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History of Mining

by Alexander Sohm last modified 2007-01-08 12:48

In 1996 Emil Scheibenstock wrote about mining in the Montafon.  Andreas Rudigier summarized it in the following text.

The history of mining in the Montafon probably runs back to pre-historic times.  The Bronze Age settlement discovered in the year 2000 in Bartholomaeberg–Friega can be seen in connection with pre-historic copper mining.

The Churrhaetian reclaimed land – a list of income for the diocese of Chur – from the year 843 AD, is the oldest known reference to the existence of mining in the Montafon.  The document names an iron-ore region called “ministerium ferraires” which can definitely be found in the area between Bürs, Arlberg and Montafon.  Even in those days, the Kristberg, the Silbertal and the Bartholomaeberg were an important focal point for mining in the region that was later to become Voraralberg.

It is assumed that shortly after mining for iron ore started, rich veins of silver were found which led to a lively era of mining.  A document from the year 1319 mentions a silver mine.  Here we can read that the German king, Friedrich I from the House of Habsburg, allowed his uncle, Albrecht von Werdenberg (in Bludenz), to (among other things) leave “the Silver mines or the mountain named Muntafune” to his brother, Count Hugo.  The fact that the mine belonged to the crown shows how important it was.  This document uses the word Montafon to describe the mountain later known as Bartholomaeberg.  Around this time, the people decided that St. Bartholomew, the patron saint of the miners and tanners would also be the guardian angel of the church and the village.  From then on the village was known as St. Bartholomaeberg.  The name Montafon which could have meant something like “Pit Mountain”, now became the name for the whole valley.

An old contract from the year 1355 relates to the division of silver and the Walsers – the people that settled in the high regions of Vorarlberg around the beginning of the 14th century.  According to the document, the Walsers had the same rights and freedoms as the people known as the Silbers.  During the latter Middle Ages they had their own courthouse and village mayor who lived in Schruns – in the building that now houses the museum of local history.  We can also read about a man named Heinrich Putsch who was the mountain judge in Montafon between 1491 and 1496.  While the jurisdiction of the mountain judges was rather low, it was the Count or his reeve (an administrative officer of a town or district)  that had the higher jurisdiction.  The imperial mining regulations from the years 1520, 1522 and 1524  regulated the powers of the mountain judges, the classification of the mines in “high” and “low” depending on their location, the working hours, the administration of the wood for the mining industry, the construction of clay pits to store the ore, and much more.

In 1448 the famous Silver mines in Falkenstein in Schwaz were opened under the Archduke Sigismund.  This led to more mining in the Montafon with Montafon keeping in contact with Schwaz.  The discovery of a rich vein of silver on the Kristberg at the end of the Middle Ages let to the last peak for mining in the Montafon.  According to the “copper directory” from the year 1473, copper was also being won in Bartholomaeberg. There were also crises that had to be overcome like the battle of 1499 in Frastanz where many miners from Schwaz and the Montafon were called to battle by the Habsburgs with the intention of seizing land from Switzerland.  According to the records, around 1,000 miners lost their lives in that massacre.  They went down in history as the “steel heap”, but it was a great loss for the mining industry in the Montafon. 

During the 16th century, the mining industry in the Montafon had to deal with more and more crises.  Some of them, like the ever increasing controversy between the miners and the locals because of unequal rights and economic standards or religious controversies during the 16th century, were homemade.  On the other hand, the discovery of America and the import of large amounts of silver and copper to Europe with the resulting drop in prices led to the beginning of the end of mining in the valley.  The 30 year war which started at the beginning of the 17th century resulted in the very end of mining.

There were many endeavours to revive mining during the next couple of hundred years but they weren’t successful.  Between 1730 and 1760 there was a lot of prospecting going on throughout the whole of the Montafon but even with the promise of generous rewards for promising finds, there just weren’t any.

Last of all, during the time between WWI and WWII, the 20th century try to start up mining again:  Eduard Hundertpfund und Anton Neumann, the last living miner from Montafon, penetrated 176 meters into the mountain but didn’t find any ore worth processing.  A massive cave-in as well as the start of the second world war stopped mining once and for all in the Montafon.


P11-1 history of mining.mp3

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