    1. Thank you for the links Sarah. We did read about the bee houses here, as it was one of the stops on our self-guided walking tour of the town. They had several information boards up by the bee house telling about it and how they came to be. We have seen quite a number of them on our drives but this one was definitely the prettiest and the biggest that we have seen so far.


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