History and the Present
The town of Jáchymov (literally meaning "Joachim's Town") ranks among the most significant mining towns in Europe. A rich silver deposit was discovered in the area in the early 16th century and the town was founded by Štěpán Šlik as St. Joachim's Town on the site of the settlement known as Konradsgrün in 1516. Born in the age of Renaissance, Humanism and reforms, the newly founded town was raised to the status of a free royal town in 1520. The rich deposits of high-quality silver soon lured many prospectors and miners from Bohemia, Saxony, Tyrol, or Rhineland.
Its population was constantly growing and thus, in early 1520, the town had 4,963 inhabitants and as much as 18,000 in 1533. In 1524, there were 613 silver mines and adits in the town, with yields amounting to 166,023 tolars. The extracted silver was concurrently minted in Jáchymov. The history of the coin denoted according to its place of origin as Thal, Joachimsthal, Thaler, Talero or Tolar began in the mint of the Šlik family. It is worth mentioning that the famous Šlik coin, i.e. the Jáchymov Tolar, gave its name to the modern dollar, which is as popular as its predecessor was in its time. The wealthy town also attracted a number of craftsmen, medal makers, as well as reputed scholars. Georgius Agricola who is considered as the founder of modern mineralogy and mining sciences lived in Jáchymov from 1527 until 1531.
To this date, the town of Jáchymov has been safekeeping a priceless treasure – a 16th century library of a Latin school containing numerous valuable prints in Renaissance binding. The fame of ore mining was augmented by the opening of a mining school in Jáchymov at the turn of 1716 and 1717, which was established by the Emperor's edict. In addition to silver, lead, arsenic, cobalt, and nickel were also mined in the town, along with tin in its surroundings. However, it was especially pitchblende that became crucial for the destiny of the town. Pitchblende was the source of uraninite that was used for dying glass yellow or green.
Manufacture of uranium dyes in the state-owned factory triggered a new boom of the town. Moreover, the waste from dye production aided in the discovery of polonium and uranium by Marie Curie-Skłodowska and her husband Pierre Curie (1898). Moreover, the town regained its world repute with the discovery of the radioactivity of Jáchymov mine waters in 1905 and the world's first radioactive spa was founded in the town a year later.
The most valuable historical sights of the town include the Parish Church of St. Joachim, the cemetery Church of All Saints, the town hall, the Royal Mint (present-day museum), as well as numerous burgher houses with magnificent Gothic and Renaissance portals and arches. The historical centre of Jáchymov was declared an urban monument zone in 1992.
An inevitable part of the Jáchymov Spa is the Svornost Mine where curative radon waters are captured and supplied to sanatorium spa facilities. The Svornost Mine was founded almost at the same time as the town itself (1518) and it received its present name (German: Einigkeit, English: Unanimity or Concord) in 1530. Thus, the mine is the oldest mine in operation in the Czech Republic and probably across Europe. Silver was extracted in the mine throughout the 16th century.
In the mid 19th century, uranium ore, i.e. pitchblende, became the main mineral extracted in the mine. The heyday of uranium mining began after 1945 and lasted until 1962 when mining activities gradually ceased due to the depletion of uranium deposits. The discovery of the high content of radon in some of the underground mine water springs and of their beneficial affects aiding in the treatment of various diseases or injuries was made already in the early 20th century.
The discovery initiated the foundation of the first radon bathhouse in 1906 (i.e. two bathtubs in house No. 282), which utilised water from Štěpovy prameny (Štěp’s Springs) at the Daniel level near the pit known as Rovnost (Equality). At first, water was either carried to the bathhouse on the backs of carriers in hods or delivered by a horse-driven cart. From 1908, a pipeline supplied the water to cabins built in the uranium factory, and from 1911, to baths in the newly-built Spa Building.
As the capacity of Štěp’s Springs soon became insufficient for spa treatment, a decision was made to exploit a high-yielding spring of radon water, which had been struck in 1864 during attempts to deepen the Svornost pit from the 12th level down to the 14th level and which had flooded the whole lower section of the Svornost Mine between the 12th level and the Daniel level. For this purpose, the flooded areas of the mine were drained in 1924, the entire mine was reconstructed and basic technical structures necessary for capturing and drawing radon water from the spring were built.
The spring was named Curie at the occasion of the visit of Marie Curie-Skłodowska to the Svornost Mine in 1925. The Curie Spring had served as the main source of radon water for spa treatment purposes until the early 1960’s, i.e., until the cessation of uranium mining.
Then (i.e. in the early 1960’s.) a decision was made in connection with the planned development of the spa that the Svornost Mine, which comprised the Svornost and Josef pits, would continue to be used for capturing and drawing radon water after the cessation of uranium mining. For this purpose, necessary securing work was carried out in the course of years from 1962 to 1964, including the building of pressure dams separating the Svornost Mine from the remaining part of the deposit designated for flooding. Concurrently, extensive hydrological research was conducted, during which two additional radon water springs were discovered on the 12th level of the mine – i.e. C1 spring (1960) and Běhounek Spring (1962). The Svornost Mine was handed over to Státní lázně Jáchymov (Jáchymov State Spa) after the completion of the securing and research work on April 1, 1964.
Over the past 40 years, extensive reconstruction of the Josef pit (1983-1987) and the Svornost pit (1992-1996) was carried out, among other work, and another spring, known as Agricola, was drilled in 2002. At present, four springs in total are being captured on the 12th level of the Svornost Mine at the depth of 500 metres.
Jáchymovské peklo (Jáchymov Hell) Themed Trail
From 1949 until 1953, 18 prisoner camps were established in the area of Jáchymov and Horní Slavkov. It did not take very long to fill the camps with prisoners of the Communist Regime sentenced to hard labour deep underground. The prisoners themselves were often persuaded by their jailers that they were mere “convicts” condemned to elimination. It is a proven fact that until 1961, almost 65,000 persons had experienced the hellish life in the prisoner camps. A total of 7,940 tons of uranium were extracted and 1,102.9 km of drifts were driven in less than 15 years.
The Jáchymovské peklo (Jáchymov Hell) Themed Trail was built in co-operation with of the Barbora Jáchymov Miners Society, the district Club of Czech Tourists, the Jáchymov Municipal Authority, the Karlovy Vary Municipal Authority, the Karlovy Vary District Authority, and the Karlovy Vary branch of the Confederation of Political Prisoners. The themed trail is approximately 8.5 km long and it follows the yellow-marked tourist path. You can reach the themed trail from Jáchymov, from Abertamská křižovatka (Abertamy Junction – on the road to Mariánská), the Eduard recreation centre, Barbora (walk down the forest path into the valley of Eliášský potok [Eliáš Brook]), and from Mariánská (up-stream on Eliáš Brook).
Interesting tidbit: Midnight Rider in the Church of St. Joachim