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Roșia Montană Mining Cultural Landscape

Date of Submission: 18/02/2016
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Romania to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Transylvania, County Alba
Coordinates: 46.307025, 23.129894
Ref.: 6082
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The district of Roșia Montană is located in the Apuseni Mountains, the western section of Romania’s Carpathians, in the so-called Auriferous Quadrilateral, a territory with rich deposits of precious metals, known and worked since very early in history. Among many historical mining sites identified in this wider area, Roșia Montană stands out for its rich and intersecting prehistoric, Roman, medieval, modern and contemporary mining settlements.

The development of the site can be traced from its deepest layer: the mining network of galleries, carved for extraction, exploration, service, ventilation or drainage, starting in the Roman period (2nd cent. AD), deep within four mountains – Cetate, Cârnic, Orlea and Letea. These galleries extend for a total length of over 7 km, creating the most extensive and most important mining system known from the Roman world. This system was further expanded by vast mining works in subsequent periods up to 1948, which took over and developed the Roman network. These galleries stretch for more than 80 km, there are also large extraction areas, and an underground communication and drainage system controlled by the Holy Cross master gallery (dating to 1783), which extend beneath the floor of the Roșia river valley.

In close relationship to the underground world of the extraction works, mining activity has also generated elements and features above ground. The Roman surface landscape preserves ore processing areas, living quarters, sacred areas and vast necropoleis set in relation to the ancient workings. The historic industrial landscape, as seen in header ponds built from 1733 onwards, adits, surface workings, waste piles (today partly covered with new plant growth), and barren rocky slopes. The modern mining town stretches along the Roșia valley and upstream with nuclei that grew up in direct connection to the workings in Mt Orlea and Cetate. The central area of settlement lies within a natural amphitheatre formed by the slopes of surrounding mounts Cârnic, Jig and Letea.

Within the town of Roşia Montană, the central square was home to many public functions and led to a highly representative architectural and urban ensemble. This structure gradually leads into the industrial suburbs with miners’ households consisting of dwellings and ore-processing workshops and even mine entrances. A hallmark of the town’s architecture are the traditional buildings with an outer porch which form a typological background to a series of distinctive and mostly decorative features which were borrowed from the repertoire of Classical or Baroque architecture. This is expressed predominantly in the streetscapes around the central square and its vicinity. The ingenuous intertwining of all these aspects shapes the unique character of a traditional mining town frozen in time at an early moment of its urbanisation. This is brought out in particular by the surrounding landscape and rural setting, which are testimony to pastoral practices that are as old as the mining activity.

The landscape is, at the same time, a reflection of the spiritual wealth of its inhabitants, who have shaped it over time. The multitude of deities worshiped in the Roman temples discovered on the hills framing the valley; the historical churches belonging to five different denominations, which command the town’s structure; or the still living legends and beliefs related to the miners’ fate under the divinity, are all witnesses to a cultural richness and ethnic diversity which was manifest over a significant period of time.

The Roman mining archaeological site of Alburnus Maior, in what is today the district of Roșia Montană, was also a source of numerous epigraphical documents that shed light on the Roman mining practices and social structure among other things and which started to be collected systematically in the second half of 18th century. With the discovery of the famous Roman wax tablets (contracts written in Latin cursive), hidden in the galleries of the mining works, the scientific impact of the site turned universal because of the great importance those texts for the rediscovery of Roman Law.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Roşia Montană has been the most active gold mining centre of the Apuseni Mountains, from the earliest works in the Bronze Age, to Antiquity, through the Middle Ages, all the way into modern times and up to the recent past. Traditional, family- or small group-operated mining ended in 1948 with nationalization and the subsequent industrial state-run mining ended in 2006. This is, therefore, one of the longest-lived traditional mining centres known today. Its particular endurance translates into a systematic and profound interrelation between the natural setting and cultural phenomena – from deep down within the mountains all the way up to the surface, from topography to fauna and flora and to the human communities of the area, everything bears the signs of or stems from this interaction of humans and the environment, which produced a rich and very spectacular cultural landscape that is of global significance.

Criterion (ii): The Roman mining works at Alburnus Maior are an archetypal example of Roman underground gold mining. The trapezoidal gallery section is a distinctive feature, and the sudden abandonment of the mines while in full and thriving activity allowed the preservation of many aspects related to extraction methods, which provide an exceptional picture of the organisation, strategies and practices of ancient mining operations.

Many of the Roman mining systems preserved at Alburnus Maior are unique – such as the pillar rooms, the spiral stairs, or the vertical extraction areas with the ceiling carved out in steps – or are of exceptional value due to their extent and state of conservation – such as the inclined communication galleries.

Critrion (iii): The underground mining works; the surface mining landscape consisting of ore-processing areas, habitation areas, sacred areas, necropoleis; the current town built at the dawn of the industrial era; and the thorough documentation of the communities who generated them are extremely detailed testimonies of mining activity in Roman, medieval and modern times.

For the Roman period the knowledge based on the preserved remains gives the exceptional character of the site. The coherence of features associated both with the underground mining system and the ancient surface landscape is a rare feature in the Roman world.

Criterion (iv): The preserved mining site is a testimony of the continual history of precious metal extraction in this area from the Bronze Age until the twenty-first century.

The Roman mining landscape is an exceptional testimony of the development of Roman gold and silver mining technology in the 2nd century AD.

The medieval and modern mining landscape is significant for the pre-industrial processing methods captured at the moment of technological changes on the verge of the Industrial Revolution. The mining operations undertaken mostly by families of ‘peasant-miners’ favoured the continuation of pre-industrial extraction methods until nationalisation in 1948.

Criterion (v): Roşia Montană traditional mining town is a representative example of the pre-industrial period. At the same time it also illustrates the transition to the industrial period, although the development of technology did not turn it into a city, as happened in many other places. In other words Roşia Montană is a traditional mining town frozen at the incipient moment of the urbanisation process.

The transition from rural to urban is reflected in a very characteristic manner for the place as a whole, making it unique and giving it a significant value for world heritage.

The mining landscape of the Roşia and Corna Valleys is representative of the pre-industrial period. The reservoirs (tăuri), the barren mountains, the hillside mine entrances, the small overgrown waste dumps are very prominent and define the landscape.

Criterion (vi): The Roman wax tablets discovered in mining galleries at Alburnus Maior, made famous by the great German historian Theodor Mommsen, are one of the most important sources for the rediscovery of the Roman Law. They influenced the German Civil Code and then formed the basis for similar regulations in several other countries: Portugal, China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Greece, Ukraine, etc.

The frequent associations made by researchers into the history of the Roman Empire during the Antonine dynasty and its relationship to the Dacians’ gold and gold extracted from Dacia has opened a new area of research into European cultural history: the economic recovery of the Roman Empire, the commencement of monumental public construction works in Rome, among which the Forum and Trajan’s Column are perhaps the most important elements in this line, and directly linked to the gold-mining area of Dacia, where Alburnus Maior was a major centre.

However, the significance of Roşia Montană’s galleries is not limited to antiquity, as the Apuseni Mountains were Europe’s main source of gold from the end of the Crusades until the discovery of America.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The area proposed currently constitutes a complete testimony to millennia of mining practices. It contains attributes high in authenticity in terms of the location and its surviving historic features, with a clear sense of when and how mining shaped the setting. However, this cultural landscape is threatened by irreversible changes following the ending of traditional mining operations and the associated social changes. The area is still rich in minerals and the proposed resumption of open cast mining with modern quarrying techniques would inevitably entail the quasi-total and irreversible destruction of the cultural heritage and its setting, which is the principal resource for the sustainable development of the area.

Comparison with other similar properties

Meaningful comparison to other mining sites on the World Heritage List or the national Tentative Lists needs to look at the operating life, typological variety and cultural expressions generated by mining activity.

From a chronological perspective, Roşia Montană is one of the most continually-operational mining sites, with activity spanning more than three millennia, from the Bronze Age until the twenty-first century. In comparison, most mining sites on the World Heritage List and the national Tentative Lists illustrate relatively short historical periods, ranging from only a few decades (The Klondike, Canada or Sewell, Chile) to several centuries (Rammelsberg, Germany). There are few examples of mining sites operating for several millennia with a longevity comparable to that of Roşia Montană, (e.g Spiennes, Belgium; Lavrion, Greece) but these have different time sequences.

Most of the mining sites on the World Heritage List or the national Tentative Lists cannot be relevantly compared to Roşia Montană, either for reasons related to specific resource extraction, mining technologies and distinct landscape physiognomy (e.g. coal mines, flint mines or salt mines), or as a result of the technological particularities (the gold mining sites in Japan, Iwami Ginzan and Sado) or cultural particularities (the Latin American gold-silver mining sites, characterised by colonial influences – Potosí, Bolivia; Ouro Preto, Brazil; Zaruma, Ecuador; Zacatecas and Guanajuato in Mexico).

The most relevant comparisons can be made with European sites in the Iberian Peninsula and Central Europe. However, most of them are only similar to Roșia Montană for certain historical periods and with certain ore extraction technologies. The only Roman period site registered in the World Heritage List (Las Médulas, Spain) is representative of a particular extraction technique (ruina montium), which is completely different to the technique in use in the same period at Roşia Montană: underground mining in galleries and extraction areas. Another Roman mining site currently at the proposal stage (Mining Historical Heritage, Spain), is an important example of mining and its associated activities and landscape transformations and for its historic period, but it is not similar in terms of size and diversity of features. Similarly the Central European sites (Erzgebirge / Krušnohoří, Germany and the Czech Republic; Banská Štiavnica, Slovakia), are evocative for the development of mining from medieval to modern times but are comparable only to certain isolated aspects of the Roşia Montană mining cultural landscape.

To conclude, none of the comparable sites - although important for certain periods or aspects of mining history - is able to offer such a wide range of attributes representing such a long history and illustrating it so clearly. In particular, the Roman mines at Roşia Montană represent the most extensive and most important Roman underground gold mining system known. The underground workings, the ore processing landscape, the inhabited areas, sanctuaries and necropoleis or cemeteries, along with the social history of the associated communities, illustrate in an emblematic and detailed manner the history of gold mining in this region, starting from prehistory, through the Roman period, the Middle Ages, to modern and contemporary times.